NSU honors Bill Bacle; veteran shares his story


Northwestern State University recognized Urson S. “Bill” Bacle of Coushatta, who served in both the U.S. Army Corps during World War II and later with the U.S. Air Force, during the Feb. 16 basketball game, the university’s on-going effort to honor veterans. Bacle served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from June 26, 1943, to April 7, 1946. The Air Force recalled him to service on September 1, 1951, where he was a flight line mechanic and part-time engineer. He retired from the Air Force in April 1970 with the rank of Major.

The first-person account of his story, as told to Sid Hall, NSU’s Military Affairs Coordinator and ROTC Program Manager, is as follows.

“I started my World War II tour at Camp Beauregard. I had received a letter from President Roosevelt saying, ‘Your friends and neighbors have selected you to become a member of the armed forces.’ So, I was drafted and down about it. My grandfather sent a strongly worded letter of encouragement to me. He reminded me it was my duty to serve. I still have the letter and think of him often.

“In November 1942, the military decided troops would go where they were needed – not necessarily where they wanted to be, and that included the branch of service. I really didn’t want to be in the Navy. I couldn’t stand the thought of being stuck on a ship throughout the war. I just about had myself convinced that if I were picked for the Navy, I would probably go AWOL. Before I left, my father told me to listen closely to everything around me, otherwise, I might miss something important.

“When I signed in, I found myself in a twisting, turning line of about 400 new recruits. We had already turned in our civvies and were waiting for uniforms and orders. I saw a big, burly petty officer walk in and talk to the person in charge of us. He needed about 30 new seamen that day. I watched him point to the front of the line and tell the sergeant, ‘I’ll just take the first 30 there.’ I counted the heads in front of me – I was number 10! I quickly turned to a guy in the next line over and asked him to trade places with me. I told him I wanted to talk to a friend at the back of the line. I watched him march off hollering that he wasn’t in the right line, someone had traded with him! Yes, my daddy was right. ‘You really do need to pay close attention to what is going on around you.’

“I was sent to Aeronautical Trade School in Shreveport. I remember eating fish at a restaurant there one night. They had a sign that read, ‘Our fish is so fresh, it slept in the lake last night.’ When we left, it was raining cats and dogs. We came up on a car that had slipped into the ditch. As the window rolled down, I saw a clean cut fella in a crisp uniform. We had a rope in our car, so I told him to stay in the car, and we would pull him out. His name was CPT Fauntleroy, and he worked at Camp Beauregard. Still, in Shreveport, I had been on KP, stayed up all night long washing pots and pans.

“The next morning, I had to take a test for aviation cadets. Wouldn’t you know it; I failed it and was shipped off to Camp Beauregard. I didn’t know what kind of unit they were going put me in so I looked up CPT Fauntleroy. I reminded him who I was, and explained the situation. I really wanted to be in the Air Force, so he got to work. He took care of my paperwork and before I knew it, I was headed to Miami Beach for Air Force basic training – all because I helped someone who was stuck in the mud.

“Basic training at Miami Beach was pretty good. We drilled on the golf course and swam in the ocean in the evening. We had to start pulling guard duty because German saboteurs had just been caught in New York. One night while on guard duty, I heard rustling in the bushes. ‘Halt,’ I yelled, as I’d just been taught. I’d been given a 1903 Springfield Rifle and 5 rounds of ammunition. ‘Halt or I’ll shoot!’ The rustling continued, and I opened fire. At daylight, we went to check the area and found a sea turtle that had been peppered with bullets. We wrapped it up in a sheet and brought it to a nearby restaurant. The chef invited us back that night, and we downed that entire turtle in no time.

“After gunnery school, I was shipped straight to the Pacific. Actually, I was shipped to the Pacific. It wasn’t straight at all. It took 26 days to get from Seattle to Honolulu because our ship broke down, again and again. Two days before we made it to Honolulu, we were out of drinking water and were down to only apples, cookies and grapefruit juice. A train track ran alongside the harbor, and when we pulled into port, I saw trains loaded with pineapples. You could smell the pineapples from miles away. I found a loose nut on the ship’s floor, tied a 5-dollar bill to it, and threw it to a man standing next to a stalled train. He took two pineapples and threw them to me like footballs. I can still taste that juicy, sweet pineapple. Within a few minutes, all the men were doing the same thing. Before you knew it, the entire deck was sticky with pineapple juice.

“I was a crew chief of C47s and C46s. My organization was air transportation command, and I served on Kwajalein in the Pacific. In our off-duty time, my buddies and I took our mattress covers down to the beach. If you waved them around, you could fill them with air, tie them off, and ride the waves. We had been doing that all morning and at chow time, we moved to the beach, threw the covers over our shoulders and turned for camp. A photographer ran over. He was out of breath when he asked us to ride the waves again so he could take a photo. We all went back in the water. Of course, we were skinny-dipping, so we had to hold the mattress covers close. My picture is in a five-volume series of the war. I was buck naked.”

“After speaking with Mr. Bacle for a while, I realized I laid my pen aside and just listened,” Hall said. “He did not mention wartime fighting, so I respected his privacy. Instead, he regaled me with story after story of the good times. He served at Barksdale Air Force Base and with Strategic Air Command in Salina, Kansas. In San Marcos, Texas, he taught Army pilots how to fly. He attended Munitions Officers School in Denver. While serving on Guam, he learned to scuba dive and caught an 11-pound langosta while night fishing. He also escorted a team of Japanese newspaper reporters who were trying to coax Japanese soldiers out of hiding. In 1955 while reading the Shreveport Times, he saw that on Guam, 17 Japanese soldiers turned themselves in.

“I knew they were out there,” he said. “I saw their tracks.”

At Edwards Air Force Base, he was the Operations Officer for the Air Police Squadron. At Vandenberg Air Base, he worked with the Minuteman Missile program.

“All of our Veterans, both young and old, have fascinating stories to tell. We simply need to take the time to listen,” Hall said.

To nominate a Veteran for recognition at an upcoming NSU event, please contact Hall, NSU’s Military Affairs Coordinator, at halls@nsula.edu or (318) 357-6951.

To view a video of last night’s presentation, click here:

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