Tribute to Harold "Bill" Lee
Branch of Service: US Army Air Corps
Specialty: Glider Mechanic
Harold William "Bill" Lee was born January 22, 1918 to parents Herb and Elsie Lee. Growing up on a farm northeast of Waynoka, Oklahoma in the 1920's built many strong attributes in young Bill. He helped with the farming, attended school, helped neighbors with harvest, and in his spare time built toy airplanes from wood and fabric. The planes would sometimes "crack up", and Bill would repair them and keep them flying. For entertainment, he taught himself to play the fiddle, piano, harmonica, and guitar. Bill’s father, Herb worked for the Santa Fe Rail Road and was away from home for days at a time. Bill was the 'man of the house' and carried the burden responsibly. He also had a deep and abiding respect for his Mother and three sisters. It was a hard life for all of them.
On July 8, 1929 Transcontinental Air Transport opened a coast-to-coast air and rail service. Waynoka was a connecting point, and the airport happened to be next to the Lee farm. As a boy of 11, Bill would run to the fence when he heard the Ford trimotor airplanes coming in for a landing and watch as (sometimes) Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Wiley Post, or Will Rogers and passengers would step off the plane. From that time on, he was interested in airplanes.
In 1938, Bill moved to Wichita, Kansas to get a job at Aeroparts as an aircraft sheet metal assembler. Bill was working there when he met his future wife, Jenevieve Shrader. They were married November 21, 1942. Less than a week later, on November 27, 1942 Harold "Bill" Lee was inducted into the United States Army at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He recorded the following in his personal service record (sic): "I was here 18 days. During this time I began my army life. Had my clothes issued to me and learned what "KP" was. Went on three 'rabbit drives' here at Ft. Sill. First snow was already, and weather turned cold. I was the last of the Woods county boys group to 'ship out'. Our first welcome here was 'you'll be sorry-ee'. Had some early risings on pretty cold mornings and would go out to the parade grounds in the dark. A second lieutenant usually led us in calisthenics, then we would drill until 11:15 a.m. In the afternoon we would go on ten or fifteen mile runs, or go out in the 'cowpasture’ and do ‘war games'."
After basic training, Bill was sent to a Glider Mechanic Course at Army Air Force Sheppard Field, Texas where he learned "dope and fabric" and woodwork specialist. He passed the course and went on to Alliance, Nebraska, Baer Field, Indiana and to Bowman Field, Kentucky where he learned how to spin a prop, how to start a plane, and earned his corporal stripes. Bill qualified carbine marksman on August 25, 1943. He was then sent on to Maxton Army Air Base, North Carolina, where Bill’s Glider Mechanic training was completed. It was at this time that his skills were needed in England.
On February 27, 1944, Bill was shipped to Liverpool, England and was then trucked to Balderton Air Field, near Sheffield, in Nottinghamshire. Then, as D-Day neared, he was sent to Upottery Air Field near Taunton in Somerset where his military duty had him assembling and repairing CG-4 and HORSA gliders for the coming invasion. Bill was part of the 439th Troop Carrier Group, and the 94th Troop Carrier Squadron. This unit was a C-47 Skytrain transport unit assigned to the Ninth Air Force in Western Europe. A mission that occurred early in 'Operation Overlord' was getting the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment to the invasion behind Utah Beach on June 5, 1944. A reinforcement mission with gliders was flown the following day that involved 50 C-47's towing 30 HORSA and 20 CG-4-Wacos. The 439th later received a Distinguished Unit Citation for its work.
D-Day+30, Bill was sent to Chateaudun, France, an important air field used to transport the gliders to a battle with infantry reinforcements, supplies, and medical help. The gliders that Bill helped to assemble were made of metal tubing and fabric. These materials arrived in huge crates from the United States, usually 5 crates to a glider. After emptying, the crates could be used to house 4 to 5 pilots. Bill and other mechanics were also to repair any gliders that were lucky enough to survive a landing. Bill's spare time would be spent repairing the "skin" on C-47's that had been damaged while delivering gliders to their destination. Bill thought he was very fortunate to be housed in a bombed out calvary barracks. Quite a few of the enlisted men were in tents. Bill's letters home were full of reassurance of his well-being and safety, in hopes that his family wouldn't worry about him. He wanted to return home and be with his wife and baby, Richard William, born September 22, 1944. Uppermost in Bill’s mind was 'winning the war against a crazy man'. He couldn't believe how one individual could disrupt so many lives, and cause so much mayhem to the human race. As the war was winding down, one of Bill's assignments was to guard the aircraft parked under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.
Bill was sent home via S.S. Thomas (Liberty Ship) July 8, 1945 (he remembers being served steak) and arrived in Brooklyn, NY. He was sent to Camp Chafee, Fort Smith, Arkansas, given a 30 day furlough, and then sent to Camp Gruber, OK the ‘holding tank’ of soldiers until they could muster out. Honorably Discharged September 9, 1945 at Ft. Leavenworth, KS, Bill was placed on in-active duty for ten years with no weekend duty or summer camp, and was given $300. as a pension for service.
Bill Lee's first few years after the war was spent finding a stable occupation. The Lee family, now four with the addition of Carol Ann, born June 24, 1946, with no way to pay the doctor but for the sale of two calves, the situation became critical. He worked for the Santa Fe Rail Road but there were lay-offs after only six months. Then, Bill was a hired hand on a farm near Anthony, KS, but soon there wasn't enough profit for the owner let alone a hired man. To Bill's delight, he was hired by Cessna Aircraft Company in Wichita, KS., where he worked for thirty-five years and was a part of the Cessna 310 production line, the CH-1 helicopter that was developed and then sold to Bell, and after years of hard work, Bill earned a position with the Research and Development Dept. where he was a very happy man. During his twentieth year with Cessna, Bill invented a small hand brake for bending small pieces of sheet metal. It would qualify for a patent, but Bill was satisfied with just making the job easier for fellow employees. (When I was old enough to figure out a few things in life, I realized my Dad usually had a smile on his face and for absolutely no reason that I could fathom. Now that I am older, I realize he was just happy to be home with Jenny and his family around him again. My parents worked hard, never took anything for granted, and it was just a given that my brother, Dick and I would be graduating from high school, maybe college, but there was no doubt we would work for a living. Dad taught me to take care of my possessions, a car had to be maintained, a house had to be kept up, and the lawn had to be mowed. I learned to change a tire and to change the oil in my first car, and helped my brother to put in points and plugs. It was just the way things were done and done right. For vacations, we would remodel either my parent’s house, my grandmother’s house, or later on, my house. We had some good times working together on those projects.) Jenny, worked for Cessna thirty-two years and after her retirement in 1982, Bill and Jenny moved to Grove, OK for what they thought would be many years of peace and fishing. Bill died after only three years of retirement and is buried in El Dorado, KS.
Submitted by Carol Lee (daughter)