(Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series articles.)
Will and Ruth Wilvert of Tallapoosa are two peas in a pod; two of a kind; a dynamic duo; a tightly wrapped package. Both are 91 years old; both are military retirees with the rank of Major; both are retired teachers; both have travelled the world over; both have met international celebrities; and both still swagger in their perfectly fitting World War II uniforms.
The Wilverts share only two differences: Ruth Alice Bentley was born in the South, Willard E. Wilvert in the Midwest. He fought on foreign soil; she served on the home front.
The Wilverts are the focus of the final two chapters of “Gallant Men and Women – Memories of American Wars,” a 299-page book by Danny J. McCarty of Alabama, which pays tribute to 63 military veterans, including four Haralson County residents.
On his first mission in the U.S. Army Air Corps, forerunner of the Air Force, Chicago-born Will Wilvert was the co-pilot of a B-25 bomber in the skies above North Africa.
“On the return trip to the base,” the book recounts, “the B-25 experienced heavy gunfire, and the pilot’s head was grazed by a bullet! Wilvert calmly assumed control of the plane and landed it safely…”
Wilvert later got his shot at being a bomber pilot and called his aircraft “The Ingenious Genie,” the target of German flak attacks.
“The flak was much worse over Italy, near Rome,” he recalled. However, the American missions also extended south to Sicily and Corsica.
“Several times he would land his plane only to find holes in it that had been made by flak. Wilvert has pieces of flak in his home, recovered from the inside if his B-25,” the book relates. “After flying over 50 combat missions, Wilvert got to come home.”
Will became a recruiter for Army Air Corps pilots in Atlanta, where he met Ruth Bentley, a recruiter for the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), a part of the U.S. Navy. In 1944, while World War II raged on, Will and Ruth married at Atlanta’s Ft. McPherson and will celebrate their 68th anniversary on Dec. 23. They have four children and three grandchildren.
“In 1953, Wilvert was sent to Germany and his family followed him there,” according to the book. “His job was to fly C-47’s on touring trips. These planes would carry up to 20 people at a time, and it was a fun time for Wilvert since there was no shooting going on. However, one day as Wilvert was making a tour flight, his plane was struck by a bolt of lightning over the Mediterranean Sea. It was a very scary situation, but Wilvert was able to nurse his craft back into his base and safely land it with no loss of life.”
Wilvert retired after 22 years of service, and his many commendations include two Army Air Medals for 50 bombing missions, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.
Ruth was born in Fruithurst, Ala., and graduated from Tallapoosa High School. She attended Young Harris Junior College and earned a bachelor’s degree in English and religious studies from Birmingham Southern College. She taught school at Frisco City in southwest Alabama.
Against the wishes of her family, she joined the WAVES and took basic training in New York. Ruth hosted an Atlanta radio show designed to help recruit women into service, she recollected, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s favorite musician, Graham Jackson, played his accordion during the show.
After marrying Will, Ruth trained in Massachusetts, and then was assigned to “surface control,” taking messages from torpedoed submarines, the book records. Afterwards, she returned to enlisting women, this time in Los Angeles. She gave talks to large gatherings on recycling for the war effort, urging Americans to save such things as tin cans and cooking grease.
While in Los Angeles, Ruth remembers with pride the time she took a dip in the home swimming pool of famous movie actors Mary Pickford and her husband Buddy Rogers.
“They were real nice people,” said Ruth. Also, she said in the book that she was photographed at Paramount Studios for a recruiting campaign.
After her husband’s retirement, Ruth taught Child Psychology and Educational Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara campus. Also, the book points out, Ruth chaired for 16 years the House Hospital Program of Special Education, supervising 27 teachers of children in homes and hospitals who were unable to attend school.
After military service, Will earned a master’s degree in aerial engineering and taught math and aviation science in Santa Barbara.
After their teaching days, the Wilverts operated the Sinclair Hotel in Wyoming for six years. They said they did not make much money in the hotel business, but enjoyed Wyoming’s picturesque setting.
Besides the cherished memories of their military and teaching careers, Will said he treasures the time he shook hands with Presidents Eisenhower and Truman and the time in Africa when he witnessed comedian Bob Hope perform on a flatbed trailer.
In addition to swimming in Mary Pickford’s pool, Ruth fondly recalls riding in actress Joan Crawford’s limousine and seeing Will hug the singing McGuire Sisters, who entertained the armed services during World War II.
The Wilverts settled in Tallapoosa to be near Ruth’s family, where they thrive on travel, community activities and, for Will, golf.
For a copy of the book, contact the author at 256-237-1571 or email@example.com.