March 25, 2017 –
Few of the sixteen million Americans that joined allies across the globe remain to tell the tale of World War II. William Dellinger, a 96-year-old veteran and native of Charlotte, North Carolina, was among those who served and sacrificed for their country and loved ones. Now, Nearly 72 years after completing his service to the nation, in a tiny suburb of Charlotte, Dellinger sat down to reminisce on the War, the things he’s seen, and the life he’s led since.
Born on July 31, 1920, Dellinger learned at an early age how to carve his own toys, whittling them into a likeness of things he was fond of, including airplanes.
That interest grew to include the way they flew, and the type of machinery it took to build them; there was no question in Dellinger’s mind as to what career path he would inevitably follow.
It was several years after graduating high school and a stint at an automobile dealership, when he finally came around to pursuing his passion for planes.
He registered for the Army Air Forces on August 21, 1942.
“I said to myself, I’m going to go ahead and join because I want to work on air craft,” he said, smiling.
Six weeks later, Dellinger was shipped to basic combat training in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“My first duty station was at Marianna, Florida (Graham Airbase).” As Dellinger told it, things didn’t get off to a great start, thanks to a particular officer in charge.
"I'll never forget his name. Provost Marshall Capt. Clemmons,” he said, recounting the day like it was yesterday. “He put us in formation, then told us “all of you Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia men dismiss yourself and make another formation…you’ll be on guard duty.”
“Oh man, I just about fell to the ground when he said that,” laughed Dellinger.
Though funny to him now, guard duty was far from the technical school for mechanical aircraft he had set his sights on.
Refusing to let his dreams perish, Dellinger worked harder, volunteering for everything that came his way; so much so that his leadership took notice, gave his packet a second glance and granted him his wish.
Whisked away to Amarillo Air Force Base, he received training at the mechanical school for aircraft. He learned the rules of aerodynamics, the mechanical care of aircraft, and how to assemble the machinery needed to make an airplane take flight.
“They (the instructors) knew we were headed overseas … and needed to know everything,” he said.
Once deployed, the troops would be completely on their own.
In the months that followed, Dellinger would travel across the country, perfecting his trade at aircraft manufacturing plants like Boeing in Seattle, Washington: all for the benefit of the military and the Nation.
Dellinger completed his training and in January 1945, he deployed to Guam to join the fight in the Pacific Region with the Third Marine Division and the Army. Their mission was to provide offensive counter-air strikes to the enemy through ground attacks. Fighting both in the air and on the ground, Dellinger remained combat ready.
Between managing the aircraft during typhoons in the middle of the night to fighting the enemy through tropical forests, Dellinger never quit.
“In the wee hours of the morning and sometimes in the middle of the night, the storms would come. I would get out of my tent and walk a mile away from the jungle to secure the planes,” said Dellinger. U.S. aircraft were outside of the forests were the Soldiers camped.
"In the jungle you didn’t know if you’d get hit by a bayonet or a bullet leaving your tent,” he said.
As part of coping with his experiences on the island, Dellinger kept a log of all of the flights during his time in Guam as a physical and mental reminder. In all, he served as a mechanic for more than 25 successful air combat missions.
“Boy was I ready to come home,” said Dellinger. “Word travelled slower in the 40s, they (the Japanese) were still fighting when we were leaving and it (the war) was over.”
Returning stateside, Dellinger and the other service members were flown to California. “When we came back from overseas we got to California, cleaned up, received a good meal, jumped on a troop train, and for five days and five nights travelled across the country to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for discharge,” said Dellinger.
At Fort Bragg, Dellinger and the others lined up and received discharge physicals, one by one. “The line was so long. There was so many of us that they had to give us or shots outside under the pine trees,” he said.
Due the lack of room on base, once the Soldiers’ physicals were completed, they were allowed to go home for three days. “They took us downtown and I was put on a bus to go home. I came back three days later and was discharged,” said Dellinger.
After being discharged, Dellinger went back to North Carolina to unite with his lovely wife and daughter.
“They asked me to stay in, but I wanted to get back home to Marion. I couldn’t have been happier to see her and my 1 1/2 year old daughter. You’d better believe she sure did take care of me,” he said.
After a few years of working odd jobs, he started working for the North Carolina Department of Transportation in 1955. “I finally got to put all that knowledge I learned in the military to work,” said Dellinger.
But the war for Dellinger has lingered on. He says he still wakes sometimes in the middle of the night, thinking about his time on the island. He never told Marion.
“I never wanted worry her, so we never talked about it.” said Dellinger. Instead he learned to wake himself up, realize where he was and tell himself it was just a dream, he said he would then “thank God it’s over and move forward.”
Marion died in 2004, after more than 60 years of marriage. “She was the love of my life,” said Dellinger.
At 96 years old the veteran can still be seen out and about, driving and working in his yard, and to this day, he still can fit into his old dress uniform. He keeps busy with hobbies such as creating solar panels, traveling to visit friends and family members, and even chopping the occasional firewood. “It keeps me young,” he chuckled.
“I wouldn’t have been able to live my life the way I have without the military. I’m thankful,” said Dellinger.