Tarleton "Jack" Watkins' fascination with flying started when he was a youngster and propelled him to a career in the U.S. Air Force that began at Hickam Field near Pearl Harbor and included flying more than 120 combat missions during World War II.
He retired as a brigadier general in 1967 and eventually settled in San Diego, where he was a consultant with Convair Aircraft.
Although he had originally intended to retire to Florida, the Sunshine State's humidity and San Diego's pleasant weather spurred him to make the permanent move to California, where he enjoyed many years of playing tennis.
Gen. Watkins died of natural causes Dec. 12 at his home in Redwood Town Court Retirement Village in Escondido. He was 95.
"He was a great fighter pilot with a great war record," said retired Col. Everett Langworthy of North Carolina. Langworthy recalled their first meeting in 1959, when Langworthy was a major and Gen. Watkins was a colonel. "I was a chief pilot and I was sitting in the office with my feet up on my desk, smoking a cigar. He came in and said 'Get your feet off the desk and put that cigar out. You may be the chief pilot, but you are not the chief around here.'?"
Langworthy said they went on to become good friends. "He told me, 'When I'm in the office, you call me colonel, out of the office, you call me Jack.'?"
Gen. Watkins' son, Tarleton Harvin Watkins II of Boston, said his father knew at an early age he wanted to become a pilot. He grew up around airplanes because his father was an Army Air Corps colonel and a former flight instructor who counted a young Charles Lindbergh among his students.
Gen. Watkins was born John Tarleton Harvin on Dec. 5, 1914, in Corpus Christi, Texas, to Ruth Woodruff and John Tarleton Harvin. He was 8 when his father died, and his mother later remarried. Her new husband, Col. Dudley Warren Watkins, adopted her four sons and John Tarleton Harvin became Tarleton Harvin Watkins. He and his brothers grew up in San Antonio, the Philippines and at Wright-Patterson Field in Ohio.
He attended the University of Maryland and Texas A&M University and graduated from Army Air Corps flight training at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas in 1939. He was stationed in Hawaii when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941 and was among a handful of pilots able to pursue the Japanese attackers. He spent the rest of the war in North Africa.
His career included flying every type of aircraft in the Air Force inventory to installations around the world and serving as director of airlift at Tactical Air Command headquarters at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. Gen. Watkins was chief of staff of the Taiwan Defense Command and was involved in negotiations with China in the late 1960s.
He and his wife, the former Sarah Lee Daniels, lived in the La Jolla area before settling in Rancho Bernardo. Friend Oakley Sabo said she and her husband often socialized with the couple. "He was a very distinguished gentleman and a lot of fun," she said. "He played a lot of tennis and had a good sense of humor."
Gen. Watkins organized and participated in many senior tennis tournaments in the area and played well into his 80s. "I think he gave it up because he could no longer beat guys in their 50s," his son said.
Gen. Watkins was also active with the Arthritis Foundation of San Diego and the Rancho Bernardo Seven Oaks Community board.
In addition to his son, Gen. Watkins is survived by a daughter, Sarah Woodruff Watkins of San Diego; a brother, Dudley Warren Watkins Jr. of Bristow, Va.; and a grandson. He was predeceased by his wife.
Gen. Watkins will be interred in the family plot at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors in the spring of 2010.