WSpencer-Long Winding Road 2
Updated: 6 days ago
Explore the rest of this website about my dad's B-17 crew: www.rumboogiecrew.com
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When I was 24 years old, I got married. There were lots of red flags about the marriage that I ignored mostly because girls of my generation were supposed to get married, and since I was already older than most brides, I worried I might not get another offer. It turned out that the guy I married was an alcoholic. Since he liked to drink at home, I spent years of my life wandering around my hometown, lost, trying to escape the madness. When my then husband finally agreed to get treatment, I accompanied him on that very public journey of sharing every gory detail of our lives. As painful as all that was, it was nothing compared to how I felt when he brought home a case of beer less than a month after completing rehab. After that supposed final straw, I can't explain why it took me years to divorce him. The denial that accompanies alcoholics and the people who stay with them can be powerful and incredibly difficult to understand for anyone who has not been in that situation.
I hadn't thought about those years for a long time. But the memories came rushing back on a snowy weekend in February, 2017. I was on Ancestry.com trying to find William Spencer, the Rum Boogie Crew Bombardier. There were two 1st Lieutenants, William H. Spencer and William L. Spencer in the 337th Squadron at Snetterton, both Bombardiers. At this time, I was still trying to figure out which one was on my dad's crew. When I typed "William Spencer" into the Ancestry search bar, I ended up in a section of detailed California funeral home records. At first, I was confused about why the search had taken me there, but as I started going through the documents, I realized some of them were for William H. Spencer.
(Click on the above image to learn more about the life and death of William H. Spencer.)
From the details I saw on the forms and my personal experiences with my ex, it was obvious that William H. Spencer had died of alcoholism in what I knew was not the best part of San Francisco. The manager of the rooming house where he died had called the authorities to report it. The documentation also contained his daughter's name and address as well as every fascinating detail of how Mr. Spencer's body had lovingly been returned home to Indiana.
Although looking at all the information about William H. Spencer's death was captivating, I chose to ignore it all. Denial, which I was very good at, once again served me as a powerful escape from the truth. I thought I had already found my Bombardier - William L. Spencer. He and his wife Wilda had lived in Ashtabula, Ohio all their lives and been married for decades. They had two children, a son and a daughter. I thought they were the perfect family.
One day when I was talking about this whole situation with my brother Steve, he told me I could request a SF-180 under the Freedom of Information Act and get William H. Spencer's service records. I found out the request would cost $75, which was a lot of money that I didn't have. But the bottom line was I had to know which William Spencer was on the Rum Boogie Crew, and I owed it to my dad and everybody else involved with my search to find out.
William H. Spencer
I sent off the SF-180. After a couple of months of waiting, I got a letter back that said William H. Spencer's records had been destroyed during the National Personnel Records Center fire in 1973. They offered to send me Mr. Spencer's final pay stub, which was the only thing they had, or refund my money. This was the end of my long and winding road - I was at the final door. I could not let my alcoholic ex-husband or my thoughts about what I wanted the answer to be or even my need for money influence my decision whether or not to open the door. I thought of everything the men on my dad's crew had sacrificed, how brave they had all been, and then wrote back and told them to send me the pay stub. After a few more weeks, the envelope arrived. The service number on William H. Spencer's final pay stub and the service number for William Spencer on the crew list were a match.
During all of this, I have found a lot of things: After a seven year search, I have found William H. Spencer, Rum Boogie Crew Bombardier, even though he made a good game of hiding from me. Next, I found Mr. Spencer's son-in-law, who graciously helped me reconstruct the history; and I found the courage to tell his story in the best way I could knowing that he was an integral part of a crew who did amazing things that changed the world we currently live in for the better.
On Memorial Day, 2017, I commemorated Mr. Spencer with a red rose in San Francisco Bay - a trip I planned before I found him. I hope at last he is in a peaceful place.
What happened to Bill is not that unusual for men who have defended our country. They have seen and been a part of horrific things. I grew up during the Viet Nam War. My brother joined the Marines right after high school and served on the ground there. I thank God every day that my brother is all right because I see too many Viet Nam Vets who aren't - who have been ravaged by drugs and alcohol and homelessness in a country that didn't welcome them home. If you would like to make a donation to any service related charity, please consider doing so today.
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