Crash Landing

Northern Utah was thousands of miles from the great airfields of the world, yet the boys there began to hear about planes before there was any possibility of seeing one. Their one great hope was to look up into the sky and see something besides a swarm of mosquitoes flying above their heads.

about age 6

Billy Stacey about age 6

When Bill Stacey was six years old he was aware of a world out there bigger than his own little neighborhood in Woodruff, Utah. He had never seen a car, but he knew there were cars somewhere in the world. He had never seen a plane, but knew someday he would see one in the sky.

That’s why when he looked high in the sky one afternoon and saw a little dot moving along, he knew it was an airplane. He never forgot that moment of seeing his first airplane at age 6. He also never forgot to look up. He and every other boy in town wished to see a plane bigger than a dot in the sky.

The Keystone B-5, a light bomber made for the United States Army Air Corps in the early 1930s

The Keystone B-5, a light bomber made for the United States Army Air Corps in the early 1930s

Then one day it happened. In about 1932 a twin-engine bomber flew low over town. Every child in Woodruff fixed his eyes on the closest look at an airplane they had ever enjoyed. It was one of the old bombers with high wings, a B-5 Bomber. It didn’t take long for everyone in town to become aware it was flying too low. This plane was in trouble and looking for a place to land. One pilot looked out the window and saw Bryson Lake. The pasture next to the lake seemed big enough and flat enough for an emergency landing, and to the amazement of every citizen of the little town, the plane landed just south of Woodruff.

“I remember them,” said Velma Dickson. “The pilots came to the house and visited Mother. We lived next to the store. They found we were Mormons and talked about it a little. I wondered ‘are there people who aren’t Mormons?’ They were the only non-Mormons I’d ever seen.”

She continued, “They were here for about a month getting their plane fixed. Once someone asked if their wives didn’t miss them or something, but one replied that it didn’t matter because he was worth more to his wife dead than alive anyway.”

Bill went out to watch them take off when they were finally ready to go. One of the men was the pilot and the other sat in the bombardier seat. The pilot came out so everyone standing around could hear and said, “If you see any dogs, shoot them. I don’t want to crash because a dog gets sucked into the propeller.” Needless to say, there were no dogs in the way when they took off. Not a single child in Woodruff was indifferent to airplanes from then on.

Bill witnessed several wartime parades in Canada at the beginning of World War II

Bill witnessed several wartime parades in Canada at the beginning of World War II

When he was on his mission in Canada, Bill Stacey was well aware Great Britain and Canada were at war. He often saw parades, rallies, and even demonstrations of aircraft he had been dying to see. It was something of a big diversion for a young missionary. One day he heard planes above his head, and just knew the three dots in the sky were Sopwith Camels. That was too much for this boy from Woodruff. He took out his little box camera, pointed it in the direction of the three dots, and took the picture.

Years later his family would challenge his memory that those three minute dots on the photograph were Sopwith Camels. But upon closer inspection and with the digital enlargement then available, they were convinced their father knew what he was talking about.

In 1941 Bill took this picture of three Sopwith Camels, digitally enlarged from a photo of just dots in the sky.

In 1941 Bill took this picture of three Sopwith Camels, digitally enlarged from a photo of just dots in the sky.

Two months before Bill was to return home from his mission, Pearl Harbor was bombed. Even from Canada, he knew what was brewing in his own country. As soon as he arrived home, he made up his mind to become a pilot, no matter what it took.

A few weeks after returning home, Bill and Fred Tingey were riding in the old milk truck on their way home when they saw a plane fall straight down, followed by a parachute. As it got closer, they realized it would be coming down just south of the Stacey ranch. Obviously it was going to crash.

“Do you think we should go see if anyone is hurt?” asked Fred.

“I’m already on my way,” said Bill. “I think it’s just over there on the other side of my Dad’s property.”

“Maybe someone is dead,” said Fred anxiously. Should we go get someone else to help?”

“I don’t think anyone will be dead,” said Bill. “That was a P-38, and it’s only got one seat in the cockpit. I saw one parachute, so I’m guessing the pilot is safe.”

“Then let’s go faster,” said Fred. “Drive through that fence.”

Bill knew that was his Dad’s fence, and he knew who would repair the hole tomorrow. “I know the way around this fence,” he said. “We’ll drive around.”

They were the first locals on the scene. The pilot was indeed all right.

The early P-38 (Courtesy genuinehotrod.com)

The early P-38 (Courtesy genuinehotrod.com)

He was coming up from Bryson Lake, completely soaked because he had landed in the lake. Just being near the plane and the pilot and knowing there were more pilots needed for the war effort hung heavy on Bill’s mind.

Bill joined the Air Force and was a pilot to the end of World War II

Soon people in town discovered the pilot was Marshall Wayne, the 1936 Olympic high-dive champion. In 1941 he began flying planes, and within a short time the newspapers picked up on it, announcing that Marshall Wayne was now diving in a P-38. After the accident the Evanston newspaper couldn’t pass up the moment: “It seems,” concluded the article, “this was Mr. Wayne’s longest dive.”

It was almost more than Bill could endure. He asked his friend Ray Cox to come with him, and they hired a pilot to give them a plane ride in Ogden. Then both were to enlist in the Air Force if they liked the ride.

They liked the ride. Both young men came home thrilled with thoughts of joining the Air Force and learning to fly. Bill followed through, trained as a pilot and then trained other pilots until 1945 when the war ended. It was then he had to make the difficult decision whether he would spend his life flying as a commercial pilot or going to college to be an engineer.

Flying a B-17 again. In 1999, Bills sons made it possible for him to fly a B-17 again at Fort Collins, Colorado. Pictured left to right are Rulon, Darrell, Bill, Newell, and Dennis.

Flying was his love. But it was his second love. His family came first. The decision was difficult, but Bill chose a profession in which he could spend more time with his family. Nevertheless he never lost his interest in planes or in his desire to look up whenever one flew by.