France says ‘Merci’ to WWII pilot

By Joe Stumpe | August 2, 2021

Former World War II pilot Bill Fry receives the French Legion of Honor last month from Guillaume Lacroix, a French diplomat.

By Joe Stumpe

Bill Fry enlisted during World War II with the goal of becoming of pilot. He did that and a whole lot more.

On July 20, the 95-year-old resident of Lakepoint Wichita was awarded the French Legion of Honor — France’s highest distinction — for his combat service nearly eight decades ago. In a ceremony celebrating patriotism, history and heroism, a French diplomat pinned the medal on Fry’s chest as family members, fellow veterans, Lakepoint residents and staff and members of an honor guard looked on.

“As we say in my language, ‘Merci,’ Guillaume Lacroix, Chicago-based consul general of France to the Midwest, said. 

Lacroix told Fry the honor was for “serving your country, saving my country and making peace possible in Europe.”
Fry, who was born in Stafford, Kan. and grew up in Hutchinson, flew missions in three of the four main campaigns to liberate France: Normandy, Northern France and Ardennes. Flying a B17 bomber, one mission that Fry took part in — the battle of Brest — “was one of the fiercest battles” of the war, Lacroix noted.

Fry might have saved his best for his 24th and last mission, when his plane took heavy flak over Berlin. With three of his four engines disabled and his radio operator critically injured, Fry guided the plane to Sweden, telling his crew to dump anything they could to help them stay airborne. Spotting a small airfield — technically too small to land a B17 on — Fry got the plane down safely.

After the war, Fry worked in automobile sales for a decade, then enjoyed a long career with Beech Aircraft. He kept his pilot’s license, taught others to fly and — according to Lacroix — once crashed his own plane while performing loops. He served as commander of the Kansas Air National Guard for 12 years and retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves. He lived in Bel Aire for many years and is still the “tech savvy” owner of two computers, Lacroix said. 

Fry, who was married to his wife, Beverly, for 53 years, has six children, one deceased; eleven grandchildren and 17 grandchildren. 

One daughter, Jeannie Fry, said her father didn’t talk about his wartime service until later in life. She said he’s “grateful to be honored.”