Despite his frustration at never having seen action, I've
always had the sense that dad's tour in Korea was his favorite during
his 20+ year Air Force career. But I know he was not want
of good times after that tour ended.
A number of important things were born
out of his Korea experience, not the least of which was his love
affair with bawdy Air Force ballads. Whenever he heard a
new one, or an old one new to his ears, he wrote it down.
He collected hundreds of them, compiling them in a book he called
"The Fighter Pilot's Hymn Book". He even wrote
a ballad of his own.
Somewhere around 1957-58, he contacted
folk singer Oscar Brand. "Are you interested in Air
Force Songs?" he asked. "I am, " Brand answered.
He sent Brand the material, and soon a record was in the
"The Wild Blue Yonder; songs of
our fighting Air Force, Oscar Brand and the Roger Wilco
Four" debuted in the spring of 1959. Brand's
write-up of dad on the album's back cover (and mention in
Brand's book "The Ballad Mongers" -- with dad's name
misspelled as Capt. William Smart) were practically required
reading during my childhood.
Except to provide Brand with a unfamiliar
melody over the phone, dad didn't perform for the records (thank
goodness. By all accounts, dad flew better than he sang).
And he wasn't the only Air Force jet jockey sending Brand
material; Brand was soon overwhelmed by contributions from other
Air Force servicemen.
Perhaps this is what led to the second
album "Out of the Blue; more Air Force songs by Oscar Brand
and the Roger Wilco Five." Whatever the catalyst,
as with the first album it was required listening in our household
-- especially in light of the fact that it contained dad's original
ballad "In Flight Refueling".
Years later the story behind these
albums would become the topic of an article I wrote for Air &
Space/Smithsonian magazine ("Out
of the Blue" Nov/Dec 1997) on the occasion of the United
States Air Force's 50th anniversary.
Retiring as a Lt. Col., dad ended a
20+ year Air Force career in 1972. During his second career
as a banker, his favorite pastime soon became amateur radio &
electronics. This should come as no surprise to anybody
who really knew him. As evidenced in his high school yearbook
write-up, this was his other true love:
"A scientific brain bulges out
of Bill's head... A new boy last year, he has since completely
baffled us with his jargon pertaining to radios and amoebae.
While we morons are listening to Jack Benny's show, he is at the
same time calculating the time that it takes for Don Wilson's
Lucky Strike ad to reach us... Clifton Fadiman probably never
even dreamed of Bill's marks when the sophisticate was in school...
So we must admit that Bill has -- what are those things anyway?
Brains do you call them?"
In the mid 1970s, he built his own
home computer -- some of it from scratch. (he even hand-built
the keyboard and B&W monitor)