Bill Sawyer

  • Birth Date: November   2, 1919
  • Place of Birth: Hamburg, Arkansas
  • State of Residence: Arizona
  • Years of Service: 7 ½
  • Branch of Military: US Navy Air   Corps
  • Rank: Lieutenant Jr.   Grade
  • Wars Involved In: WWII
  • Theater(s) of Operation: The Pacific Theater

In June of 1942 at the age of 22 Bill Sawyer was drafted. At the time he was at University of Arkansas law school. He says that many people were in advanced ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps). Mr. Sawyer was not in advanced ROTC because he was a “full blown pacifist” he had decided not to take the class, even though it was a requirement. He was a Southern Baptist and he believed that you should not fight. When he was a senior in law school, one of his friends who taught ROTC told him that if he did not take the class, he would not graduate. His friend told him that if he did ROTC until the end of the year, then he would count it as two years and allow Mr. Sawyer to graduate.

During his senior year, Pear Harbor occurred. He said that it changed the minds of many people.  He says that had it not been for Pearl Harbor, he would have gone to Canada to dodge the draft.  He decided that he wanted to go down to New Orleans to join the Navy. He wanted to be an officer so that he could become a pilot. He was first trained in New Orleans on what is called an elimination base. They had to learn how to fly in a WWI bi-plane. You had to know how to take off and land and not let it go into a spin. He then went to Pensacola for advanced training and was there for 9 months. There he became an officer. He was made an instructor. He believes that they chose him as an instructor because he was older than average and had a college education. He graduated in a single engine sea plane called a Kingfisher. This was an actual war plane and not a simulate one like most of the training planes were. He said that it was used for instrument training.

He was then sent to an outlying field to train pilots. This was unlike Pensacola in that it had none of the amenities such as a golf course or an officer’s club like Pensacola had. He was training pilots to fly by instruments. The students could not see their surroundings while they were in the air and they had to learn to fly only by instruments.

He says that one of the exercises that the instructors had to do was teach each other how to fly on only one engine. While they were flying, without the other pilot knowing, one pilot would turn one of the engines off. One time when Mr. Sawyer was doing this exercise it was late in the day and the plane was going fast on the runway that by the time he put the break on, he had to pull up on the yoke the plane would tip over he took off and they flew into some pine trees and the plane was destroyed. They were not harmed, but he said that they should get out of the plane before it explodes.

In March of 1945 he was sent to the Pacific with naval air transport. He did this for the last year of the war. He was based out of Honolulu and he flew throughout the pacific. He flew to where the fighting was still going on. He flew refrigerated blood to places like the Philippines, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima. They would land on the secured side of the island and deliver their cargo. They would deliver blood, mail, USO show entertainers, Admirals, other high ranking officers, machine parts, and many other things. They would take out the wounded soldiers. The transport of wounded soldiers is an emotion subject for him. The people who were blind, he says, were the worst.  They were usually suicidal, and the plane door could not be locked from the inside. One of the two navy nurses that were on the plane had to guard the door.

The only time that he was ever in danger was a time when he was going into the Philippines. It was midnight, and they had finally secured the capital city Manila. They were told that there was a Kamikaze that was flying around and they were told to circle until the area was safe.

Another time when he was flying into a one runway island called Johnston Island. Planes were landing and taking off within seconds of each other. The tower had lost radio contact with a plane and they were trying to land it using only flashing lights in the middle of the night. All of the planes were circling and preparing to land but they were told to fly again so that the plane that had lost radio contact could be accommodated. The finally told Mr. Sawyers plane to come in. there were a lot of things to do, and all of the pilots thought that the wheels were already down. He says that there might have been wounded on the plane at the time. They had to land without wheels. Luckily the plane did not catch fire and everyone was safe. They did not have the right equipment to lift the plane off of the runway. They connected it to a couple of bulldozers and yanked the plane off of the runway. When the runway was cleared, the planes came in quickly one after the other because they were all low on fuel. They had to explain what they did to the people in charge.

He came home on a small carrier. He went to San Diego then to New Orleans and then home.

While he was in Denver, the Korean War broke out. He did not want to fly as a navy pilot in another war, and at the time, the military was calling back navy pilots rapidly. He knew someone in the intelligence service, and he got his rating changed from pilot to intelligence service. After he moved to phoenix in 1955 he remained in the reserves. He would go to California once a month and two weeks training in the summer. Then he was promoted to a full Lieutenant.

His pacifist attitude came back after the war when he became a civilian again.


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