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The Suburbanite
  • WWII: Then and Now: Bill Shafer kept the bombers fighting in the Pacific

  • William Shafer tried to get on a B-29 bomber flight crew, but was prohibited by color-blindness. So, instead he was assigned to Central Fire Control, maintaining the weapons systems on the aircraft.

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  • Army Staff Sgt. William C. “Bill” Shafer’s wife, Jane, was a member of the WAVES during World War II. This was the women’s Navy — Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
    Despite this good-natured rivalry — Shafer just smiled when asked for whom each rooted during the traditional Army-Navy football game — “we almost had 60 years of marriage,” the Jackson Township resident said, before the love of his life died in 2007.
    The two hadn’t even met before the war. Or, maybe they had, at least in passing. The couple later learned during conversation that Shafer, who grew up in Warren, and his wife, a native of Columbus, had been unknowingly close to each other at one point during their training.
    “I got a pass to go on a train to from Denver to Chicago to Warren. My wife was in training in Chicago, and was on the same train at the same time from Chicago to Ohio. She got off at some point to go down to Columbus.”
    Such are the coincidences of war.
    SIGNING UP
    Shafer enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943.
    “I was going to school (at Kent State University) at the time and I knew I was going to be called, so I joined the reserves,” he recalled. “I got almost all my college in, except for one quarter. They called up the whole school — just emptied it.”
    Shafer went west for training. He tried to get on a B-29 bomber flight crew, but was prohibited by color-blindness. So, instead he was assigned to Central Fire Control, maintaining the weapons systems on the aircraft.
    He was sent to the Pacific Theater of operations in 1944, stationed in Saipan as part of the 877th Bombardment Squadron.
    “We had 25 planes in a squadron, and I helped take care of about half of them,” he said. “I was one of the oldest fellows. I was 23 and had extra education. The other guys were mostly 18.”
    An incident at a lunch gave him a lesson in the randomness of war.
    “We had just finished eating and Japanese fighters came along the water, over the cliff, and right down our area, strafing us,” he said. “I remember I looked up as one flew over. He wasn’t firing when he went over me. I could see that guy grinning.”
    Another incident occurred on Christmas Eve in 1944.
    “I was guarding one of the planes and I could hear the men singing ‘Silent Night’ way off in the distance. That’s when they came and bombed us. The plane I was guarding, nothing happened to it, but several close by got hit by incendiary bombs and they burned up. Every time I hear that song the hair on the back of my neck stands up.”
    Page 2 of 2 - The airfield on Saipan got bombed several times, said Shafer.
    “Sirens went off and told us to take cover,” he remembered. “We could watch the Japanese planes fly over and get hit by anti-aircraft fire.”
    Still, the moments of most tension were when ground crews were waiting for flight crews to return from their missions. They felt a responsibility that their work help the bombers get home, Shafer said.
    “But, there were a lot of crews lost,” he said, noting that all were happy when the war ended.
    “I was called to serve and I did the job I was told to do,” Shafer said. “There wasn’t anything you really cared for about war.”
    BACK HOME
    Shafer returned to college to complete his education after World War II. He worked for 35 years in accounting at the Hoover Co., retiring in 1980 as assistant controller of Hoover Worldwide Corporation
    In 1948 he married Jane, a woman he finally had met on a blind date arranged by the wife of a man, Bob Shuster, with whom he served in the 887th Squadron. The couple had three children — Susan Bair, Nancy Boudreau and Lee Shafer.
    The family traveled, camping in tents, sleeping in travel trailers and finally staying in motor homes. When Shafer retired he and his wife also took cruises.
    There also was time at home and a few competitive afternoons spent watching those Army-Navy games.
    “Let’s just say my wife,” Shafer explained, the smile returning to his face, “was very proud of being in the WAVES.”