Bill Terry, a retired partner in the Friday Law Firm, died Christmas day at 94. And what a life he lived, as his obituary at Ruebel Funeral Home makes clear. Son of a congressman, his childhood was spent in the historic Pike-Fletcher-Terry House downtown. He made his own mark as a flyer in World War II and as a distinguished Little Rock lawyer, with a guiding role in just about every civic and philanthropic effort imaginable. He made a regular visit to a law firm office until he was 92
I came to know him as the kind and soft-spoken father, then grandfather, of friends. To them I send best wishes this morning.
A few months ago, the family had a joint outing for what would be Mr. Terry’s final vote. They shared several photos with me then, including with his daughter, Susan Borne, at the voting machine. At least he came up on the winning side in Pulaski County.
UPDATE: From Robert Johnston, the former legislator and PSC commissioner, comes an elaboration on Terry’s World War II service, for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross as a gunner on a B-17.
The obit for William L. Terry mentioned his 34 missions as a gunner in B-17s from March-August 1944. There is more… much more… to the story.
Bill Terry was 6’3” and a waist gunner (designed for 5’6”.] In addition to the discomfort from flying at high altitude in subzero cold at an open window he had the added strain of firing from a crouch, his head hitting the metal ceiling with each bump, as was almost continuous in rough air and common flak.
During his training he heard the casualty reports and calculated his chances of living through his tour – in ‘43 and ‘44 ‘fly 25 missions and you rotate home’… but about 10% of the bombers were being shot down each mission over Europe… i.e. 10 missions and your chances were approaching 100 percent for death.
That changed… Bill Terry told me he owed his life to the P-47 Thunderbolt, which had the added range with drop tanks to escort the bombers all the way into Germany… and dropped the casualty rate much lower… but the number of missions increased.
His closest brush with death occurred just a few days before D-Day and explains why he was on leave in England on 6 Jun 44. His crew drew heavy flak… which blew off both legs of the pilot. The co-pilot landed the plane, with Terry in the seat of the badly wounded pilot. The pilot died a day later. The crew was given two days ‘trauma’ leave.
Three years later Bill and Betty – his new pride and bride – visited the parents of the dead pilot.
He said, “It could have been me. I’m glad it wasn’t,”