There are fewer and fewer veterans of World War II. They are old, and are dying of all the maladies that age brings. This last weekend, we said goodbye to my wife’s Uncle Bill. He was one of those people who lived during interesting times, and had wonderful and engaging stories to tell.
Uncle Bill was born in 1921, and enlisted in the US Army at age 17. We all agree that he most likely lied about his age, but he wanted to learn to fly. He went to flight school, and was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Air Force on June 22, 1943. He spent the rest of the war as a test pilot, and was headed to the South Pacific to fly fighter planes when the war ended.
After World War II, Uncle Bill used his new knowledge and maturity to go to Georgia Tech, finishing his Industrial Engineering Degree in just three years and nine months. He financed his education with the GI Bill, and money he won playing cards. He was the state Bridge champion, and put that skill to good use
While in the Reserves after the war, he took the opportunity one day to buzz his home town, a small town in West Tennessee. The story goes that he flew his B24 bomber about 100 feet above the town, and his mother’s house. The whole town was much abuzz with that buzzing, but they knew Bill. I don’t think anybody had to tell his mother who that crazy pilot was that almost took the roof off her house.
Uncle Bill’s brother tells the story about the first car Bill bought. It seems that he didn’t know how to drive, but he figured that since he could fly an airplane, driving couldn’t be that difficult. He bought the car and learned how to drive it on the way home, running off and on the road until he got the feel of the machine. From then on, he drove a car like he was flying an airplane, pretty well attacking everything in his path.
While maintaining his flight status in the Reserves, he was put on active duty at the start of the Korean War. This time he flew reconnaissance missions in propeller driven airplanes with no guns for protection. Flying low and slow, this job was not a picnic, and was as dangerous as they came.
He loved flying like some people love coconut cake. He had stories that would curl your hair about his days as an Air Force pilot. In addition to his experiences in the wild blue yonder, his life was filled with a lovely wife, two beautiful children, seven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. He was a much loved man.
He was my wife’s Uncle, and he was my friend. I miss him.