William Joseph Day ‘41

A WWII hero credits his alma mater with a positive life trajectory.

The Greatest Generation was first coined in 1998 by American journalist Tom Brokaw. Born between 1900 and the 1920s, these men and women came of age or had families impacted during the Great Depression, served their country during WWII both at home and overseas, and are known by later generations for their personal honor, work ethic, integrity, respect, love of country, and self-sacrifices. We discover clues about their passions and insights from photographs and oral histories passed down to family members. Even still, there is an unassuming quiet to this generation of voices. This may be due to the natural humbleness in their nature or a desire to leave difficult challenges in the past. Perhaps it is as simple as their being born of a time when widespread sharing was nonexistent. Consider for a moment what your reaction might be if this headline popped up on the newsfeed of your cellphone: Bill Day – What a night! Survived a Pacific Ocean crash in my TBF Avenger. Was shot down and hung on to the wreckage until help arrived. #WWII.

Not only did the late William “Bill” Joseph Day ’41 not come of age during the social media generation, by all accounts he was thoughtful and caring, hardworking and adventurous, interesting and funny, he was also not one to talk about himself let alone share details about one of the most significant times in modern American history. Bill graduated from Perkiomen in 1941 and the United States was not yet involved in the war. Intent on serving the allies, he first joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Bill made the switch to the United States Navy and became a fighter pilot (Bill is pictured center). Flying the TBF Avenger, a torpedo bomber and “largest single-engine airplane of WWII”*, Bill really did survive a crash-landing into the Pacific alongside his copilot and a tail gunner, neither of whom survived.

Before becoming an American war hero, Bill was a teenager in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Handsome, charming, and by all accounts “cool,” Bill used to brush over the details of his reputation at that time. Suffice it to say, his parents, unhappy with his behavior, decided to send him to Perkiomen School, a decision that, according to Bill, would change the trajectory of his entire life for the better. After graduating from Perkiomen, Bill served our country until the conclusion of the war and returned home to Bradford, PA where he reunited with old friends and neighbors, Robert White and his sister, Mary Kay.

When Bill asked Mary Kay out on a date, he did so with style.

Bill ’41 and Mary Kay Day

“The other thing I wanted to ask you,” he added, “Is what do you plan on doing for the next 60 years?”

60 years turned into 70.

Bill and Mary Kay golfed and traveled. They also loved to dress up, visit friends, and spend time with Mary Kay’s brother, now Dr. Robert White, his wife, Beverly, and their daughter, Anne. During the last years of Mary Kay’s life, she and Bill lived together in an assisted living home in Arizona where they had retired after their many years in southern California. In love until the very end, they often chose to eat meals alone together in their apartment instead of joining friends in the community hall. Anne, the niece they loved as their own, was with them at the time of Mary Kay’s death. Bill soon joined Anne near her home in San Antonio, Texas to be close to her and his sister-in-law, Anne’s mom, Beverly.

In the final years of Bill’s life, Anne encouraged him to share memories from California, golfing in the hot pink and lime green knickerbockers Mary Kay picked out for him or flying cross-country to Anne for birthdays, holidays, graduations, and other important milestones. He shared memories of his successful career as a regional representative for Zippo Lighters (a Bradford, Pennsylvania company!) which he began shortly after returning home from his time in the Navy. As the company grew, his region became smaller and more focused in places like Santa Monica and Pasadena, California. In the end, he was not quiet about these memories and what was most important to him, including Perkiomen School.

Bill’s time at Perkiomen changed his life for the better. With influential teachers both in and out of the classroom, he shared with Anne that his teachers really knew him. They would pull him aside when they saw he was struggling and helped. At Perkiomen, Bill found structure and guidance. He grew to find purpose and a mission in his life. In short, Bill discovered he had much to accomplish. From a “bad boy” in Bradford, Bill went on to become student body and class president in Pennsburg. Cared for and supported at Perkiomen, Bill’s successful tour in the Navy was just the beginning. Afterwards, he returned home to Bradford with a new, positive outlook and path to follow.

The Institute Breakout Room in the new student center will be named for William “Bill” Day. It was Bill’s expressed wish to Anne that he leave an estate gift to Perkiomen.

As Anne shares, “I know it was his hope that his donation would help other students like himself who would benefit from a structured and focused educational program. I was really happy that he had made that choice and really admire his desire to remember a place that meant so much to him and made a pivotal difference in his life.”

Bill, Perkiomen thanks you both for what you gave to our country and the legacy you have left with our community.