Willis Albert “Bill” Paschal – 2017 Inductee

(On this date, August 8, 2017, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the fourth of five members of the OCHF Class of 2017.)

2013-09-08 90th birthday grey background
Bill Paschal, taken on his 90th birthday.

 

The seventh and latest Valley Township resident to be named a member of the Osborne County Hall of Fame was born September 9, 1923, the third child of Albert and Clara (Russum) Paschal in the Vincent community in Osborne County, north of Luray, Kansas. Willis Albert “Bill” Paschal was welcomed by older siblings Inez (Breeden) and Wallace. From a very young age, Bill was helping his father with chores around the farm. He helped to work the horse-drawn plows, tended to cattle and horses, and weeded gardens, among many other tasks.  At the tender age of seven Bill’s mother died, and the young boy became a very independent thinker and doer. By the age of nine he was riding his pony the seven miles to Luray and on another four miles east to spend the week at a farmer’s home, herding his cattle along the road for pennies a day.

 

Paschal Bill 8 to 9 years old
Bill at age 8 or 9 years old.

His father married Hazel Cooper a few years later. The family soon welcomed the addition of Robert and later Maurita (Cederberg). Bill’s grade school years were in the rural one-room Vincent School. He would usually ride his pony there. When it was too cold to ride, his father, Albert, would put him in an old milk wagon, point the horse towards the school, and slap the horse on the rump. This was reversed for the trip home. Bill had many cousins in the surrounding Vincent community with whom he enjoyed spending time. Because of their love of baseball, Albert and Wallace constructed a baseball field out of the corner of a pasture. The cousins enjoyed many games played on Paschal Field.

Bill attended and graduated from Luray High School with the class of 1941. During high school he participated in basketball and football (lettering multiple times), and was part of the undefeated football team of 1940. Another cherished memory was of beating Russell High School in basketball (Bob Dole was on Russell’s team). At the age of 15 Bill was one of the workers who dug out the floor (by hand) of the Hickman Theater to turn it from a theater to a gymnasium, which was used by Luray High School and is now known as the Luray Legion Hall.

Paschal Bill at 16
Bill at age 16 years.
Paschal Bill 1940 Luray High football team Bill is #5 in back row
Bill was #5 ( find the “x”) on the Luray High School undefeated team of 1940.
Paschal Bill at age 19 WWII
Bill was 19 years old when he entered the Army Air Corps during World War II.

After graduation Bill enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942. By the age of 19 he had become an instructor for ground and aerial gunnery (50mm machine gun) at Tyndall Field in Florida. After ten missions over northern Europe as a nose gunner on a B-24, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Austria, the day after his 21st birthday. Bill parachuted, landing in the Danube River, where he was discovered by a farmer’s dog and captured. The next eight months were spent in POW camp Stalag IV-B, in northern Germany. To combat both boredom and the extreme cold, Bill fashioned a crochet hook from a piece of wood he pulled loose from a floorboard. He would unravel the sleeves of sweaters sent by the Red Cross and, recalling how he used to watch his grandmother crochet, he invented a crochet stitch and proceeded to crochet hats and gloves for himself and other soldiers. In the last months of the war, Bill was forced to endure the hardships of three months of the “Black March”. Starvation and freezing temperatures were a constant threat. He was eventually liberated by Scottish Highlander soldiers, and proceeded to walk to Holland in order to find a ship home. Bill was honorably discharged in October 1945.

Bill returned to his parents’ home in the Vincent community, and enrolled at Kansas State University (KSU). While in college he started his farming operation, renting 160 acres in Osborne County and soon buying a farm one mile east of Luray. In order to keep farming while attending college, Bill would hitchhike from Manhattan back to Luray on the weekends. During this time he married his high school sweetheart, Joyce Johnson, on New Year’s Day 1947. After they both graduated from KSU, Bill with a degree in agricultural economics and Joyce with an education degree, they made their home in the Luray area where Bill was a successful farmer/stockman and Joyce taught school. Over the years he was featured in several farming publications for his progressive farming techniques and soil conservation efforts. Bill and Joyce were named Kansas Master Farmer and Master Farm Homemaker for the year 1981. Their farming operation increased to include almost 6,000 acres (including the Osborne County farm he grew up on) growing crops of wheat, milo, and alfalfa and running a cattle and hog operation.

