U.S. Senator John Boozman recognized the service and sacrifice of Lieutenant Colonel (retired) William (Bill) Ledbetter, a WWII veteran whose service to his country spanned more than four decades, in this latest edition of ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series recognizing the military service of Arkansans.
American war efforts were well underway in 1944 when 17-year-old Bill Ledbetter of Conway enlisted in the Army Air Corps, the predecessor of the Air Force.
He enlisted January 5, 1944 in Little Rock and went to basic training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. Next he was sent to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for a 26-week course in radio technology code.
After 24 weeks “they closed it down. Germany just surrendered and things were winding down,” Ledbetter said.
He was assigned to another radio school in Illinois, but experienced the same result.
“It was 16 weeks and they closed it the fourteenth week. This major called me in and said ‘Ledbetter you’ve had all this radio training and know how to operate the radios and take code. We’re going to send you to a tower operator school at Langley Field, Virginia.’ That’s the best deal that ever happened to me. It’s the best job in the Air Force,” Ledbetter said.
He was sent to Camp Stoneman, California before being deployed to the Pacific. Ledbetter was sick for the first three days of the 19-day journey across the ocean, a fate that he estimates more than half of the troops experienced on the ship.
He spent one month in the Philippines before his assignment in Okinawa. As he was heading to Japan he realized how small the world really is.
“We were sitting on the plane waiting to go and somebody said what are we waiting on? Some guy said we’re waiting on the radio operator. Pretty soon this guy came in and it was Lewis B. Setzler from Conway, Arkansas. I didn’t know he was over there and he didn’t know I was over there. It was a good feeling to see somebody from your hometown,” Ledbetter said.
That wasn’t the only Conway connection he had in Okinawa. The lieutenant who met the plane when it landed was also a friend from his hometown.
“Bill Ledbetter dedicated his life to serving our country. I am grateful for his sacrifice and leadership to our nation. I’m honored to share his memories of his service,” Boozman said.
Following WWII, Ledbetter used his GI Bill benefits to attend the University of Central Arkansas, where he earned a degree in social studies with a minor in physical education.
During school he joined the Arkansas National Guard. He was initially based at the Conway armory four blocks from his home, making it convenient for the weekly drill schedule in his early days with the guard.
Ledbetter later transferred to Little Rock when he was promoted to captain and served as company commander of one of the units. His duty included service at Little Rock Central High School for one month in 1954.
Standing in front of the school, Ledbetter remembers that he was told not to let anyone enter the building.
“Everything was going fine. This guy walked up and had the loudest sport coat I ever saw. He started to go in and I said ‘you can’t go in there.’ He flipped his jacket. It was FBI. I said ‘go ahead,’” Ledbetter recalled.
Ledbetter served for 41 years in the Arkansas National Guard and retired as a Lt. Col.
Boozman will submit Ledbetter’s entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.