WILLIAM H. STRONG|
World War II
Memories, Biography and Farewell to Bill Strong
(Taken from the Wimberley View Community, dated July 15, 1995)
Linda Allen, View Staff
During the war, Bill headed up a squadron of bomber pilots, called "Old Baldy and His Brood." At the ripe age of 28, he was older than most of the pilots under his command and already losing his hair. Part of the 15th Air Force based in Africa, Bill and his pilots flew their B-24s in the famous Ploesti air raid in Romania where, out of 178 planes, only 33 made it back to Libya.
While the Ploesti raid was seen by historians as a significant strategic move, taking out major oil refineries in Romania, it also claimed more allied lives and planes at one time than any other maneuver during the war.
Bill survived Ploesti intact and left Europe having flown 38 bombing missions. As his friend Bill Lucas put it, every day after that was a bonus, one that many of his fellow pilots never received.
Sometimes, when the heart is big enough, its beat resonates beyond the body that holds it. Bill Strong's body was small and wiry and full of an energy that drove him through 80 years of accomplishment. But Bill Strong's heart was bigger than a body of any size could contain.
Ask the people who knew him. They showed up Wednesday, overflowed the Chapel in the Hills to say goodbye to the friend who had outlived more odds than most people face in a lifetime, outlived them with optimism, grace, and an unsinkable sense of humor.
To say his friends came to pay their last respects is incorrect. When the resonance of the heartbeat echoes long past the life, the respects paid are not the last, but the lasting.
Bill died on July 10 somewhere around noon after fighting skin cancer for close to 50 years. Life, itself, is a battle no one escapes, and in the end, we all succumb to it, but most people would agree that Bill celebrated and won 80 years of that battle.
Someone said recently, "Bill not only taught us how to live, but how to die."
Gladys, his wife, tells the story of how, as a young WWII pilot fighting air battles over Europe, Bill and his fellow pilots were terrified. Easing that terror took different forms, but Bill learned to conquer it when an army chaplain pulled him aside one day and told him that God would take him when he was ready for him and not before, that all the fear and caution in the world could not alter the grand design. After that, Bill told Gladys, the fear was gone. Acceptance and trust took its place. He was able to concentrate on his job.
The workings of his heart are what Bill left us. The strength of his heartbeat resonates throughout the communities he lived in, through the results of his singularly generous vision.
Bill's vision had one central theme-people, which translated into community. In Wimberley, his strength of vision and purpose resulted in The Village Inn, the Senior Citizen's Center and Thrift Shop, the Chamber of Commerce and the Visitors' Center, and, most recently, the beginning efforts of the Senior Citizens to buy land and help the community establish a community center. Always looking forward, Bill attended, in his wheelchair, a meeting in June where the contract for the Keith property was being presented.
His community involvement ranged from civic to sheer pleasure, and his propensity for humor guided him through the gamut.
He was an active member of the Wimberley Masons and the Shrine Club, a former member of the Lions Club, a board member of the local chapter of the American Cancer Society and a past and present member of the Senior Citizens board.
He routed wooden signs for Woodcreek in the 70s and 80s, drummed up a team of retirees to fill potholes, orchestrated the Cypress Creek City Council that reigned supreme for years from the back table at Dave Lewis's former Cypress Creek Sandwich Shop, and, later, put together the Senior Citizens Koffee Klatch at the Senior Center.
He loved new cars. He loved Nebraska's Big Red football team. He loved to talk. His jokes bordered on the edge of a mischievous impropriety, but never fell quite over that edge. While he left a trail of good deeds behind him like a Johnny Appleseed of community conscience, he was never pretentious or pious. His eyes sparkled, and though his face was often bandaged from his many cancer operations and he must have been in pain, he smiled and joked with people until, through the sheer force of goodwill and humane intelligence, he was able to accomplish his purpose. Always, it was for the betterment of the community.
Seven years ago last month, he married the former Gladys Cymric Noll, after the death of his first wife, Rowena. Together, Bill and Gladys toured the countryside in their travel trailer, and Bill even talked Gladys through her fear of flying enough to convince her to board an airplane so they could visit her native England together. Gladys, in turn, taught Bill the value of 4:00 tea, and introduced him to her two sons, David and Paul, whose love and respect for him joined that of his two children, Becky and Bill.
Bill's life before retirement in Wimberley included a wartime career as a bomber pilot in WWII and a peace-time career as a second generation manager for J.C. Penney Stores in the Midwest, with his first job as manager at a store in Cherokee, Oklahoma, and his last in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where he worked form 1963 to 1974.
