It was 1942, Billy would have graduated that year, that is if he hadn’t gotten caught pulling the fire alarm at school. You “got away with less” in 1942, he was expelled. Well, what did it matter, the current war to end all wars was into its sixth month, eligible men were heeding Uncle Sam’s call.
Billy had always had nerve, and seldom shied away from things and height was never a challenge. He grew up in the depression, moving from one tenement house to another, interesting, since it seemed that almost half of the county was he dad’s family.
Billy was pulled to the war but wanted to name his enlistment, his desire was as a fighter pilot for the Army Air Corps. He was at his fourth or fifth induction center, all of the previous induction center doctors had listened to his heart, paused and asked, ‘Have you ever had Rheumatic Fever?’ As child, Rheumatic Fever struck Billy, leaving his left ventricle value not working properly. Doctors could hear some blood flow back around the flap, his papers always became stamped, REJECTED. But this was Chicago, lots of people went through the Chicago induction center. This time he was ACCEPTED, pending High School Graduation. Billy returned to his former school in down state Illinois to finish his last classes.
Have you ever watched, what I call “OLD TIME” war movies? Billy began his training in bi-planes, and yes, just like the stories, he chased cows, circled water towers and ran cars off the road. When flying, everything on the ground was a “practice” enemy. The wash-out rate was high, not only for lack of nerve, but for slowness of reaction time or the most innocent of fears found you infantry bound.
Billy was not to be denied, he trained, practiced and flew. He trained in the P-40 and P-51’s and was in his last week before graduation. He and some of the other cadets, went for and early evening swim, it was at the end of this swim, that he drove in and broke his neck. The other cadets got him to the hospital, miraculously he did not die. Six months in a half body cast. His companions continued on with their training, graduation and assignment. Billy, was out. The Army Air Corps didn’t have a “return to work” policy, or step back in line. Billy had fallen out of the training sequence, and probably the doctors heard his heard, his aviation days were over.
Billy, was re-directed, went through additional training, and became a Welding Instructor and Drill Instructor at Chennault Air Base in Illinois. I’ve never heard how much disappointment Billy endured, spending his entire war years in Illinois. But for his family, he was safe.
I’m proud that Billy was my father.