Paschal Bill & Hazel Cooper wedding 1 Jan 1947
Bill wedded Joyce Johnson on January 1, 1947.

Bill has served his community by involving himself in area activities. During his 20s he played on the Luray community baseball team, usually as the catcher. Bill also umpired many baseball games in the area. When he was a little older, on most Friday nights he could be found working the score clock at a Luray basketball game or the chains at numerous high school football games. The stands at these football games were filled with people wearing hats bearing the orange and black of Luray High School. Bill crocheted all those hats using the crochet hook and the crochet stitch he invented while he was held prisoner in the POW camp. If there was any event in town, Bill could usually be found helping to set up for it and cleaning up afterward.

In the past Bill has served on the board of directors for Midway Co-op, served many years on the Russell County Free Fair board, the Russell County 4-H Development Fund board, and over 30 years as a 4-H club leader of the Wolf Creek Valley 4-H Club. He is a charter member of the Luray Lion’s Club (over 65 years), a member of American Legion Post 309, and of Luray United Methodist Church where he has served  on the  Board of Trustees, Administrative Board, and on the Building Committee when they built the new church in 1968. He also sang in the church choir on a weekly basis. Bill served at the first Luray Methodist Men’s Fish Fry in 1939 and served again at the 79th annual event in 2017, missing volunteering for this event only while in captivity during World War II.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Von Rothenberger took this photo of Bill Paschal at the 79th Luray Fish Fry on March 17, 2017.
Paschal Bill part of Am Legion firing squad Memorial Day
Bill Paschal participating with the Luray American Legion as part of the firing squad during annual Memorial Day ceremonies.
Paschal Bill rafting June 17 2016 Colorado
Proving that age is just a number, Bill Paschal enjoys rafting with family members in this photo from June 2016.

Bill is now retired from farming, with his son Mark taking over the farm. He and Joyce (deceased November 2012) have three children – Mark Paschal, Martha Powell, and Meredith Mense. He loves to spend time with his grandchildren – Nicole (Paschal) Webber, Dr. Caitlin Powell, Garrett Powell, Brennan Mense, and Michaela Mense. Bill is thrilled by the addition of his first great-grandson, Landyn Webber, and continues to make his home at Luray – the home of an honored member of the Osborne County Hall of Fame.

 

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World War II veteran recalls experiences as a German POW

Salina Journal

Friday, November 11, 2016

By Gary Demuth

LURAY — Until he was held as a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II, Bill Paschal never thought the time he spent watching his grandmother crochet would come in handy.

Paschal, a nose gunner on a B-24 bomber, parachuted into the Danube River after his plane was shot down over Vienna, Austria, on Sept. 10, 1944 — the day after his 21st birthday.

Now he was in Stalag IV-B, a German POW camp in the far northern city of Stettin, Germany. During his nine months at the camp, much of it during a fiercely cold winter, Paschal and his fellow prisoners experienced frigid temperatures in uninsulated cabins with nothing but a small heating stove for warmth.

The Red Cross had supplied the prisoners with sweaters to help keep them warm, but that didn’t help their half-frozen hands and bare heads. That’s when Paschal had an idea. They would rip the sleeves off their sweaters, unravel them into strings of yarn, and Paschal would crochet them into gloves and caps.

“Me and another prisoner, Rex, a kid from Missouri, remembered watching our grandmothers crochet while we were growing up,” said Paschal, now 93. “We made some crochet needles from tree branches and fiddled around until we made gloves and caps that looked like little hunter hats with flaps.”

Paschal was happy to do this service for his fellow prisoners, crocheting nearly 50 hats and gloves during his nine months at the camp.

“It was something to do in the camp,” he said.

‘Black March’

On the eve of Veterans Day, Paschal recalled his service during World War II, where he not only flew 10 missions on a B-24 and spent months in a German POW camp but was part of a German “Black March,” where thousands of POWs marched countless miles in northern Europe to avoid the advancing American and Allied forces from the west and Russia from the east.

The Germans wanted to keep the prisoners to use as bargaining tools as the war came to an end, but the arduous march cost the lives of 6,000 of their starved and exhausted captives.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” Paschal said.

