FAIRFIELD — Navy and Air Force veteran Bill Mann doesn’t consider himself a hero, but a comedian.
“You don’t want a comedian, you want a hero,” Mann said, laughing.
At 81, Mann can still distinctly remember every day, every date and every place he served in the military. Though he claims he wasn’t a hero, Mann served in two wars, routinely aided in rescue missions, traveled the world and, when his time was up with the Navy, decided to re-enlist in the Air Force.
Mann can remember exactly how long he served – 21 years and 29 days.
He was born in 1931 in the small town of Brilliant, Ala.
“That doesn’t make me brilliant,” he said, laughing.
He later moved to Virginia, California and Nevada, where he enlisted in the Navy in 1948. He served until 1957.
When it came time to re-enlist, it all came down to one factor: His wife.
“I almost stayed in the Navy,” he said. “But my wife didn’t sound interested in going to New Jersey.”
So instead, Mann opted to go attend flight engineer school with the Air Force and remembers the day he started: June 28, 1957.
He was later assigned to a squadron in Germany, where he and his wife stayed for three years.
During his time with the military, Mann was stationed in many locations, such as Germany, Japan, Korea and the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. On the islands, he observed many nuclear bomb tests where he recalled how intense the bomb’s destruction was.
Among his many duties was aiding in search-and-rescue missions for pilots and navigators, with Mann and a crew searching for three to four days.
“It was not likely we would find anybody after that many days,” he said.
Though Mann has many memories of his search-and-rescue missions, testing bombs and fixing planes and helicopters, one of his more exciting and fond memories was that of the day he didn’t see his son born.
In 1958, Mann was ordered to return from California to Barbers Point in Hawaii. His pregnant wife stayed behind. Although she wasn’t due soon and although Mann wasn’t in Hawaii that long, his son was born anyway. And that memory is one Mann can always laugh at.
“He was stubborn. He didn’t want to be born when I was there,” he said, laughing.
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