Hills / Mathisen
American Thought & Culture
March 9, 1999
My Granddad, William Strong, was born in 1922 in New Era, Oregon. He grew up in Oregon and graduated from high school at Canby High. In 1940 he started college at Oregon State College, majoring in Engineering. But in October of 1943 he and a buddy, Bill Fisher, left college and enlisted into the Air Force. I asked him what his parents thought about him joining the Air Force and he just said that they thought that it was “inevitable” that he would join. He said that many people his age were dropping out of college to join the war. Fisher was not accepted because of a football injury, but my Granddad was accepted. He served in the 2nd division of the 108th Air Force. He wanted to be a pilot, but he was assigned to be the navigator for a B-17. He told me that ever since he was a little kid, he wanted to fly into outer space. He never made it that far, but this was his chance to fly. Everyone was required to complete 35 missions, but the lead planes were only required to do 30. My Granddad was in a lead plane. He successfully made all 30 of his missions. His missions were all over Germany.
He had said that there was only one of his missions where he didn’t think that they would survive. The enemy was firing shells and flak, which is like shrapnel. The flak was penetrating throughout the entire plane. And there were about three shells that exploded close enough to the plane to make it rock. After they finally landed they counted over 76 pieces of flak that had hit them.
After completing the 30 missions, he got to go home. He was on a boat in the Atlantic traveling home when V-E Day was announced. But they still had to continue dropping depth charges because not all of the German U-boats had heard of the surrender yet.
When he returned to the States, after a short leave, he signed up for pilot training with the possibility that he might need to fight for the Pacific Theater. But V-J Day came before he even began the training. He graduated in 1947 from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, where my Aunt Carol was born. And in January of 1948 he went back to OSC and finished his college degree.It was very interesting for me to hear all of this about my Granddad. Most of it I had never heard before. I was really able to see the differences between the world that I have grown up in and the world that he grew up in. But there are too many stories like these that go untold, stories that we would never know about people unless we take the time to ask.
I’m glad that I was able to interview my Granddad about the war. Otherwise I probably would have never known some of the stories he told. He died from cancer today, March 9, 1999. But he should be considered one of the lucky ones who survived the war. There were many thousands of Americans who did not come home and have the chance to raise a family and live to a good full age. But thanks to God he did. And I am thankful for the family he raised, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and for the legacy he left behind.