Most combat veterans live and sleep with the nightmares of only one war, but Bill Edwardy of Conyers copes with the vivid memories of three.
Savannah-born Edwardy worked at an early age as a riverboat night watchman to help support his family. By the age of 18, he was plowing the stormy Atlantic as a mess attendant aboard a ship to New York, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
"It was 1940 and Canada was already in World War II," he said. "A German U-boat stopped us but let us go when their captain found out we were Americans. He spoke perfect English."
Edwardy sought to join the Navy but was turned down.
"Flat feet," he said with a smile. Albeit, after Pearl Harbor, Edwardy and his flat feet were accepted by the Army in May 1942.
Dodging Japanese submarines and surviving a typhoon, the ship finally made port in Bombay, India, for his first assignment in photo intelligence. He processed photo intelligence from B-24 bomb runs to make the mosaics for future missions.
"Initially we stood up and shot recon photos out of the B-24 escape hole, but we eventually rigged up metal seats for more comfort," Edwardy said. "I lost a lot of friends on those missions."
After two and half years in India, Edwardy was sent to Lowry AFB in Denver to train a new batch of photo processors.
"I was in Denver when the Japs surrendered," he stated. "What a party! I remember riding on the top of streetcars ... I think."
Joining the reserves, Edwardy returned to Savannah and took on-the-job training as a diesel mechanic on tug boats. He became a chief engineer and earned a radio license, but by then married to his childhood sweetheart, Eleanor, a land-based vocation made more sense. He was hired by The Singer Sewing Machine Company and worked as assistant manager, then a manager, and opened a store in Statesboro until the Korean War required his military talents.
Called back to duty, Edwardy finagled his way into the Air National Guard before receiving orders. He was assigned to the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing F-86 Fighter Jet Squadron at Kimpo AFB near the port city of Inchon, South Korea.
"On the day I arrived the hangars were still smoking from an attack," Edwardy said. "Kimpo sat on a plateau so we could watch the fighting below, and shells flew over the base constantly from Inchon."
Antiquated North Korean aircraft would raid Kimpo and literally throw out their bombs.
"It was brutally cold, which made it easy to see the exhaust from their planes," Edwardy said. "One day we watched a Navy jet chase a slower enemy plane but the jet didn't compensate for the speed. They collided in mid-air. Nobody got out."
Edwardy survived his second war.
Edwardy later was joined by his wife, son and daughter in Japan for an enjoyable four-year stint. Then began the military peace time grind: back to Denver to instruct aerial photography, four years in Dublin, Ga., as an Air Force recruiter, changing careers to aircraft maintenance to earn flying status on C-123s, a posting at Homestead AFB in Florida and serving as crew chief on C-119s at Otis AFB, Mass.
In the late 1950s Edwardy received training in a skill that would guarantee participation in his third war: diagnostic debriefings and maintenance on the most modern and hottest fighter in the U.S. Air Force inventory -- the legendary supersonic F-4 Phantom.
In his third war, Edwardy discovered the maps in use so out-of-date that Vietnam was still called French Indochina.
"That was early-on in the war," he said. "We even wore civilian clothes into Tan Son Nhut and Bien Hoa."
Early on still meant death and destruction.
"We lost many a pilot on the early recon missions flying O-1 Birddogs and the slower than slow Helio U-10s."
Edwardy got his job back and worked with Singer until the company went out of business, then worked for 10 years as an officer in the auxiliary Coast Guard in Panama City Beach, Fla.
"What people do on water is incredible," he said. "They run out of fuel; get thrown out of boats without their life vests; hit waves at full-throttle and damage their boats; get drunk while driving a boat not knowing their boats can be taken away. Shoot, I've heard boaters tell the Coast Guard to go to hell and they end up in jail. Yep, it's pretty incredible."
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran and author of "A Veteran's Story," a regular feature of the Citizen. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.