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Keller is WWII veteran, retired missionary

by Rachel Dickerson | October 24, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

BELLA VISTA — Bill Keller of Bella Vista is a World War II veteran who trained fighter pilots and is a retired missionary.

He grew up in Canton, Ohio, where he was on the swim team in high school. He would later be on the swim team in college at the University of California at Berkeley. However, when he was 19 years old, Pearl Harbor was bombed, and the U.S. went to war. He knew he was going to be drafted, so he volunteered and joined the Army Air Force.

“They taught me how to fly. I wanted to fly since I was 14 years old,” he said. He could not afford flying lessons, so the military was his opportunity. He said he was paid $30 per month for doing something he enjoyed.

“I don’t know how you can beat that,” he said.

When he graduated from flying school he became a second lieutenant and later was promoted to first lieutenant. When he graduated his pay went from $30 per month to $250 per month.

“I couldn’t spend that much on an air base,” he said.

His job became training the fighter pilots.

“It’s amazing to me how the Lord always stays ahead of you,” he said.

He explained his concern was that he would have to shoot someone in combat, and so he had prayed that he would only have to destroy equipment. However, what happened was that he never left the country and remained a flight instructor at Eglin Field, Fla.

“I enjoyed it because I could learn more too from some of the mistakes the young men made, that I could make too if I was not careful,” he said.

As soon as the war was over, he resigned and went to college. He married his wife, Vivian, between his sophomore and junior year in 1947. He earned a degree in wildlife conservation and then went to seminary while his wife finished college. Then the couple boarded a ship and went to the Philippines as missionaries.

“I was excited we could go across the Pacific, and we were a day late getting to Manila because of a typhoon,” he said.

They went to the Philippines in 1954. They came back for furlough for months at a time several times, but in all, they were there for 15 years. Their oldest daughter was a year old when they arrived, and they had three daughters born in the Philippines and a son born while on furlough.

After returning from the Philippines, Keller earned a master’s degree in social work from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Then he pastored a church in Muscatine, Iowa, for 18 years, and the couple retired in 1987 and moved to Bella Vista.

“I was with the group that started Highland Christian Church in the village,” he said. “It’s doing well. That’s where we attend church now.”

Keller still tries to keep active by swimming a quarter mile twice a month.

“I just try to swim the distance and take it easy. I’m not trying to set any records,” he said.

However, he said, he did swim half a mile on his 99th birthday as a milestone for someone else in the family to match or exceed.

“That’s what’s kept me in good shape for 99 years, the swimming and the Lord,” Keller said. “It’s been the Lord. He’s helped me all the way. Without him it wouldn’t have been possible.”

Bill and Vivian Keller have been married 74 years and have 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

Rachel Dickerson can be reached by email at rdickerson@nwadg.com .

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