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 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.
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.
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.”
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.