I am a blessed guy even though sometimes I take that for granted. Tonight, I had the privelege of talking on the phone with a man who not only has become a dear friend, but he was the bombardier on the same crew with which my grandfather flew 33 perilous missions almost 64 years ago over Germany during WWII.
Bill Bates is the last surviving member of my grandfather's crew. Bill graduated from Penn. State University with a degree in Ceramics Engineering in 1942 before becoming an officer in the United States Army Air Corps. He married his wife shortly before going overseas to England but they didn't celebrate their honeymoon until Bill completed his 35th mission, in New York City. Bill's wife passed away from emphysema in the mid-90's. He now lives alone, but not lonely, in an assisted living facility in Mansfield, MA, surrounded by friends.
Bill will be celebrating the arrival of his fourth great grandchild in June. His voice lit up in anticipation when telling me about this on the phone.
Bill isn't just a good man, he's a great man. He's better than great. Words can't describe him. He's 86 years old and still has child like faith. He tells me everything he can about his experience before, during and after the war and I listen to him eagerly. He gets choked up when he talks about the heroes who didn't come back. I get choked up when I listen to him.
I hold Bill and all those like him who served their country with honor and bravery in WWII in the absolute highest regard. I am honored that you take the time to share your thoughts with me, Bill. I am a blessed man.
Thank you Bill and I look forward to sharing brunch with you and my family when we meet in a few weeks...
p.s. Bill will be attending the 65th reunion of the Penn. State class of 1942 in June! Thank you for your friendship Bill and thank you for my freedom!