Following the war, Bill returned to a growing family and a job as assistant manager with J. C. Penney in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Bill believed in the company he worked for. His father had worked for Penney before him, and, when Bill wrote J. C. Penney a letter while he was in high school, expressing an interest in working for him, maybe someday even taking over the business, Penney answered him personally, praising his letter, and referring him to the personnel department. The personnel department took Bill under its wing, guided him through high school and college, and eventually offered him a job.
Mr. Penney's motto, which Bill called Penney's long song, had a lifelong influence on him: "You serve the public, you serve your community, and price your merchandise at a fair price and not all that the traffic will bear."
It became a kind of creed for Bill, and when he and Rowena moved to Wimberley from Bartlesville in 1974, the town benefited form it.
This past year, different community organizations recognized Bill's contributions to the people of Wimberley. The Wimberley Shrine Club elected Bill president for 1995, and, when he resigned the position for health reasons, recognized him as the only honorary president the Austin Ben Hur Temple has ever had. Last Christmas, the Wimberley Chamber of Commerce honored Bill with a lifetime contribution award at the annual banquet.
Bill was a man with a vision that wouldn't quit. It took in the welfare of the people around him, and it encompassed the welfare of the people yet to arrive. Rooted in the positive lessons of the past, it flowered in the present and stretched toward the future. It was a generous, confident vision.
Wednesday, Bill's family and friends flowed into the sanctuary of the Chapel in the Hills, filling the pews, the side aisles, and the fellowship rooms. It was a gathering of all ages, and they sang one of his favorite songs, "Let There be Peace on Earth." A son-in-law, a stepson, a friend, and Bill's pastor shared their memories. In the front rows, the members of Masonic Lodge 1445 donned their white aprons and paid tribute to a brother. People listened, laughed softly, and brushed away a few tears in memory of the small man with the dancing eyes and the big heart.
As one friend put it - "This town's gonna miss that old boy."
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
May 17, 1995
This letter is a little bit more personal and I would like your help if you can.
My family wants me to write my life story and when I get our war years facts, fiction, yarns and plain bull, plus confusion sets in. If you could look up these things, I would greatly appreciate it.
No. 1. I attended the 2nd Air dinner in Dallas and was so glad to see General Gibson, my favorite commander next to Johnson. However, he really shook me up when he said one of the biggest booboos we ever mad was the bombing of Switzerland. Will, thought I was the command pilot leading our group and when we returned to base and learned that was what we did, I thought they might just hang me right there. Then the story is told that ten years later the truth comes out that we hit a factory making plane parts for Germany. Can you verify any of this?
No. 2. The day our troops went over the Rhine, I again, have it in my notes that I was command pilot s we flew low dropping supplies to them. Cammron was appointed but became ill and I took it???
No. 3. Somewhere I saw where "Old Baldy and His Brood," ship 201 had been shipped out (Yes) before the war ended and I have told the story 50 times that my crew brought it over and as we closed the base, I flew it back to the states (No). Can you straighten this one out too???
Will, I hope this is not too much trouble and there is no urgency to it at all.
Enclosed is a little extra food for your postage box.
Thanks so much.
P.S. When I came back for another tour, I was assistant operations officer. Are there dates when I took over as our operations officer to finish the war?
(Letter from Bill's wife, Gladys Strong)
July 17, 1995
Dear Irene and Will Lundy:
I am sending you an article from our local paper that a young woman wrote who loved Bill as we all did.
Bill died from a massive dose of chemotherapy that was the only treatment left to try and stop the rapid growth of more cancer on his head. He went into shock about five hours after the injection and never was aware of anything until he died. His heart was so strong. It fought for a week to keep him alive, but we were with him holding his hand when he died.
I miss him so much, but know that life has to go on and I have two sons who need me. I will see you at the reunion if all goes well.
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
February 5, 1995
You asked of others on my crew:
Wells Nelson, 11810 Lake Hazel Road, Boise Idaho 88709
Dale Haas, 6334 Lake Aral, San Diego, California 92119
Fleming and Kapp have never been found.
Lonnie Ackerman was shot up over Foggio. We landed on Malta with four wounded. Ackerman passed away probably 15 years ago.
Bob Iverson, Box 5 Star Route, Ledger, Montana 59456 (Our crew chief and always considered one of our bunch)
Elwood W. Harbison, Jr., flew with Slough's crew but several times with us. Haven't located him.
I guess you could just pass this on to Art Hand.
I've been back to the hospital twice since Colorado Springs, but still think we are making progress. Thanks again for your nice letter.
All the best,
Bill and Gladys Strong (Colonel)