Hometown Heroes

Navigating His Way

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LISTEN to Bill Guenther on Hometown Heroes
93-year-old Bill Guenther of Laramie, WY appears on episode #357 of Hometown Heroes, debuting March 7, 2015. Guenther, who grew up all over the Midwest and graduated from Reedsburg High School in Wisconsin in 1939, was studying at the University of Iowa when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. You’ll hear his memory of that day, as well as how he ended up in the Army Air Corps.

Bill Guenther as a young Army Air Corps navigator.

Bill Guenther as a young Army Air Corps navigator.

Bill finished his degree in mathematics before heading for Jefferson Barracks in Missouri to begin his basic training. He would end up completing 35 bombing missions with the 95th Bomb Group, 412th squadron during World War II.

Bill Guenther (front row, second from right) with his B-17 crew.

Bill Guenther (front row, second from right) with his B-17 crew.

Serving as a navigator on a nine-man B-17 Flying Fortress crew, Bill believes he had the best spot in the plane.
“You could see what was going on. The poor pilots were so busy keeping the planes in formation,” Bill remembers. “I don’t think they saw much but the other planes and the flak.” Based in Horham, England, the nine-man crew flew bombing missions into Germany from the fall of 1944 to the spring of 1945. You’ll hear Bill explain what some of his duties were, and recall how frequently their B-17s encountered anti-aircraft fire.

"Roarin' Bill" was one of the many B-17s "Navigatin' Bill" Guenther served on during WWII.

“Roarin’ Bill” was one of the many B-17s “Navigatin’ Bill” Guenther served on during WWII. For more photos of planes in which Bill flew, visit the Hometown Heroes facebook page.

He remembers the heavy defenses around places like Berlin and Merseburg, and encountering flak on nearly every mission.
“It wasn’t uncommon to have a thousand holes in your airplane,” Guenther remembers. “But as long as it didn’t hit anything vital, you just kept going.”
Bill Guenther and his wife, Verna, in their Laramie, Wyoming home.

Bill Guenther and his wife, Verna, in their Laramie, Wyoming home.

Among the other memories you’ll hear this recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross share are times when the four-engine bomber was reduced to two operable engines. In one instance, they weren’t sure they would make it back across the English Channel to England, and started jettisoning machine guns to maintain altitude. In another, the B-17 dropped from formation, and Bill had to plot a course to an alternate landing spot in France. Bill is thankful he survived, and views his adventures with the 95th Bomb Group as an “all expense-paid birds eye tour of Western Europe.” After the war ended, he used the G.I. Bill to return to school, earned post-graduate degrees and became a math and statistics professor. After brief stints teaching at Arizona State and Fresno State, he moved on to the University of Wyoming in 1959. His love of hiking and the outdoors has kept him in Laramie ever since. If you encounter this remarkable 93-year-old on one of his daily walks, shake his hand and thank him for serving our country.

Paul Loeffler

  1. Paul Guenther Reply

    Bill Guenther is my father – very proud of his efforts. Like many veterans, he hasn’t shared all his experiences with his family so I really enjoyed the interview.

    Paul – great work honoring our WWII veterans – well deserved. Thanks for keeping the stories alive.

  2. hooppaul@sbcglobal.net Reply

    Paul, I’m sure there is much, much more than we got into in the interview, but hopefully it’ll open a few avenues for you to explore with him. Your dad is a remarkable man. It was an honor to spend some time with him in Laramie and share his story with out listeners.

  3. James T. Hammond Reply

    According to the 95th’s Facebook page, today is William Guenther’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Bill, if you see this. I was reminded of our conversations about your service in the same outfit in which my father Thomas D. Hammond served in the fall and winter of 1944. I was particularly struck by the photo on this page of the B-17 known as “Roaring Bill,” with the picture of the snorting bull on the fuselage. My father’s crew (chief pilot was Vic Radke) flew also flew that airplane. For Bill and his family, I just want to say how much I admire Bill for his service to his country, and for his subsequent career as an educator. So happy to see Bill celebrating another birthday.
    James T. Hammond
    Greenville, S.C.

    • Bill Guenther Reply

      Thanks for the birthday greeting. Good to hear from you.

  4. Kim Lewiston Reply

    My son, Emmett, who is 12 years old, was assigned to do a report on a hometown hero and he chose you! We just wanted to let you know how much your personnel history has impacted the 6th graders in our little community of Ogden, Iowa. Emmett really enjoyed learning about you and your time in WWII. We appreciate everything you did for us during that time. We are so grateful everyday for our freedom and it is thanks to you and those like you that we have that freedom! Thank you so much! Sincerely, Kim Lewiston

  5. Randy Suyematsu Reply

    Hey Paul, I ran across this completely by accident, but how cool!! I miss the whole Guenther clan and hope you’re doing well. I spoke with Clark about a year ago, I’ll have to call him soon. Take care!!

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