Dec
16
2016
A Famous Friend

billBill Poston served his country in World War II as Crew Chief for the 445th Bombardment Group, stationed at an air base in England. This is where he would spend his time during the war effort, insuring that the B-17s and B-24s were in proper operational condition and ready to fly their next mission.

In 1942 Bill knew that the draft would probably reach out and touch him soon. He said, “I didn’t want to get drafted and be a foot soldier, so I joined the Army Air Corp and was with the 8th Air Force.” Bill worked for North American Aviation at the time, in a government job. When he told his boss that he was resigning to enlist, his boss said, “You can’t quit. You have a government job.” Bill replied, “You’ll have to talk to the Army about that because I’m leaving in the morning at 8:00 am.”

So, then it was off to Hondo, Texas for Basic Training and then to Biloxi, Mississippi for Advanced Training. Then across the pond to the bomber air base, Tibenham, in England. Bill became the Crew Chief for the ground crew that would be so essential in the successful bombing missions into Nazi Germany. Their crew would be awarded the Medal of Accommodation for 100 combat missions flown by their group without a “mechanical abort.”

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Each day Bill’s crew would wait for the bombers to return from their missions and give physical help to those that needed it. One day, as the damaged, bullet riddled bombers arrived, one of the pilots had a very bad leg wound from a bullet. Bill was one of the first to get to him as the plane came to a stop.

He was unconscious and Bill thought he was dead at first, as he carried him off the plane, and his leg was almost severed. He had lost a lot of blood, but the frigid high altitude they had flown at had frozen the blood on the wound and he did not lose the leg. Bill met this pilot after the war in Fort Worth, Texas, and worked for him for many years.

bill7Each day the bombers would return full of bullet holes, tail sections missing and badly damaged engines. It was the ground crew’s job to get those planes ready to fly the next day, which meant they would work through the night on many occasions. If an engine had to be replaced, it would take them 4 hours to complete the job. Before the bomber was returned to the flight line Bill and his crew would fly it and check it thoroughly for any potential problems.

Bill feels very fortunate to have known Hollywood actor, Jimmy Stewart during these years. Captain Stewart was the bomber group’s Operations Officer. Bill remembers Jimmy Stewart to be an excellent and well respected pilot. On one mission to bomb Berlin, Stewart was the lead pilot among the one thousand B-24s and B-17s that flew.

I asked Bill what kind of a man Jimmy Stewart was. He said, “He was a wonderful guy and I enjoyed talking to him each day.” Bicycles were issued for transportation out to the aircraft on the tarmac. Bill and Captain Stewart would ride alongside each other just about every day. He says that Jimmy Stewart was just like the good guys he portrayed in the movies, a very nice and courteous man.

bill4Apparently, Stewart had his restless side also. Bill says one day, when no missions were planned, Captain Stewart said that he was bored and tired of sitting around. He grabbed a member of his flight crew and told him to gather a full crew because he wanted to fly. There was an Army Air Corp rule that the B-24 would not be operated with less than 4 crew members. But the guy that was sent to gather the crew returned and told his Captain that he could not get a crew together.

Jimmy said, “That’s alright. You and I can handle it.” So, they took the bomber up for a “training” flight. And as all good pilots know, it is much fun to buzz someone and scare the wits out of them “when you’re just showin’ off.” An easy target for his prank was the control tower. This was just a small wooden tower that housed a few men. Stewart came in low, buzzed the unsuspecting crew in the flimsy tower. Then he circled around and buzzed them again, ignoring the voice on the radio that was demanding his name and rank. The third time they all bailed out of the tower because he came so close. Of course, Stewart was reported for this stunt and received a reprimand. But it certainly broke up the boredom that day.

After the war and toward the end of Jimmy Stewart’s career as an actor, Bill learned that his old friend was to receive an award at a hotel in Dallas. Bill felt that he couldn’t miss the chance to see Jimmy Stewart again and knew that it would not be a problem getting a meeting with him. So, he checked into the hotel that Stewart was in and left a message at the front desk, asking Mr. Stewart to call him.

But the call never came and Bill was somewhat puzzled by this. Then, as Bill sat at the restaurant eating breakfast, Jimmy Stewart and an entourage of nine came into the room. They sat at a table and ordered breakfast. As Bill observed, he realized that Jimmy was not speaking to anyone or acknowledging that they were there. Instead, he was picking things up from the table and inspecting them and looking aimlessly around the room.

Stewart was in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and Bill says that he wishes he hadn’t seen him like that. He prefers to remember him as the successful, brave and determined B-24 Liberator pilot that he knew.

bill3Bill Poston’s story also has an association with President Kennedy’s last days. Bill’s business was in the Riverside area of Fort Worth, Texas. At that time, Bill was a sales broker and he had a white convertible Lincoln Continental in stock. This car was the only one of its kind in Fort Worth. Bill received a call from the Secret Service and was informed that they wanted to use his car for the President while he was in town during that fateful November of 1963.

President Kennedy enjoyed his time in Fort Worth, riding in the open convertible, and is reported to have made a comment about how friendly the people of Fort Worth were and that he wanted a convertible in Dallas also, overriding the advice of his Secret Service agents.

When the tragedy occurred, Bill and a friend were listening to the radio reports, sitting in his car in the parking lot at his office. The report was that a suspect had been chased from the grassy knoll toward Fort Worth. Then the report came that the Fort Worth police had stopped the speeding car close to Bill’s office in Riverside, Fort Worth.

Bill personally knew most of the police officers in that area and he and his friend headed to the location where the suspect was being detained. Bill says that he asked one of his officer friends what was happening and was told that they believed they had captured the man who shot the President. He told him to go over to the car and see for himself. As Bill looked in the back seat, there was a man in handcuffs sitting there and a deer rifle that had been confiscated, laying not far from him.

Bill says he and his friend left and within 10 minutes that story was never reported again. (It is certainly strange, because I remember my grandfather telling me that he had been listening to the same reports on the radio and had always wondered what happened to the person they chased from the grassy knoll that day.)

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Bill Poston has surely had a full and event filled life. He has personally lived in and experienced some of the very important history of our country. And an added bonus has been for him to know and serve his country alongside his famous friend, Jimmy Stewart. Bill remarked, “I truly have had a ‘Wonderful Life.’” He said, that since he had known Jimmy Stewart, he always watches that movie every Christmas. Thank you for sharing your story, Bill, and may God greatly bless you.