May 7, 1920 – November 2, 1943
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved
in stone monuments but what is woven into the lives of others”.
I have often wished I had known my Uncle Willis. Stories told to me by my father tell of a young man who was full of life and adventure. A daredevil who loved trick riding on his motorcycle and flying airplanes.
Joining the Army Calvary in 1940 this small town farm boy would be taken worlds away from the life he knew. Willis was sent to Ft. Meade, South Dakota for basic training. His skills riding motorcycles would send him on to Arkansas for combat training. There he learned to maneuver his motorcycle through the rough and rugged terrain. Although Willis loved riding motorcycles his true desire was to become a pilot, so when opportunity presented itself he transferred to the Army Air Corp.
His numerous letters home tell of his love of flying and his excitement at learning to fly the P38-F Lightning. The P38-F was built by Lockheed, it was designed for speed and fire power, dubbed by the Luftwaffe as “The Forked Tail Devil”.
After completing his Pilot training Willis was promoted to Flight Officer and in September, 1943 was sent to join the 8th Fighter Group, 80th Squadron at Port Moresby, on the island of New Guinea. He joined well known Aces such as Norb Ruff, Edward “Porkey” Cragg, Louis Schriber and Alan Hill along with many others. He writes home that his plan is “old, but it flies good”.
Willis was in New Guinea just two months before he was killed on November 2, 1943 while fighting over Rabaul. Although we will never know what his life would have been like had he survived the war; we do know that he lived life with passion, that he was committed to excellence, that he was willing to take risks to obtain his goals, and that he lived with integrity. He willing fought for freedom and ultimately sacrificed his life for you and me.
(If you would like to read more about Willis see my post in March 2009 entitled, “Going Home – The Unexpected” http://terri-thetiesthatbind.blogspot.com/2009/03/going-home-unexpected-part-one.html )