On this date in 1920, William Reynolds was born in Helena Montana. After going to Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, Reynolds joined the Navy, became a pilot and a Marine Aviator during World War Two. Due to his fondness for a certain beverage, Reynolds’ pilot friends nicknamed him “Whiskey Bill.”
Reynolds flew the gull winged Corsair fighter for a Marine Squadron on the carrier Essex in 1944 and early 1945. On February 16th, 1945, Bill was a section leader on the first carrier-born strike against mainland Japan since Doolittle’s heroic B-25 attack in 1942. Reynolds flew air cover for bomb toting Avenger torpedo planes. The strike force hit Mawatari Airfield, destroying 10 twin engine aircraft and setting hangers on fire. While orbiting the airfield, several Japanese fighters engaged Reynolds’ Corsair, but no firing took place.
The next day, on Feb. 17th, Lt. Reynolds flew wing with Squadron Commander Wilber Thomas for a strike against Japanese aircraft factories. They attacked the Nakajima Tama Aircraft Engine Plant on the northwestern edge of Tokyo City. A total of 24 enemy fighters of various types intercepted the formation during the strike.
Thomas and Reynolds were attacked by four Japanese “OSCAR” fighters. Reynolds turned toward one of the OSCARs and fired a burst, but the Japanese fighter quickly disappeared.
After landing back on the Essex, Captain Thomas walked up to Reynolds and congratulated him. “What for?” asked Bill. “For shooting down that OSCAR. I saw him crash!” replied Thomas. Bill was so busy keeping in position with Thomas that he didn’t even realize he had hit the OSCAR. Two “probable” kills were credited to Thomas during the strike, and one “destroyed” for Reynolds.
After the war, Bill married Miss Meredith Bacon from Minot and they had four children. After working for his father in-law in Minot, he opened his own business in Bismarck called Reynolds Depiction and Design. After retirement, Bill continued working, creating artwork and designing monuments and sculptures, including the Northern Lights Tower in Rugby, the Lewis and Clark Center in Washburn and a Medal of Honor Memorial in Minot.
In 2005 Bill was named North Dakota’s Outstanding Older Worker and treated to a trip to Washington DC. That same year he was an honored guest and speaker at a Marine Corps Aviation event, also in DC.
“Whiskey Bill” Reynolds passed away in 2013 at the age of 93.
Dakota Datebook written by Scott Nelson.
Interview with Bill Reynolds;
Records from the USS Essex, 1944, 1945;
Book, Torpedo Squadron Four – A Cockpit View of WW2 by Gerald Thomas;
William Reynolds obituary – Bismarck Tribune