This was the final assignment for my Creative Non-Fiction writing course. We had to interview a WWII Veteran and write about one of the most significant experiences from the conversation.
Bill Richardson is 88 years old and will turn 89 this June. He lives in a quant and colorful one story home, nestled in between drooping moss trees in Winter Springs, FL. Entering his house felt like I was walking back in time. The home is decorated with vintage furniture dating back to the 1970s, dark wood walls, and old photographs that showcase different moments throughout his life. One of my favorite photographs was the one he proudly showed us that included him and his wife from the 1940s; a typical staged photograph for any couple from that era. Bill and his new wife were absolutely stunning in the photo, full of smiles and looking forward to the future and their long marriage, lasting 68 years.
The room we interviewed him in was white and full of sunshine, we all sat on cushioned wooden furniture. Bill is smart and quick witted. He instantly cracked jokes with us when we met him and as we were setting up the camera equipment for the interview. Bill has piercing light blue eyes and his face is warm and friendly. Bill towered over us yet the weight of his age pushed down on his shoulders, giving him a slight bent posture. He moved slowly and delicately, carefully positioning himself on the couch in front of us as we began our interview.
Bill was a WWII bomber pilot in the Army Corp 38th Bomb Group, 71st Bomb Squad and piloted the B-25. He obtained 100 hours of combat while in service and was chiefly stationed in the Philippines and Okinawa, Japan. His main job during each mission, some tasks lasting up to 7 hours, was to primarily bomb bridges, base camps and similar structures in order to hinder any movement from enemies during the war. Bill was even responsible for sinking one of the last Japanese ships in WWII. When Bill mentioned these attacks, he described them so cinematically that I could picture the events in my head, as if I was watching a classic film with stars like Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart taking the helm of the plane. Bill detailed the heroic sinking of the enemy ship as him swooping above the vessel, escaping gunfire as he continued to bomb the living daylights out of the boat.
“You should see what I’m seeing right now!” Spoke one of the other pilots, navigating a separate plane during the attack.
“I’m a little busy,” responded Bill as he dropped the last bomb that was responsible for the sinking.
Bill’s sense of humor poured through his dialogue as he continued to tell us about different missions. One of the most prominent moments that he discussed was the raft rescue mission of fellow pilot Carl Hinshaw. While he was recounting this important memory in his life, he immediately began tearing up and I too was on the verge of tears.
Carl Hinshaw and his crew went missing on a mission and it was reported that their plane had crashed after being shot down by enemy planes. Bill and others had searched the reported area for hours and found no signs of the missing crew. As his commander ordered him to return to base, Bill had a thought that he should go back and do a final check for them just in case. As Bill was surveying the area one last time, he spotted Carl and his crew on a raft in the water in the corner of his eye; something that he could’ve likely missed if he wasn’t paying attention. If he had never gone back, those men would’ve perished. After the war, Bill became good friends with Carl, whose family owns the acclaimed Chalet Suzanne in Lake Wales. Bill told us that when Carl finally introduced him to his family, Carl spoke touching and honest praises of how, “If it wasn’t for this guy, you wouldn’t have a daddy.”
Bill also briefly mentioned the droppings of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “One bomb saved a million lives. If it wasn’t for the bomb the Japanese would’ve never surrendered.” He saw what the wreckage of each bomb had done in the cities. In Hiroshima only 3 houses were left standing. It was chilling listening to Bill describe the devastation of the bombs and the fact that no one fully realized the power of those weapons when they were first created.
After the war, Bill had a tough time readjusting to civilian life. The first 6 months were some of the hardest of his life. He had horrible dreams of the bombings almost every night. His wife helped him slowly get accustomed to normalcy and he soon found a job at a post office before going back to college.
In short, listening to Bill discuss his life, during WWII and now, was truly inspiring. Everyone has a story that deserves to be listened to. Bill taught me to treat everyone with kindness and to look at life optimistically, no matter what obstacles are ahead. There’s nothing more important than life itself and like so many others nowadays, we’re so caught up in technology that we fail to realize what’s truly important: enjoying the simple things in life.