WILLIAM J. "BILL" KEELER|
World War II
Memories and Biography
Fate has a strange way of making things happen. Later, after the 492nd was broken up, who should be my group commander (at the 44th) but the "Skull" Snavely. Not a word was ever mentioned of our past encounter. I was one of the older lead pilots and my squadron commander, Bob Lenhausen, told me one day that he had put me in for captain three times but Snavely had disapproved the promotion. He told me that he was putting me in again and that if Snavely disapproved of it he was going over his head to General Johnson. Apparently, this was not necessary as I finally became a captain.
I was with the 492nd until sometime in June of 1944. On my last mission with the 492nd the following occurred. We went out to our ship but the engines wouldn't check out. After changing planes three times, we finally got one that was okay to fly. We took off and at about 1,500 feet (altitude) the tail gunner Sammy Stamerra called me and told me he didn't have a chute nor did he have a spare chute (having left them both behind during one of the moves). I asked if he remembered where he left them and he said he did so we went back. When we landed (and did I ever sweat that one out with a full bomb and gas load) he got the chutes and off we went to meet the Hun. We tagged on to another group and completed the mission. When we returned "The Skull" (Snavely) sent for me and told me I had aborted and made his record bad. He said he was going to make me a copilot and kick me out of the group. I tried to reason with him but found that to be impossible. I finally told him that regulations required all flying personnel to have a parachute and that even with a chute our chances weren't that great - Needless to say, our meeting ending with me being kicked out of the 492nd and being sent to the 44th BG.
I became (copilot) on Stanhope's crew but do not believe that I flew more than one mission with him. When Devon Davis was promoted up to headquarters it left his crew without a pilot and I was asked if I would take the crew and I accepted. His crew was a lead crew and about 20 of my missions were as lead. George Converse, his copilot (and one of the 32), told me he had been offered the crew but he felt his chances were better with two experienced pilots so I got the job. I met George again in the late 50s in San Antonio when I was recalled for the Korean War but then I went in as a lawyer in the Judge Advocate's Office.
Robert H. Jacks, Carl Johnson's former copilot, took over Keeler's former crew, #918. Keeler's copilot, Henry H. Meyer (also one of the 32), was transferred to Clayton Newman's crew #913 and copilot. Both these crews went down on 7 July 1944. In late June/early July 44 some original 492nd crews which had flown overseas with that group were transferred into the 44th bomb group. These were the crews of Charles B. Handwright, William W. Earleywine, William E. Ogden, Devon M. Davis and Harold D. Stanhope. Thus, when Bill Keeler arrived at the 44th, he not only found some folks there who had been former associates but fate managed to put him back within their ranks.
All of us pick up nicknames during our lifetimes and this was no different within the military. I had not been aware that our "top brass" had been nicknamed until I had lived at North Pickenham for awhile. Someone dropped a name on me during a conversation and I had to ask who that was and here's what I learned. Our CO, Col. Snavely, was called "The Skull," Deputy CO, Louis C. Adams, was "The Stump," and Group Operations Officer, Jack Turnbull, was "The Brain." Where and by whom they were nicknamed I never learned until just recently.