It was a situation Paschal never envisioned for himself while growing up the middle child of five on a Luray farm family. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the U.S. entered World War II, Paschal and a few of his buddies went to Kansas City to enlist in October 1942. Paschal was just 18 at the time, a recent graduate of Luray High School.

“I signed up for the Army Air Corps and went off that day because I didn’t want to have to come back later,” he said.

Paschal went through basic training at Tyndall Field, Florida, near Panama City and became an instructor for ground and aerial gunnery beginning at age 19. In 1944, he was deployed to Europe, eventually ending up at an air base in southern Italy.

Shot Down

Paschal became a nose gunner on a B-24, operating a .50 caliber machine gun and manning a gun turret. He flew 10 missions over northern Europe before the September day when his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire during a bombing raid into Austria and began spiraling into a crash dive.

“The captain held onto the controls as the plane spun around, and he jumped out just before it crashed into the Danube River,” Paschal said. “I parachuted into the river and crawled up the bank. We were being hunted by local farmers who had a police dog, and the dog found me. They turned me in.”

At home in Luray, Paschal’s sister Maurita, then just 7, remembered her parents receiving a telegram saying their son was “missing in action.”

“My brother Robert and I were walking home from school, and we saw our parents coming down the road towards us,” she said. “We knew something was wrong from the looks on their faces. They told us Bill had been shot down and they didn’t know where he was.”

It took another two months before the Paschal family was informed that Bill was in a POW camp in Germany.

“Dad would sit with his ear against the radio every night to hear the war news and find out anything he could about the POWs,” she said.

POW Life

At the stalag, or prison camp, about 26 prisoners were crammed into rooms of about 15-by-15 feet. They slept on triple-deck bunk beds and ate rutabaga, kohlrabi and boiled potatoes, with the occasional luxury of horse meat.

Cigarettes also were a luxury at the camp. Paschal, who didn’t smoke, traded the crocheted caps and gloves he had made for cigarettes, then traded the cigarettes for food to nicotine-addicted prisoners who would rather smoke than eat.

Paschal said he wasn’t the only crafty operator in the camp. There were prisoners who made radios out of wires ripped out of their insulated air uniforms. With these wires and other scrap items, they were able to fashion a crystal radio set to receive war news coming over the airwaves.

“Every night, there was a guy who would sneak around to different cabins and give us news reports of war activities,” he said. “The Germans never knew.”

After the American and Allied armies began pushing into Europe, the Germans decided to move their POWs to another stalag. They marched to different locations in northern Europe for three months in what became known as the “Black March.”

“They were losing the war, so they just started marching us in circles,” Paschal said. “We slept on the ground and were not fed well. It was constantly moving, moving.”

Liberated

Paschal estimated the march covered about 800 miles before they were liberated by Scottish Highlander troops.

“We were marching north with the Americans coming one way and the Russians coming the other,” Paschal said. “After awhile, we noticed there weren’t any guards around anymore. They knew the war was coming to an end, so they disappeared one day. We continued to march and ended up in Holland.”

After being liberated, Paschal was sent back to the U.S. He took a train to Kansas, stopping in Russell, where he was met by his father and brother Wallace.

“He weighed about 100 pounds by the time he got home,” sister Maurita said. “His eyes were so sunken, it didn’t look like him at all.”

Paschal was honorably discharged from the Army and went to college, earning a agricultural economics degree from Kansas State University. On New Year’s Day 1947, he married Joyce Johnson, his childhood sweetheart in Luray, who had worked as a secretary for the Department of the Navy in Washington, D.C.

Paschal spent his life farming in the Luray and Russell County areas. Joyce became a teacher and had three children, Mark, Martha and Meredith.

For years, Paschal didn’t talk about his war experiences and kept all of his war memorabilia in a trunk, including uniforms, his POW dog tag, a German backpack with a wooden block reading “Destination Home” and his medals, which include a POW medal and two Purple Hearts.

What people in his hometown did discover about Paschal’s war years was his crocheting ability, which led to many requests for caps and gloves.

“After I got home, everybody wanted caps and gloves,” he said. “But they had to be orange and black. Those were our school colors.”

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Paschal Bill Storytelling ad Salina Journal 2006 10 Nov

Paschal Bill Storytelling advert Salina Journal 2006 10 Nov
Two advertisements for a talk on Bill Paschal’s WWII POW experiences, from the Salina Journal newspaper of November 10, 2016.

