15/365 – Honoring – Bill Edwardy
Most combat veterans live and sleep with the nightmares of only one war, but Bill Edwardy copes with the vivid memories of three.
Savannah-born Edwardy worked at an early age as a riverboat night-watchman to help support his family. By the age of 18, he was plowing the stormyAtlanticas a mess attendant aboard a ship toNew York,Newfoundland, andNova Scotia. He said, “It was 1940 andCanadawas already in WWII. A German U-boat stopped us but let us go when their captain found out we were Americans. He spoke perfect English.”
Edwardy decided to join the Navy but was turned down. “Flat feet,” he said with a smile. Albeit, afterPearl Harbor; Edwardy and his flat feet were accepted by the Army in May of ‘42.
After basic training, he was sent to Pneumonia Gulch – Jefferson Barracks,Mo. “It was by the river, we slept in tents and stayed sick,” he said. His high school musical talents earned him a posting to the Army band, but the musical talents gave way to his peace-time hobby: photography. Retrained in photo intelligence, Edwardy soon sailed out ofSan Franciscoon the Luxury liner The Isle de France en route toBombay,India.
Dodging Japanese subs and surviving a typhoon, the Isle de France finally made port inBombay. Edwardy recalled, “The sanitary conditions inBombaywere repulsive.” With holes in the floors of railcars for bathrooms, his train ride toCalcuttawasn’t exactly a bed of roses either.
Edwardy processed photo intelligence from B-24 bomb runs to make the mosaics for future missions. He said, “Initially we stood up and shot recon photos out of the B-24 escape hole, but we eventually rigged up metal seats for more comfort.” Comfort did not equate to safety. “I lost a lot of friends on those missions.”
After 2 ½ years inIndia, Edwardy was sent to Lowry AFB inDenver,Co.to train a new batch of photo processors. “I was inDenverwhen the Japs surrendered,” he stated. “What a party! I remember riding on the top of streetcars….I think.”
Joining the reserves, Edwardy returned toSavannahand took on-the-job training as a diesel mechanic on tug boats. He became a chief engineer and earned a radio license, but now married to his childhood sweetheart, Eleanor, a land-based vocation made more sense. He was hired by The Singer Sewing Machine Company and worked as Asst. Mgr, then a Manager, and opened a store inStatesboro,Ga.until the Korean War required his military talents.
Called back to duty, Edwardy finagled his way into the Air National Guard before receiving orders. Assigned to the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing F-86 Fighter Jet Squadron at Kimpo AFB near the port city ofInchon, Edwardy recalled, “On the day I arrived the hangers were still smoking from an attack. Kimpo sat on a plateau so we could watch the fighting below, and shells flew over the base constantly fromInchon.” Antiquated North Korean aircraft would raid Kimpo and literally throw out their bombs. “It was brutally cold which made it was easy to see the exhaust from their planes,” Edwardy said. “One day we watched a Navy jet chase a slower enemy plane but the jet didn’t compensate for the speed. They collided in mid-air, nobody got out.” Edwardy survived his second war.
Sent toJapan, Edwardy was joined by his wife, son and daughter for an enjoyable 4 year stint. Then began the military peace time grind: back toDenverto instruct aerial photography, 4 years inDublin,Gaas an Air Force recruiter, changing careers to aircraft
maintenance to earn flying status on C-123s, a posting at Homestead AFB in Florida and serving as crew chief on C-119s at Otis AFB, Ma. In the late 1950’s Edwardy received training in a skill that would guarantee participation in his 3rd war: diagnostic debriefings and maintenance on the most modern and hottest fighter in the U.S. Air Force inventory – the legendary supersonic F-4 Phantom.
In his third war, Edwardy discovered the maps in use so out-of-date thatVietnamwas still called French Indochina. “That was early-on in the war,” he recalled. “We even wore civilian clothes into Tan Son Nhut and Bien Hoa.” Early-on still meant death and destruction. “We lost many a pilot on the early recon missions flying O-1 Birddogs and the slower than slow Helio U-10s,” he said.
Three wars were enough. Edwardy spent five years inTurkeyand completed his military career in 1975 at Edwards AFB, Ca. Retired, he called his old employer – The Singer Sewing Machine Company. “I asked for my old job,” he said. “They asked me how long I had been gone and I told them 28 years; that produced a long silence on the other end of the line.”
Amazingly, Edwardy got his job back and worked at The Singer Sewing Machine Co until they went out of business, then worked for 10 years as an officer in the auxiliary Coast Guard inPanama CityBeach, Fl. “That was interesting,” he said. “What people do on water is incredible. They run out of fuel; get thrown out of boats without their life vests; hit waves at full-throttle and damage their boats; get drunk while driving a boat not knowing their boats can be taken away. Shoot, I’ve heard boaters tell the Coast Guard to go to hell and they end-up in jail. Yep, it’s pretty incredible.”
Bill Edwardy endured a Great Depression, worked any job obtainable, fought and survived three wars while raising a family. Yep, pretty incredible.
Pete Mecca –Vietnamveteran, columnist, and free-lance writer
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