Monday, April 12th, 2010
Maria Stein native tells of divine intervention in his life as fighter pilot
By William Kincaid
MARIA STEIN - Retired Air Force Colonel and native son Walter Bills attributes his success to God.
The 79-year-old fighter pilot, who grew up on a farm a mile north of the Maria Stein Center, flew 150 combat missions during the Korean War. His squadron lost only three airplanes and four men - the lowest casualties in all of the military- which he attributes to the blessings bestowed by the Air Force chaplain.
Bills believes much of his life was driven by "Godwinks," life-changing epiphanies brought on by divine intervention.
The colonel spoke at the Marion Community Development Organization's (MCDO) annual meeting on Sunday afternoon after flying his Cessna airplane into Mercer County from his 30-acre farm in Concord, Va. After the banquet, he gave several meeting attendees a ride on his plane, which he landed at Lakefield Airport.
Bills' career is traced back to the former New Idea in Coldwater, where he worked after dropping out of high school.
Bills and four of his buddies one day decided to join the Air Force and left for Toledo and eventually San Antonio, Texas, - the first of a series of many Godwinks, he said. He graduated at the top of his class for various programs, including bombing and gunnery. He eventually decided to get his GED and attend college after others in the Air Force humiliated him because of his limited vocabulary.
Working as a tower control operator, Bills later became a flight instructor and fighter pilot.
"Which is what I always wanted to do," he said.
A skilled fighter, Bills held the designation of Top Gun, which he attributes to his great eye sight.
After retiring from the Air Force, Bills and his wife, Vera, who moved 23 times during their 55-year marriage, pursued many private pursuits in California before moving to a farm in Concord, Va.
"We're back to where we started," he said about his rural home. "I don't think we can be more blessed in our life."
Asked if had the opportunity to fly commercial planes, Bills said his life was too exciting for that.
"Who wants to be a truck driver?" he quipped.
He also recalled flying over the Mercer County area at low altitudes, to which he was asked if he every got in trouble.
"I should of," he said.
For success, one must have a foundation of community, friends and family before building integrity and character, Bills said.
"If you have integrity, nothing else matters; if you don't have integrity, nothing else matters," he told the crowd.
Also at the banquet, MCDO President Jim Keller spoke about the organization, which coordinates local groups to meet the needs of the Marion community. The organization makes incremental moves, not big moves, Keller said.
Keller also talked about agriculture, explaining that what was once a craft taught by father to son is now a science learned in school. Those in attendance learned that Marion Local Schools will add a new agriculture education class next school year.
"We're excited about that," Mark Hardesty, chairman of the MCDO agriculture committee, said. "We're in the process of hiring a teacher."
MCDO's Distinguished Developer Award went to the St. Henry Branch Bank of Maria Stein and Heitkamp Developers.
MCDO meetings are held on the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Marion Township Building, located in the industrial park.