PAWTUCKET â In the picture, William Pacelt is seen as a 22-year-old serviceman standing outside of his living quarters at an Army Air Corps base in England. The year is 1944.
âWe called them Nissen Huts during the war,â the 89-year-old World War II veteran was saying last week when asked about his time in the service. âNow they call them Quonset Huts. I spent two years in England at the BAD No. 2 Air Base located right outside of Blackpool, which was a resort town. Our air base was well-protected but we had some trouble at times. I worked on the hydraulic systems in our airplanes. I was a mechanic and my job was to make the planes safe for flying.â
A Pawtucket native, Pacelt was drafted in 1942 and became a member of the Army Air Corps. Back in those days, the United States Armed Forces were limited to the Army and Navy with the Marines a component of the Navy. The Air Force would be added in 1947, replacing the Army Air Corps.
âI trained for one year at Geiger Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington,â Pacelt recalled. âThen in 1943 we took a train to Taunton, Mass. We got on another train to Halifax, Nova Scotia. From there we were put on a troop ship that was unescorted across the ocean. It took four days and five nights to cross the Atlantic and get to England. The ships traveled at high speed to avoid the German submarines.â
Pacelt had an interesting answer when asked to describe the impact military service had on his life.
âI canât say I enjoyed it,â he said. âI was not really a military man. But I met some great people in the service. I enjoyed the English people. They were very down to earth.â
Pacelt spent some time in Germany after the war ended and the occupation began.
âThe German people were good people,â he said. âMost of them were glad the war was over.â
Paceltâs older brother Arnold worked in Army Intelligence.
âWe got together once during the war,â Pacelt said. âI met him at a Red Cross Center in Manchester, England. He was wounded at D-Day, shot up pretty bad. He was actually hit by a âScreaming Mimiâ â a concussion bomb that blew out his teeth and messed up his jaw. Arnold was in pretty bad shape and underwent a lot of surgeries over the years. He passed away in 2000.â
Bill Pacelt came home from the war and went back to work at his railroad job.
âI worked for the New Haven Railroad before I was drafted,â he said. âI spent 40 years working on the railroad and retired in 1982. My son-in-law just passed away recently. He was a Vietnam Veteran who got cancer, probably from the Agent Orange he was exposed to over there.â
Pacelt sometimes thinks of the young man seen in the picture, standing with hands in his pockets outside his living quarters.
âWhen I look at that picture, I am thankful for being well-protected when I was stationed in England,â he said. âI also realize that I would have been married a few years earlier to my wife Ellen if Uncle Sam didnât have different ideas for me. I met Ellen in kindergarten. I didnât really become interested in her until seventh grade. We were engaged by the time I was drafted in 1942. The war intervened but I came home and we got married and have been together ever since.â
(This article will appear in Monday's Times.)