KENNEBUNK (AP) – William “Bill” Rogers, a World War II fighter pilot who served as national commander of the American Legion in 1976-77, died Wednesday in Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford after suffering an abdominal aneurysm. He was 87.

Rogers, the first Mainer elected to the Legion’s top national post, testified in that capacity before Congress in opposition to giving up the Panama Canal.

An Auburn native who attended Syracuse University, Rogers joined the Navy when the war broke out. He began pilot training at the University of North Carolina with Boston Red Sox greats Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky, who was Rogers’ roommate.

During the war, Rogers flew carrier-based F6F Hellcats in the Pacific. He later became active in veterans’ affairs, helping to found Legion Post 153 in Auburn and serving as the Legion’s state commander in 1955-56.

Gov. John Baldacci and Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins issued statements praising Rogers’ service.,

Snowe and her husband, former Gov. John McKernan, who were neighbors of Rogers in Auburn, remembered him as “a stalwart and passionate advocate for our veterans.”

Rogers spent part of his civilian career in the Washington, D.C., area, where he worked for the U.S. Brewers Association, retiring as vice president of public relations. On his return to Maine, he worked for the U.S. Department of Labor as Maine’s veterans employment and training service director.

He spent most of his life in Auburn, which he considered his home, but moved to Kennebunk within the past decade.

Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Constance, and four children: Peter, of Augusta; David, of Weston, Mass.; William Jr. of Selah, Wash., and Bonnie Banks of Kennebunk. A funeral Mass will be celebrated Monday at St. Patrick’s Church in Lewiston.

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