U.S. Airforce, Lieutenant Colonel
(1942-1972), World War II, Korean War & Vietnam War
From North Africa to the Pentagon to the Skies over Vietnam. Bill Palmer flew mostly P-38s during World War II, spent most of the Korean War at Hamilton and shuttled dignitaries in Vietnam.
Occupation: Career military, community affairs and personnel
Branch of military: U.S. Army Air Corps, U.S. Air Force
Highest rank: Lieutenant colonel
Years of service: 1942-72
Specialty: Pilot, community affairs
Training location: Moffett Field, Chico, Victorville, Novato
Active duty operations: World War II (North Africa, Europe), Korean War (Japan and stateside), Vietnam
Locations deployed: England, North Africa, Southern Europe, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Pentagon.
Combat: North Africa, Southern Europe, Vietnam
Combat injuries: None
Active with veterans groups: Military Officers Association of America.
Bill Palmer, who lives in the Presidentials neighborhood of Novato, was based at Hamilton Air Force Base during World War II and the Korean War. He spent most of World War II piloting the P-38 Lightning, a twin-boom, twin-engine fighter plane, on missions over North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, Austria, the Balkans and the southern part of Eastern Europe. He was credited with three downed planes as he focused on strafing, dive-bombing and the escort of B-17 and B-24 bombers.
After training mostly in California, Palmer was moved to a Royal Air Force base in England and then to Casablanca, Morocco starting in November 1942, when the Germans had a strong foothold in North Africa. He stayed in combat zones until January 1943, when he was shifted back to California on training command duty. At the end of the war and into 1946, he worked in the office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon.
Palmer spent the Korean War years at Hamilton and in Japan, but stayed in personnel. He first went to jet school in 1959. He spent the late 1950s and early 1960s stationed in Thailand, where he flew high-level military personnel, intelligence groups and dignitaries in a C-119 cargo/passenger plane and received credit for flying through combat zones. He was based at the Pentagon again from 1964-72.
What’s your favorite memory of your service?
“In North Africa we were in combat, so it was no picnic, but I made a lot of good friends and we had a good time when we were on the ground. I ended up at the Pentagon and developed quite a few friendships there. I was very proud of the role my unit played. We had a fine record. I was lucky; I was never shot up and never had to bail out.”
What was the scariest time for you?
“I was coming back from a bombing run in Romania one time and I was over Yugoslavia. When you’re heading home, you get rather casual, and you’d lower your windows and relax a little bit. One time — bango! — some flak hit me and flipped me completely over. It was pretty hairy. I was fortunate I didn’t have much damage. But that feeling stuck with me.”
“One ill was a pretty hairy experience. I was in a situation over Athens and we were outnumbered. When you are in a situation like that, you fly in a circle — an old air maneuver. I’m following around and banking to the right, and all of a sudden where I thought my wingman was there was a plane firing at me. I pulled the stick and hit left full rudder and lost him.”
Is patriotism what it used to be?
“It’s very lacking today. It concerns me for the future … very much so. With my generation, when the war came along, we all stood in line and wanted in. Certainly I’m not a warmonger. If you’ve ever been in one, you’re not. But I don’t like what’s going on today.”