Lt. Bill Frye Jr  88 Year Old Educator Honered

By: Donald Byers
On: 09/03/2002
WWII bombardier, educator honored as volunteer, 80
He still grieves for his buddies on the B-17

By R. Michael Anderson
County Line staff writer

With two engines on fire and their B-17 riddled by flak from German artillery, bombardier Lt. Bill Frye Jr. made his way toward an exit hatch and pulled the lever.

At that moment the plane, nicknamed Wild Oats, exploded and catapulted the Orange Park man out into the frigid air 24,000 feet above the ground. The date was Jan. 29, 1944.

Knocked out by the blast, the former school teacher plunged helplessly toward Earth for nearly 3 miles with a broken hand and shrapnel wounds on his face.

''I came to at about 10,000 feet and opened my parachute,'' Frye recalled. ''Two of us got blown out; me and one of our gunners. The other eight were killed.''

After landing near Frankfurt, Germany, farmers held them hostage until German soldiers picked them up and shipped them off to separate prisoner of war camps, said Frye, now 80.

For the next 17 months, Frye remained at Stalag Luft 1, a prisoner-of-war camp for Allied aviators on the Baltic Sea in Barth, Germany. He and the other prisoners were released in May 1945, though he doesn't remember the exact date.

''All I remember is seeing a Jeep with a [U.S. Army] captain and two sergeants come driving into the camp,'' he said. ''It was quite a feeling.''

On days like today, Armed Forces Day, Frye said he still thinks about his fallen comrades in the old U.S. Army Air Corps 401st Bomb Group, many of whom were buried on European soil.

Other reminders of the war are with him every day: Steel shrapnel embedded in his scarred left hand and in his nose. But it hasn't impeded the octogenarian's work as a volunteer mediator with the State Attorney's Office for the past 15 years.

As one of more than 100 volunteers throughout the Fourth Judicial Circuit in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, Frye works mainly with juvenile offenders who have committed such crimes as burglary, shoplifting, battery and possession of alcohol or drugs.

Instead of going to court and facing a real judge, the juveniles and their parents choose to go through mediation and take whatever punishment the hearing officers recommend.

As a former school teacher, administrator and superintendent of schools in Pennsylvania, Frye said he enjoys trying to help troubled youths get back on track in school.

''Naturally, I hit their education pretty hard,'' he said.

He said he usually recommends a course of action for improving grades and study habits, in addition to other requirements, including: a two-night course on Consequences of Crime; a tour of the county jail; community service at a school, a church or an animal shelter; and restitution.

Frye handles several cases every Thursday night at the county courthouse in Green Cove Springs. He said it's personally gratifying.

''It's very satisfying,'' he said. ''No two cases are alike. And it saves judges a lot of time and taxpayers a lot of money.''

Kim Coster, who runs the diversionary programs in the Clay County division of the State Attorney's Office, said people like Frye are invaluable assets to the court system.

And that's why Frye received the Sustained Exemplary Performance Award April 17 during the annual State Attorney's Office Volunteer Awards Reception, Coster said.

Doris Frye said her husband of 55 years ''really does enjoy talking to the young people about their study habits and bringing their grades up.''

She knows how lucky they are that her husband is alive today, she said, recalling how sad she was when he enlisted in the service in 1942 only months after they were married.

But she said she understood his desire to serve his country and to fulfill a lifelong dream.

''He couldn't wait to get near an airplane,'' she said.

It was true, her husband said, he didn't particularly care if he was a pilot, a bombardier or a navigator, so long as he was in the air fighting the enemy.

''I was 10 when [Charles] Lindberg flew across the Atlantic,'' he said. ''He was my hero.''

After the war, Frye returned to Pennsylvania to resume a teaching career he had left three years earlier. He and his wife raised three daughters. He retired in 1975 as a superintendent of schools and they moved to Orange Park.

In addition to his work with the State Attorney's Office, Frye has volunteered as a Learn to Read tutor and as a director of the Clay County Community Services.

Not only does he stay busy as a volunteer, his wife said, but he also enjoys dabbling in photography, occasional offshore fishing, tending to their flower gardens and remaining active in their church.

One other thing he enjoys doing is driving his brand new white sporty Ford Mustang, complete with rear spoiler and custom wheels.

He beams a smile when asked about his choice of automobiles.

''At my age, I always thought I'd like to have a Mustang, so I finally got one,'' he said.

Though she doesn't drive herself, Doris said, she likes to ride in it with her husband.