William Clyde Vickrey, Jr. was born in Phoenix, Arizona, on 8 December 1917, son of W. C. and Rochelle (Cochran) Vickrey. He attended Phoenix Union High School and Phoenix Junior College, prior to his appointment to the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, from his native state in 1936. Graduated and commissioned Ensign on 6 June 1940, he subsequently advanced in rank, attaining that of Captain, to date from 1 April 1959.
Following graduation from the Naval Academy in 1940, he joined USS Lexington and was serving in that aircraft carrier when the United States entered World War II, 8 December 1941. The Lexington participated in action off Bougainville, the Salamaua-Lae raid and the Battle of the Coral Sea. During the latter engagement Lexington was severely damaged by Japanese carrier-based torpedo bombers on 3 May 1942. In a sinking condition, she was subsequently sunk by United States forces to prevent her from falling into the hands of the enemy.
Returning to the United States, he reported in July 1942 for submarine training at the Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut. Completing his instruction, he joined USS S-23 to serve until October 1943 as First Lieutenant, Gunnery and Torpedo Officer and Executive Officer and Navigator. He next had duty as Executive Officer and Navigator of USS S-42 and in February 1944 assumed command of USS S-40. In November 1944 he transferred to USS Pompon and remained on board her as Executive Officer until March 1945. He then was assigned to USS Silversides as Executive Officer and Navigator and in January 1946 became Commanding Officer of that submarine. Detached from command of the Silversides in April 1946, he continued service afloat for two months as Executive Officer of USS Pomodon.
During the period July 1946 to June 1948 he had instruction at the Post-graduate School, Annapolis, Maryland, and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, from which he received the degree of Master of Mechanical Engineering. He then served for a year as Assistant Experimental Officer at the Naval Ordnance Test Station, Inyokern, California, and next served as Executive Officer, Operations Officer and Navigator of USS Cabezon until July 1949, after which he had similar duty in another submarine, USS Besugo.
He was assigned to the Guided Missile Branch in the Bureau of Ordnance, Navy Department, Washington, DC, in May 1951, and in November 1952 became Assistant Head of that Branch. He remained there until July 1954, and in August reported as Executive Officer of USS Taconic (AGC-17). Ordered to duty with the Destroyer Force, US Atlantic Fleet he served from December 1955 to September 1957 as Commanding Officer of USS Holder (DDE-819).
Detached from command of the Holder in September 1959, he reported the next month as Guided Missile Officer on the Staff of Commander Operational Development Force, and from May through October 1959 was Surface Warfare Officer on the Staff of Commander Operational Test and Evaluation Force. For two years thereafter he commanded the Guided Missile Evaluation Detachment Operational Test and Evaluation Force, after which, in January 1962, he assumed command of USS Cadmus (AR-14).