Veteran William "Griff" Reese

   William "Griff" Reese

Griff is the kind of man you would have chosen to ride the airways with. His training, military service, and civilian work all centered on flying soon after college.  Added to these credentials are even more important reasons why the passengers on his aircrafts could put their trust in him;  his calm manner, even temper and settled personality would have served him well in any possible crisis.

Griff has lived a long and useful life, having been born on February 27, 1917 in the home state of other prominent fliers, the Wright brothers. Though age 95, his mind is still sharp, his hand steady, and his health near perfect.  He and his wife Virginia seem to greatly enjoy life here at Sunnyside. They came here not because of proximity to family which is widely scattered, nor because of any emotional ties;  they simply liked what they read about it and what they saw when they visited. Once here, they liked the sweet spirit that seems to prevail.

He says that even though he was brought up during the throes of the great depression, he was spared many of the hardships common to it.  His dad was a banker, and though he lost his job at the outset of the depression when his bank closed, he was able soon after to find other employment.  Griff was well “mothered” with two older sisters to help direct him, but his turn came when a younger brother was born eight years later.  During those early years of his life, Griff, like other boys his age, was not allowed to be idle;  he took care of the family garden and had a paper route. He also had time for fun:  hunting; camping; trapping musk rats, skunks and raccoons; and swimming and catching crawdads in South Creek with friends.

At his age of 17 the family moved from Spencer where he was born to Grafton, Ohio, and he finished his last year of  high school there.  He was able to go on to Oberlin College for a year by working in the kitchen cleaning pots and pans, and after that year he attended Kent State University where he majored in finance.  He got his college degree in 1939.

After college his life took a strange turn for a while. He could not find work he wanted as a banker, so he took a job in a flour mill catching 100 pound sacks of flour as they came down a chute, and then stacking them.  This might not have been the great waste of time he thought it was; it probably helped direct him to his final life's work of flying.

In 1940 he could see that the war was likely coming, and still not having the kind of work he wanted, he enlisted in the Air Corps, planning to save enough money to enter Harvard Business School when his enlistment term ended. He was sent to Tulsa to learn to fly, then to the Randolph Air Force Base and Brooks Field in Texas for more military training, and from there to graduate from Kelly Air Force Base.

A strange situation existed in the navigation of planes at that time which caused Griff and several other young pilots to experience a very short army air force experience. Pan American Airways had developed a “bubble octant” which established a false horizon, thus enabling navigators to obtain a “fix” on their location. The Army Air Force was in sore need of this technology.  So the army made an agreement with Pan American to transfer pilots to Pan Am so they could give them this training, and they in turn could train army pilots in navigation.  Griff was interviewed and selected for this program.  Here is his statement regarding the outcome:

...On the day of graduation (at Kelly Field), I and 21 others received our wings, our commission, and our discharge, AND our job with Pan American Airways in one hour.”

On January 1, 1941 Griff began his work with Pan American World Airways as a co-pilot on the Flying Clippers; Sikorsky Seaplanes, flying routes  from Miami to Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Mexico.  After finishing navigation school and acquiring 1,200 hours of flight time, he was checked out as a three star Captain in 1942.

He was promoted to four star Master Ocean Captain in 1943 and transferred to San Francisco to fly Military Air Transport Service (MATS) Navy planes. He then wore a navy uniform,  and took navy personnel to and from war zones in the Pacific war areas.  Upon expiration of the MATS Charter in November, 1944, he returned to Miami to pilot Army Transport Command planes to and from Casablanca.  Outward bound, they carried military supplies for the front and  homeward bound the wounded.

On the day he married Pan American Stewardess Virginia Bolt, October 1, 1945 he was transferred to New York City.  He and his bride honeymooned as they traveled by air between Miami and NYC where they were billeted in the Lincoln Hotel, since no rentals were available because of the war. Still under the ATC he ferried military personnel back to America from the European war zone until May 1946 at which time the contract between Pan Am and the Army Air Force ended.  Griff worked a few more years for Pan American but the important work he had been performing for the Army Air Force ended as Pan Am's contract ended. He fully retired from his work with Pan Am in 1977. Following the close of the contract between Pan Am and the U. S. Government in 1946, Griff continued working for Pan Am for thirty more years.

He and Virginia have three children, William III, Taffy, and David. Griff retired in 1977, and they lived for 34 years on Fripp Island, South Carolina.  Griff said he spent most of his time there crabbing, fishing, playing golf four times weekly, and helping to raise grandchildren. He says they are enjoying Sunnyside; it just fits their hopes and expectation with its good atmosphere.

We want to express our thanks to Griff for his service during World War II.

 As told to Dick Young