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Luray Farm Couple Honored

Salina Journal

March 11, 1982, Page One

MANHATTAN – A Russell County farmer, who was once a prisoner of war, and his wife, who has taught school for 25 years to help make ends meet, have been named 1981 Kansas Master Farmer and Master Farm Homemaker for Northwest Kansas.

They are Mr. and Mrs. Bill Paschal, Luray.

Six couples will be honored March 19th at the annual Kansas Master Farmer-Master Farm Homemaker recognition banquet on the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan.

The other honorees are Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Colle, Sterling; Mr. and Mrs. Dean Hamilton, Dodge City; Mr. and Mrs. William Beezley, Girard; Mr. and Mrs. Detman Gooderl, Hoyt; and Mr. and Mrs. Ewald Meier, Palmer.

Kansas Master Farmer and Master Farm Homemaker competition is sponsored by the KSU Cooperative Extension Service and the Kansas Association of Commerce and Industry to honor outstanding farm couples.

Nominees are submitted by county extension councils. A five-member judging panel at Kansas State selects the recipients on the basis of excellence in farming, homemaking, farm living and rural citizenship.

The Paschals, both 58, purchased their first land – 240 acres just east of Luray – in 1951. Their operation now includes 1, 600 acres (160 acres in Wyoming) and another 280 rented acres.

About 950 acres are in cultivation and the remainder are pasture.

Strong believers in diversity, the Paschals grow wheat, milo, and alfalfa, feed about 150 steers a year and run a 100-head cow herd.

“If something happens to the profitability of one enterprise, hopefully the others will carry us through,” Paschal says.

The beef cattle operation starts with the purchase of 45-pound crossbred steers in the fall. Steers are wintered on sorghum silage that includes ground grain. Cattle are moved to bromegrass pasture for the summer.

If plenty of milo is available in the fall, steers are finished on milo, ensilage alfalfa, then sold at 1,100 to 1,200 pounds in the spring. Otherwise, they are sold as 800 to 900-pound feeders in the fall.

They also had a farrow-to-finish hog operation for a number of years, but have now turned that operation over to their son, Mark.

The cropping operation is built around a wheat, milo and summer fallow rotation. Herbicide is sprayed and bladed in immediately after wheat harvest, and the land is planted to milo in the spring.

Last year, Paschal had 330 acres of wheat, 225 acres of milo cut for grain, 53 acres of forage sorghum cut for silage and 24 acres of alfalfa. About 270 acres are fallowed each year.

Soil conservation get top billing on the Paschal farm. About 600 acres of cropland have been terraced and a number of ponds have been built in pastures.

The Paschal farmstead has undergone a number of improvements over the years. An old concrete cattle shed with an open front was closed in and used as a farrowing house. A number of new structures were added, including a metal garage and shop, a pole-type building for machinery storage, a 40-by-80-foot steel building for grain and machinery storage, a hay shed and five steel grain bins.

Original wooden corrals have been replaced with steel and are served with automatic waterers. Many of the electric lines, as well as the water and natural gas lines, are underground.

The Paschals are active off the farm. They are members of the United Methodist Church in Luray where Bill has served as chairman of the church board, sung in the choir and is on the pastor-parish and pension fund committees.

Joyce has been an extension homemaker unit member for many years, and both have been 4-H community leaders for 18 years.

Bill has served as county Farm Bureau president, Farm Management Association director, county fair board president and director of the Midway Co-op board. He also served on the county extension council and has been a member of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers and the Kansas Livestock Association. He was a charter member of the Luray Lions Club, commander of the American Legion and a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Joyce is a member of the National, Kansas and Russell County Education Associations, and Delta Kappa Gamma International educational sorority.

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60th Wedding anniv Salina Journal 31 Dec 2006 Page 10
60th Wedding announcement for Bill and Joyce Paschal, from the Salina Journal newspaper of December 31, 2006.

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SOURCES: Maurita Cederberg, Luray, Kansas; Meredith Mense, Kansas City, Kansas; Mark Paschal, Luray, Kansas; Willis “Bill” Paschal, Luray, Kansas; Martha Powell, Spring Hill, Kansas; Salina Journal, March 11, 1982; Salina Journal, December 31, 2006; Salina Journal, November 11, 2016; Salina Journal, December 31, 2006.

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