Born in Colorado Springs, son of Charles Paine Cheney and Mrs (Mary Lyon) W H Schofield, twice widowed.
His father died less than a month after his birth.
Was in attendance at Harvard University when he abruptly left to enter the U.S. Air Service, Signal Officers Reserve Corps (SORC). He attended the Military School of Aeronautics at Urbana, Illinois in March 1917. He graduated in July 1917. Following further flight training in Italy, he was commissioned as a 1st Lt. on 23 November 1917, U.S. Air Service.
On 20 January 1918, 1st Lt. Cheney was flying with Lt. Oliver B. Sherwood, his observer. Aviation Cadet George A. Beach was flying in another aircraft over the field, when Lt. Cheney's aircraft struck Beach's in his efforts to avoid foggy conditions over the training area. All were buried at Foggia, Italy.
1st Lt Cheney was the first American to receive an Italian military brevet.
In his honor, the Cheney Award was established in 1927. The Cheney Award is an aviation award presented by the United States Air Force in memory of 1st Lt. William Cheney, who was killed in an air collision over Italy in 1918. It was established in 1927, and is awarded to an airman for an act of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest, performed in connection with aircraft, but not necessarily of a military nature.
Cheney was repatriated for burial and now lies with his mother.
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