Student, baker, traveler, pilot, father — Bill Siler lived these experiences and more – for over a century.
William Wallace Siler was born on June 23, 1916, in Franklinville, North Carolina. “Dub” grew up attending local schools in Mexico, Missouri, and Westminster College in Fulton. At just 17 he suffered the loss of his mother and worked to support himself making doughnuts at the local bakery, a talent that would later in life delight five grandsons.
Flying Fortress to Cuban Missile Crisis
Bill’s military career began in the Canadian Air Force, and he returned to America for World War II. Assigned to the 457th Bomb Group in the 8th Air Force USAAF (United States Army Air Force), Bill was deployed to the Royal Air Force Station Glatton in the cottage-dotted village of Conington, England. This pastoral locale housed four squadrons of B-17 Flying Fortresses to cripple targets within Germany and Occupied Europe. As a navigator, Bill tallied 52 missions by war’s end.
As a volunteer, Bill flew reconnaissance missions in a de Havilland Mosquito, a nimble night-flying aircraft from which he operated a classified radio to communicate with British spies positioned inside Nazi Germany. Bill reentered active duty to serve during the Berlin Airlift, Korean Conflict and Vietnam War. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bill worked in a windowless military installation studying U-2 reconnaissance photographs as Cold War tension mounted between the U.S. and Russia.
For 50 of his 100 years, Bill’s wife, Ruth, remained at his side until her death in 2000. After her passing, he found camaraderie among his fellow veterans.
“Bill flew with me in December 2010,” recalled fellow Vietnam veteran Capt. George J. Marrett. “He was friends with a bunch of guys that met at a bakery in Morro Bay every Friday morning. I attended on occasion and it was a very sweet time to listen to their stories about life after the war.”
On Bill’s 100th birthday in 2016, he hosted the 165th Siler Family reunion in Franklinville, which National Geographic dubbed the oldest continuously held family reunion in Appalachia. Of two hundred attendees, Bill was the eldest of the bunch.
Bill passed on October 3, 2016. On May 20, 2017, George piloted his Stinson L-5E Sentinel in a mission that was Bill’s last, this time accompanied by Bill’s son, John, who wore his father’s flight suit. On a sunny Saturday morning, George’s plane eased west, carrying both father and son. Soon, Bill’s ashes were released in a final approach. They scattered with flowers across glittering blue waters of the Pacific Coast, in view of his peaceful Morro Bay.