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NY Air Guard Leaders Salute World War II Vet on his 100th

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Ryan Campbell,
  • New York National Guard

LATHAM, N.Y. – New York Air National Guard leaders gathered at the Shaker Place Nursing Home to honor a World War II veteran on his 100th birthday Nov. 28.

William H. Meyer served in the Army Air Forces, and later the Air Force once it became its own branch in 1947, as an aerial photographer from 1940 to 1962.

He retired as a master sergeant and became a teacher at Shaker High School until 1988.

“I’ve known Bill for several years,” said Col. Eric Underhill, the director of operations for the New York National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters. “I wanted to come show my respect to him.”

Underhill said many of his fellow Air National Guardsmen volunteered to go to the celebration, which featured an Air Force-themed cake, decorations, and photos from Meyer’s career as an Airman and teacher.

Airmen, staff, nursing home residents and local government officials gathered around Meyer, singing happy birthday and presenting him with gifts on behalf of the New York National Guard.

Meyer enlisted in December 1940, before America formally entered World War II. A year later, once war was declared, Meyer was sent to Australia — diverted from his original destination of the Philippines once the island nation fell to the Japanese.

“To see what these heroes accomplished and what they accomplished it with ... it’s amazing to see how it inspires others to serve,” Underhill said.

He spent 34 months based in Australia. His unit was stationed in the Australian port of Darwin when it was bombed by the Japanese in February 1942.

He flew on missions throughout the region and was bombed countless times. One time a bomb hit 50 yards away, according to a newspaper article.

On one mission over Burma, his plane was shot down and he was the only survivor.

“Being in the military and being able to honor those who served while they’re still here is extremely important,” said New York Air Guard Command Chief Master Sgt. Denny Richardson.

As of 2022, out of over 16 million Americans who served in World War II, only 167,000 are still alive, with 180 dying each day, according to the Veterans Administration.

“It gives you that clarity and purpose of why we serve, and when I say we are standing on the shoulders of giants, we really are standing on the shoulders of giants,” Richardson said.

“Bill is one of those giants,” he said.

Meyer returned to America in late 1944 and was one of the first to be discharged on May 28, 1945, after the war in Europe ended.

Meyer later said he never adjusted well back to civilian life.

So he re-enlisted in Army Air Forces in June 1946, resuming his career as an Air Force photographer.

Events he covered included President John F. Kennedy’s official visit to South Africa in 1961.

Richardson summed up how the Airmen felt.

“It fills us with a sense of pride, a sense of purpose just to be able to honor him as a veteran,” he said.