It has been 70 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Newschannel 6 is remembering the day that everything changed and scores were called into military service. We sat down with a member of the Greatest Generation to get his reflections on that Sunday morning in December.
Lloyd L. "Bill" English was a young student at Hardin-Simmons University at the time. He went to see a movie that afternoon. "When the movie was over, I came out into the street. When I walked through the doors to get outside, the newspaper boy was hawking the newspaper and he said Pearl Harbor has been bombed by the Japanese," he recounted.
Back at the men's dorm, the talk was patriotic. "What branch of service are you going to serve in, and when do you expect to leave," were the questions floating around, he said. Bill's best friend had an interest in becoming a pilot. He thought it would be a good way to serve. He joined the Army Air Forces and elected to fly.
1st Lieutenant English elected to fly single engine planes. He wanted to avoid long missions and flying over water – something he assumed would be left to the multi engine pilots. The military had different ideas. "I was stationed on Iwo Jima which was 750 miles from Japan," he said. His missions took him over the water in a fighter plane, the P-51 Mustang.
From the island outpost, he escorted B-29's on bombing missions. He lucked out – mainly serving on top or side cover missions. He never had to engage an enemy plane. He said he was just doing his job. "You get in your car in the morning, you drive to work, we got in our airplanes we took off on our missions," he downplayed the threat Japanese fighters posed. When ask if he realized he was part of a generation of heroes, he conceded "I feel like that we are because I've seen so many guys that were in real dangerous situations for long periods of time".
Bill never worried about not making it home. He kept faith that he would be protected. 'I just had total confidence that I was going to make it fine through the war - that I was going to come back. If I didn't, I knew where I'd be going… So death was not a threat to me," he said. It wasn't a threat to his family, either. The youngest of five brothers and three sisters, Bill saw all his brothers and brothers-in-law return from war. He credits God for protecting his family. "We didn't have a Purple Heart in the bunch, but we had a few other medals," he smiled.
In the time since he left the service, Bill has become an ordained minister. He retired from serving as the business manager at First Baptist Church. On the wall of his office in his third floor apartment he shares with his wife, there is a lifetime of mementos. He has photos of the Enola Gay – the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb – signed by the crew. He has photographs with the pilot, and with President George W. Bush. "I wouldn't take anything for any of it," he said proudly. They hang next to a display of his many medals, awards and certificates.
As he looks over his collection of honors, he remembers the way the world changed forever – that Sunday morning in December. "From there, there was a unification of the citizens of the United States; that we recognized that we were the victims. That we had been attacked by a foe that we were trying to make friends with," he said. That act that paved the way for him to become a hero – among the Greatest Generation.
If you would like to hear more from Bill English, we have the complete 20 minute interview with him online for you to view. Click here to see it.