AFRH-W Resident Highlight – William Fowler
By Christine Baldwin, Librarian
William Fowler was born in Stamford, Connecticut but moved to Brooklyn, New York as a child and considers it home. He has two sisters and came from a military family. His father was in the U.S. Army and wanted Bill to join it, but he didn’t want to carry the rifle or walk the long marches. He felt that the U.S. Air Force would be a good fit and his long career proves he made the right choice. So at the age of seventeen in 1950, Bill was off to Lackland AFB, Texas for basic training. He began in a duty soldier position, helping wherever needed and was transferred to California. He then went to Okinawa and was in the munitions field transporting tons of bombs from the field to the flight line. This job uses mentoring of senior personnel with the new, because there are tricks to learn to move heavy things easily. Also, one mistake could be your last. Once when Bill was loading 500 pound bombs, a loud explosion happened behind him. An airman had slammed the door to the munitions room, detonating the room. Unfortunately, the airman did not survive, not even his belt buckle! As Bill moved up in rank, he became the mentor, helping others learn the field.
When he returned to California, Bill was discharged and tried various jobs, but he didn’t care for them. So he reenlisted and was assigned to air rescue MOS at Travis AFB, California. He then went to technical school in Panama, where one of the tests was to leave him in the jungle for three days. All he had were the clothes on his back and a knife. Bill felt that he had learned from his years in Brooklyn on how to survive and indeed, he passed this test. One of the toughest air rescues Bill helped with was a plane that went down in the jungles of Bolivia. The plane had been located and coordinates had been charted, but going through the jungle with all the strange sounds, was eerie to say the very least. They located the plane and the pilot was sitting in the cockpit, smoking a cigarette, waiting for their rescue. Other tours included South Dakota, Guam, Kwajalein and the Philippines. Bill always put in for Europe, since he is of Irish descent, but was never sent there.
Bill retired in 1971 from New Jersey and traveled for several years. He then returned to California for a permanent retirement. But he was bored. So in 2005, a friend asked him, “Why don’t you go to the Old Soldiers’ Home?” Bill thought that he would go and see if he would like it. When he got to the gate, Bill said “This is home!” He has been at AFRH-W ever since. Another thing Bill says is that everyone should enlist in the military, even for just one tour. “It will make you grow up,” he said.