Retired Air Force Gen. Maurice Arthur Preston, 70, a bomber pilot in World War II who rose to command U.S. forces in Japan and the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, died of cancer Jan. 25 at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center.
Gen. Preston, who had lived in Washington since retiring in 1968, was a pilot on B17s, the famous Flying Fortresses. He flew 45 missions in Europe during the war.
Among those he led was the second of the famous raids on the German ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt in Bavaria.
This attack took place on Oct. 14, 1943, and came to be known as "Black Thursday." The bombing was remarkably accurate, but the raid proved to be the most expensive of the war. Of the 291 B17s that took part, 60 were shot down over enemy territory. Five others were lost when their crews parachuted over England. Seventeen others were damaged beyond repair. About 600 officers and men were lost.
In 1947, Gen. Preston transferred to the Air Force when it became a separate service. He graduated from the Air Command and Staff School and received a number of staff and command posts. He was deputy commanding officer of the Northeast Air Command, director of Air Force Operations and commander of the 19th Air Force of the Tactical Air Command.
At the age of 50, he became the first Air Force general to qualify for paratroopers wings.
From 1963 to 1966, Gen. Preston commanded U.S. forces in Japan and the 5th Air Force. At the close of that assignment, he received the First Order of the Sacred Treasure from Emperor Hirohito. From 1966 until his retirement in 1968, he was commander in chief of U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
Since his retirement, Gen. Preston had devoted himself to writing.
His military decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, one Purple Heart and eight Air Medals. He also received the French and Belgian Croix de Guerre and the British Distinguished Flying Cross.
Gen. Preston was born in Weed, Calif., and reared in Tulare, Calif. He attended St. Mary's College and then went to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in the class of 1937. He was commissioned in the old Army Air Corps and became a pilot. He was sent to England in November 1942 with the 379th Bomb Group.
Survivors include his wife, the former Dorothy Unger, of Washington; a son, Thomas, and a daughter, Paige Peck of Clifton, Va., and two grandchildren.