WWII veteran takes to the air again to honor his late wife

In this June 14, 2019, photo Dane Wilkinson, left, and Doug Compton, right, help retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Willis, 97, put on a parachute before a flight at the Morgan County Airport in Morgan, Utah. (Kristin Murphy/The Deseret News via AP)

MOUNTAIN GREEN, Utah (AP) — A World War II veteran mourning his wife of 73 years has honored her memory with a flight in a plane like he once flew over France and Germany.

Bill Willis’s wife, Julia, had always encouraged her husband to reflect on his war stories and fly again, but he tended to downplay his service, KSL-TV reported.

But after Julia Willis died in April at age 95, he accepted an offer of a ride from a pilot at a rural Utah airport in Morgan County, not far from his granddaughter’s home in Kaysville. Bill Willis hadn’t flown a Boeing PT-17 Stearman since 1948 and needed a little help putting on his parachute and getting into the front seat, but the craft was familiar.

“I have flown that same kind of airplane with her up front and I was in the back,” said the 97-year-old, remembering his wife. “I’d like to think she was sitting there with me.”

Granddaughter Steffoni Garner said she knows her grandmother watched the ride in spirit and would have been proud. “It was just meant to be,” Garner said.

The couple met in New York in 1938, when they lived across the street from each other.

Bill Willis flew for the 55th Fighter Group during World War II, escorting bombers and destroying transportation infrastructure in Europe.

They later moved to Costa Mesa, California.

“It’s going to be hard for me to go back to the house,” a teary-eyed Willis, 97, said. “All I can say is she’s a wonderful lady and I miss her.”

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