This is kind of like how I feel about my (possibly four) upcoming surgeries: I don’t want to do this, but I have to, and I hate it.
Received a kind e-mail yesterday telling me of the death of Bill Schock of Falls City, NE, on Thursday evening, six weeks short of his 100th birthday. Cripes, 2018, you’re just not going to let up, are you? This bites very hard.
I’ve written and posted photos and documents here about Bill before. Without him, I would never have finished my first book; in fact, without him, there would have been really no book at all, because his photos and reporting about the crash of Braniff International flight 250 near Falls City in 1966 form the foundation of the book and provide witness to the events of the tragic night of 6-Aug-1966. He very graciously gave, with no expectation of anything in return, photos, archives, notes and the permission to use them.
But more, far, far more than that, he was what most of us can only aspire to be: a man of his generation who played an important part in his country’s fight against global fascism, and an exemplary journalist, the highest ideal of American newspaper reporting. At a time of a resurgence of fascism and a retreat into seeming death of (especially small town) American journalism, this is a particularly hard blow. It was inevitable. But still.
Bill fell last week, suffering cuts and bruises. But his hospital checkup revealed something he had, typically, kept quiet: he had end-stage liver cancer. He died Thursday night.
Also typically, he wrote just a simple six paragraph obituary for himself, leaving out … well, most of his singularly extraordinary life. His grandson fortunately took it in hand and summed up Bill’s amazing life in the «obituary that was actually published here by the funeral home»:
“Bill Schock, a war hero who helped save the world from fascism and a beloved pillar of the Falls City community his entire remarkable life, years ago penned his own obituary and tucked it away for safekeeping. “Papa,” as he was affectionately known by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren the past 50 years, used just six small paragraphs and half a sheet of paper in understating an iconic life worthy of a weighty tome, chapters of which could be mistaken for fiction. Words like “hero,” “beloved,” “pillar,” “remarkable,” and “iconic” were not included, nor even considered. There was no mention of “Bill Schock Blvd.” or the myriad of individual honors and awards earned either professionally, during a 70-year career at The Falls City Journal, or civically, when he served on the City Council, School Board, Hospital Board, Rotary Club, Veteran’s Service Committee and Nebraska Outstate Daily Publishers Association, just to name a few. It read only that “Bill has served on numerous boards.” It was that modesty that helped make Falls City’s love for Bill Schock rival only Bill Schock’s love for Falls City. …”Dorr and Clark Funeral Home, Falls City, NE
Read the whole thing. Bill’s was a life well-lived, and for many people, including me, “icon” and “hero” are highly appropriate words. I typically don’t like the words “hero” or “heroism;” they’re trite and overused. Just my parents and my husband have always been my “heroes.” Beyond that? Well, I’ve found few that can exhibit real “heroism.” In fact, these days, you’re a hero if you spend a few hours suffering from a hangnail, or put a piece of trash in a garbage bin. Bill however; now there’s someone I can look up to as an actual hero.
He gave in, fortunately for us, to his family’s urging to write a memoir of at least his World War II experience. “Thrills, Chills and a Spill,” is fascinating reading. Very few copies exist, since he apparently didn’t think anyone else would be interested. (!!!!!) I fortunately found a .pdf of it and it’s pretty spellbinding. And very vintage Bill. He ends it with this summing up:
“As we leave Europe and the war behind us, I can’t help but think of the one year, nine months and 22 days spent here in history’s worst war, trying to do my small bit for my country. It sure as heck wasn’t fun and games!
“But like the feller says, I would’t do it again for a billion bucks. And, on the other hand, I wouldn’t take a billion bucks for what I’ve gone through.
“They just have to be the greatest experiences of my life.”
And the book is just one year, nine months and 22 days out of 100 years of his amazing life. The other 98 were exemplary of sacrifice, service and great good fun, from bombing the hell out of German fascists to listening to countless school board meetings. This one is devastating. Heart-breaking. Who can replace his extremely large shoes? I wish I knew.
Farewell, Bill Schock. Sir, we appreciate, thank and salute you, not only for your time in uniform, but also and especially for your long service out of it. You are keenly missed.