Nevada Wing Member, 100: 'Secret of Longevity — Keep Busy'
The 9/11 terror attacks remain a vivid memory for millions. So does President John F. Kennedy’s assassination nearly 38 years before that.
More than eight decades later, the number who have similarly vivid memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor dwindles by the day.
At age 100, Lt. Col. Bill Brew of the Nevada Wing‘s Henderson Composite Squadron remembers not only those momentous occurrences but also President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous reference to “yesterday, Dec. 7th, 1941 — a day that will live in infamy.” Brew, then 19, was driving when he heard the broadcast of the president’s address to Congress.
Buffeted by trepidation and outrage, he wondered what the future might hold for him.
And shortly afterward, he applied to join the Army Air Corps Cadets. Just before receiving his acceptance to the program, he was drafted into the U.S. Army as an infantryman.
After three months of basic training, during which three fellow infantryman who were college math professors drilled him in the subject, he was finally able to sit for the cadet exam.
Passing the math-heavy exam gained him entrance into the cadet program, which meant more basic training. After completion, he spent three months in Syracuse, New York, taking a college refresher course even though he hadn’t attended college.
Then came a move to Nashville, Tennessee, to earn pilot, navigator, and bombardier classifications. Selected as a bombardier, he then attended preflight school at Montgomery Field, Alabama, and bombardier school in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
He was assigned to a B-24 bomber crew sent to Langley Field, Virginia, to receive one of the first radar certifications just before being deployed to the Philippines. The certification allowed the crew to drop bombs through the clouds, a cutting-edge military tactic.
The B-24 flew 13½-hour missions bombing oil fields in Balikpapan, Borneo, Indo-China, China, and Formosa. After every mission, the plane landed while running on fumes with at least one flak hole from antiaircraft fire.
The crew then moved over to Okinawa, recently taken from the Japanese to study tactics for an invasion that the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki subsequently rendered unnecessary.
"Otherwise, I don't think I would be here," Brew said, adding that the atomic bomb is "a terrible thing. I hope it never has to be used again."
After the war ended, Brew was assigned as a squadron commander for the 528th Bombardment Squadron at McKinley Field in the Philippines. His assignment was to disassemble the squadron and gather all records for shipment to the U.S.
“After this assignment was completed, they shipped us back to San Francisco on a World War I hospital ship,” he said.
“Can you believe that, a World War I hospital ship? It took us 31 days to get back to San Fransisco.”
Even so, Brew was just happy to be home.
After that, he transitioned into the Air Force Reserve, later retiring as a major. While working with the Western Pacific Railroad Co., in 1950 he earned a degree in accounting and finance at the University of Utah.
Brew became a traveling auditor for Western Pacific before being appointed as an assistant to general auditor — taxes in 1951. He later earned a master’s in business at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
At the end of his tenure with the railroad company, he held more titles than anyone in the company, including director of taxes, director of internal audits, and director of insurance. He retired in 1983 and opened his own business preparing tax returns.
The day after retirement, Brew started ground school and his journey to earn his private pilot’s certificate. He also joined the Boy Scouts of America to continue his lifelong goal of service. Brew eventually found an Explorer Scout troop that was aviation-focused.
He later found out that Civil Air Patrol was sponsoring the troop — the impetus for his joining CAP in 1986.
Brew flew numerous search and rescue missions after he earned his mission pilot qualification. He eventually became California Wing Group II commander, overseeing 13 squadrons. Drawing on his accounting and finance background, he mentored various CAP members in those areas.
In 2001, Brew moved to Nevada, joined the Henderson Composite Squadron, and earned the rank of lieutenant colonel. He has earned Master ratings in finance, personnel, professional development, and administration.
He continues to sit on three committees, earn emergency services qualifications, and serve as the Henderson squadron’s officer for finance, education and training, and personnel and assistant administrative officer.
Outside CAP, he continues to prepare income taxes with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance for those who can’t afford to have their taxes done. He is a member of the Air Force Association and the Sun City Anthem Veterans Club.
“That's the secret of longevity,” Brew said. “Keep busy.”
He elaborated on his life’s philosophy:
“Live a good life. Get a good education. Give back. Get back to traditional living. Have a family and be happy.”
Cadet Lt. Col. Dana Surwill
Henderson Composite Squadron