War hero surrounded by support at Immanuel

Immanuel Village resident Bill Brown says the keys to living a long life are fresh air, sunshine, and plenty of exercise.

Having celebrated his 103rd birthday in July, he may be on to something.

Bill moved into Immanuel Village’s independent living apartments in January 2018. He appreciates that he can maintain his independent lifestyle, which includes spending time outdoors in places like the Village’s gardens.

“Immanuel takes care of your needs, and you live your life,” he said.

Bill admitted that 103 was a birthday he never thought he would see. Even so, he likes to live each day to the fullest. Born in 1920, Bill lived in Omaha through the Great Depression. Unlike many young men his age during that time, he was able to finish high school and found jobs working at filling stations and doing temporary accounting work for Union Pacific Railroad.

But it was a conversation with a neighbor that ultimately changed his life.

The year was 1942. The United States was heavily embroiled in World War II – in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific. It was just months following the attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. Bill, then 22, was preparing to enlist when a neighbor who worked on the draft board approached him on the street.

“He said, ‘If you’re going to go in and choose your choice of action, you better do it soon because we’re going to draft you next week,’” Bill recalled. “So, I went and enlisted in the Air Force.”

In July 1942, Bill went to Fort Crook – now Offutt Air Force Base – and enlisted. Flying had long been one of his dreams. He was 7 years old when American aviator Charles Lindberg made his historic flight across the Atlantic Ocean, and the achievement stuck with him.

“I thought that was the most wonderful thing in the world, him doing that,” Bill said. “I never dreamed that 17 years later, I would fly a plane. After I went through training, the Air Force gave me a plane and sent me across the ocean to combat.”

Bill trained in Texas for a year, learning how to fly B-24 Liberator planes, and later joined a crew in Lincoln. In July 1944, at the age of 24, he was assigned to the 93rd Bombardment Group in Hardwick, England, as a bomber pilot. A young man from the Midwest, he never expected to travel to Europe.

“When the United States first started bombing Germany, you had to fly 25 missions to complete your tour,” he said. “It was extremely dangerous, they would send out 60 planes on a bombing mission, and maybe 25 to 30 would come back – they would get shot down and killed.”

During his time in England, Bill would fly 35 missions over German-occupied territories in Europe. His first mission, however, was nearly his last. His plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire, tearing a hole in the aircraft and severing the wires to the electric suit that kept him warm in the frigid high altitudes.

In addition to bombing missions, Bill flew supplies to areas in France where food had become dangerously scarce.

“During the trips we made to France with food, we went to the airport near Paris,” he said. “Even though we had taken it back from the Germans, there were still snipers there who kept firing on us, so sometimes bullets would go whizzing by. We didn’t linger long … I hated getting shot at.”

Bill flew with the 93rd until the war ended in 1945. His squadron survived all 35 missions without a casualty. For his service to the U.S., Bill was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal. He also received the French Foreign Legion’s Medal of Honor – a thank you from the country he risked his life flying much-needed food and supplies to.

After his service time was over, Bill returned to Omaha. He worked as an accountant and auditor for Union Pacific until his retirement in 1980.

“I became a golf bum,” he joked about his post-retirement life. “I would play three days a week, weather permitting. That’s what I attribute most of my old age to: I got outside, in the sunshine, and I got plenty of exercise playing golf.”

Bill’s independence has always been important to him. When he decided to move into a retirement community five years ago, he said he chose the place that best fits his lifestyle – Immanuel Village.

He loves the outdoor courtyards and gardens and enjoys the available social activities.

“I went outside yesterday – it is lovely in the morning,” he said with a smile. “They have a putting green, so they took me out, and I putted a few balls. That brought back some old memories.”

Bill is also an avid reader who frequently gets audiobooks in the mail from the Lincoln (Nebraska) Public Library. His favorites include Westerns, mysteries, and historical novels. His favorite authors include Mickey Spillane and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Bill has family all over the U.S., including a nephew in Omaha who often visits him. Bill said he also feels supported by Immanuel's staff. Though he still resides in independent living, he briefly stayed in Immanuel’s Newport House for rehabilitation following a short illness. Newport House is on the same grounds as Immanuel Village, which helped put Bill’s mind at ease and allowed him to focus on getting well.

Senior Living Consultant Deanna Garcia said Bill is popular with and admired by those who live and work at Immanuel Village. She praised his military service and called him a “delight to have in our community.”

“He is very humble, although he had a remarkable career and served our country extremely well,” she said. “He is known and loved by staff and residents for his quick wit and kindness.”