by Walt Reed
A long time ago in a world called Clark Lake there lived a family called Scoville. They lived on Vining street. Vining Street is the short street from the old railroad station (near the Clark Lake Lions clubhouse) to the edge of Clark Lake on Hyde road.
Ward “Mac” Scoville, the dad, was a supervisor in the Jackson County Road Commission. The mother, Annie, taught school in Napoleon. Sister Jackie became a teacher and taught for awhile at Columbia Central. Maybe some of you younger folks had Jackie Scoville Breger as one of your teachers.
But this story is about little brother, William (Billy) Scoville. Airman Second Class William Scoville that is!
Billy Scoville was younger and smaller than most of the kids I hung out with. Because of this, we probably picked on Billy more than we should have. Billy graduated from Napoleon High School during the Vietnam War (anyone that calls it a conflict wasn’t there).
Billy joined the Air Force and was trained and assigned to be a weapons specialist aboard a “Puff the Magic Dragon”. Puff was an AC-47. You Old Soldiers will remember it as the DC-3, Gooney Bird! He was assigned to the 4th Air Commando Squadron, 14th Air Commando Wing, 7th Air Force.
Puff was armed with three 7.62-millimeter Gatling guns, each firing 6000 rounds a minute. I can imagine Billy scrambling around inside the plane, keeping the weapons functioning, like a squirrel in a cage, as Puff circled an enemy target.
Puff breathed fire! It also carried a 90-millimeter cannon. Puff could circle over a target at 3000 feet using the target area as the pivot point of its circular flight pattern. The flying weapons platform could stay on station for an hour, providing a horrendous rain of bullets.
Airman Billy sent me a letter soon after I arrived in Vietnam in 1967. My childhood friend wanted to come see me and invited me to come to his airbase for a visit. He told me what he was doing and hoped that his plane might be called to help my cavalry unit some time in the future.
In 1968 when I was privileged to command one of the cavalry troops in my squadron, I called for Puff fire support a couple of times when the enemy attacked our position at night. Puff was a night fighter and they delivered when called. Good weather or bad!
Unfortunately, I know that Billy’s plane never supported my unit.
Because Billy’s plane crashed into a mountain one dark and rainy night in October 1967, about 5 weeks after I received his in-country letter. Billy’s plane had been providing support to some ground forces that were in trouble. Everyone aboard perished. The remains of the crewmen were not recovered for over two weeks. Billy was 20 years old.
So, is Billy Scoville just another of the 50,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who died in Vietnam?
Not for me! Billy was a kid that I grew up with at Clark Lake. I sent eleven of my trooper’s home to be buried. I only knew them for months at the most. Some of my troopers I only knew for a few weeks. The loss of a soldier always causes a commander to wonder what could have been done to save that life. Was it your fault, his fault, or nobody’s fault? What can a commander do to ensure it doesn’t happen again? Not much! It was war after all.
But Billy was a member of my Clark Lake family. His father made sure that I (and several other Jackson kids) had a summer job to help pay for my college education. My father and Mac Scoville both attended school in the small schoolhouse that was located where the Township Park is now located. The same school that I attended while I was growing up.
Billy is not buried in the Clark Lake cemetery. His family cemetery is in Cement City about 3 miles from Vining street on Cary Road. I know where his grave site is because I was privileged to be a pallbearer for his father, Mac Scoville–long after I returned from Vietnam.
This Veteran’s Day, like many other days, I wonder what Billy Scoville might have become?
Would he have gone to college like his sister? I think his mother, Annie Scoville, would probably have insisted on it. Would he have been a teacher like his mother and sister, or would he have become a public servant like his father?
Would he have become a pillar of the community like his mother and father?
His father, Mac Scoville, made sure that as many college students as the County Road commissions could afford would have summer jobs. I have always believed Mac Scoville was as responsible for Clarklake kids getting a college education as the John George Scholarship fund. Helping young people was very important to Mac. Billy had a great mentor in his father.
Would Billy have married? I’m told there were several local ladies who would have encouraged him to make that decision. Would his children grow up at Clark Lake? So many unanswered questions? Multiply them by 50,000.
As you can see, Billy Scoville personalizes Veteran’s Day for me. Is there someone who personalizes Veteran’s Day for you?