Puett LaFayette Willcox Jr
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Funeral services will be 9am on Monday 13 September 2021 at Rader Funeral Home in Longview, Texas. Followed by committal service with full military honors at DFW National Cemetery at 1:30pm. The funeral service at Rader Funeral Home will be live streamed for those unable to attend.
Born in Amarillo, Texas to Puett L. Willcox Sr. and Ruby Bernice Cauble Willcox as the oldest of 5 brothers, one older sister, one younger sister - just the youngest brother of his siblings - Jimmy Willcox in Memphis Tennessee, remains. Puett moved to Big Spring, Texas in 1926, then to Longview, Texas in 1932.
Puett Sr owned and operated a full service gas station and mechanic/tire shop. Puett Jr grew up pumping the gas and servicing cars back when pumping the gas was a manual hand pump to fill a 10 gallon reservoir to be gravity drained into a car's gas tank. He would sometimes tell the story about one evening just as he was closing down the pump for the night, a couple pulled up wanting gas. He gladly pumped the gas then while it drained cleaned their car windows and checked the oil. While cleaning the car windows he noticed a few Thompson submachine guns in the back seat, but didn't think much of it. The couple was kind to him and seemed ordinary enough. After they left, the shopkeeper from across the street hurried over to check on Puett Jr because he recognized the couple as Bonnie and Clyde.
Puett was raised in the Church of Christ in Longview. He sometimes would reminisce of when he was 9 or 10, going forward in that church to receive Jesus. Puett had a praying mother. On 10 May 1944, while she was praying for him, God gave her a vision where she saw what happened that's described below, and God told her, "He will be alright, I'll take care of him."
When World War II started in 1941, Puett Jr was only 17 and they would not let him enlist. So, to help the war effort, he dropped out of high school (eventually got a GED in the mid 1960's, but the Longview High class of 1942 counted him as one of their own) and went to work as a machinist at the Consolidated Aircraft factory in Fort Worth Texas making parts for the B-24 bomber. Early in December of 1942, Puett Jr received his 1A Classification Draft Notice. He promptly quit his job and went to the Army Air Corp recruiting office and enlisted. Puett was to become a ball turret gunner on a B-24 flying out of Italy. On 10 May 1944, Puett's plane was to be the last plane on a 1,000 plane bombing mission targeting the railroad marshalling yard and ball bearing factory in Weiner Neudstadt, Austria (at that time, Germany). While strapped in a jump seat in the back of the plane during takeoff, Puett looked out the side gunner's window across from him and had a vision of Jesus as they rolled down the runway. In his spirit he heard, "Something bad is going to happen, but you will be OK. I have you in my hand." Later he asked the other gunners seated next to him, but he was the only one who saw the vision.
After dropping their bombs over the target, a flak shell went through the middle of the B-24 Puett was in. It exploded above the aircraft, but it's passage through the plane ruptured fuel lines and started a fire and the pilot called for "BAILOUT BAILOUT". The fire eventually caused an explosion that broke the plane in half. At the time of the explosion, Puett was just putting on his parachute after climbing out of the ball turret when an oxygen bottle broke loose and hit him in the head. He regained consciousness to find himself tangled up in cables while dangling upside down from the rear half of the aircraft. He looked over and saw the rest of the flight of bombers turning to depart the target and said, "Hey, y'all are leaving me behind." That day began 361 days of enduring the rigors of being a prisoner of war under Hilter's reign until he was liberated by the British 2nd Army on 6 May 1945. Starvation, deprivation, routine tortuous treatment, a forced 600+ mile march in the dead of winter 1945... Puett L. Willcox Jr. rarely, if ever, spoke of these before the 1980's. He preferred to "forget the bad stuff that happens in life"... eventually he learned to rarely communicate some of the horrors of what Jesus saw him through. He preferred instead to refer to his time as a POW as him having been, "a guest in Hitler's camps", or to tell funny stories about failed escape attempts (during the 90+ days of forced march) where he actually got away several times only to be found by farmers with pitchforks who turned him in. Or, upon being liberated and told to make their way to a town yet a great distance from them, he and one of his buddy's came upon a large detachment of German soldiers with a leader in a car waiting at a crossroads with a white flag looking for someone to surrender to. After some back and forth arguing with the German leader, Puett and his buddy commandeered the leader's car and drove the rest of the way. When they got to the British headquarters at the town they were told to go to, they were asked where they had gotten the car, so they described the German officer. They were told the German officer was a notoriously ruthless German general and they were fortunate to be alive. Throughout his four days short of a year experience as a POW, it was the vision God had given him of Jesus and the words he had heard while on the takeoff roll 10 May 1944 that sustained him.
When asked about his favorite Christmas, Puett would always tell of the Christmas of 1945 in a German prison camp in the northern reaches of Poland. Since it was Christmas eve, the guards let them stay out in the yard to enjoy the still, quiet, moonlit night. There came a moment when one of the prisoners began to sing the carol, "Silent Night". When he finished the first verse, he was answered by a German guard singing the carol in German. This began a wonderful exchange of prisoners singing followed by the guards singing. Eventually they finished the chorus and a stillness and peaceful quiet remained for a little while before they had to go back to the barracks. The peace of that night lingered in the way the guards treated them for the next day or so before returning to the normalcy of the atrocities of their shared experience.
Upon being liberated, on 6 May 1945, Puett received about a month of medical care in France before returning state-side. Once state-side, he was given leave and traveled to see his 113 year old grandmother in Dallas Texas. He walked into her room as the family was reading one of his letters he had sent her while in prison camp (the Germans never mailed them, they finally were mailed after the war), After his visit with family there, he went to Longview where he sought out a high school sweetheart named Doris Jean. They were married in October 1945 and later had and raised three children: Darlene, Puett III, and Donald.
After marrying Doris Jean, Puett got out of the Army Air Corp for 6 months before re-enlisting in the Air Force. Puett continued to serve in the Air Force for over 20 years. When the Korean War started he was "voluntold" he would serve as the only gunner (tail gunner) on an air weather reconnaissance B-29. As such, he flew 50 missions criss-crossing over South and North Korea providing real time weather aloft information. After completing 50 missions over combat territory, Puett was reunited with his family on Guam where he went back to heavy aircraft maintenance as a flight crew chief for a general's B-29. With the ending of the Korean War, he went back into air weather reconnaissance flying up and down the West coast and from coast to coast across America. Later, during the cold war and the need to frequently launch spy and counterspy satellites, he transferred from heavy aircraft maintenance to missile maintenance and was stationed at Vandenberg AFB in California, For the last year of his military service, during the beginning/middle of the Vietnam War, Puett served as a logistatition for an organization (same outfit Francis Gary Powers was from) flying U-2's out of Tucson , Arizona. He retired
from the Air Force on 1 April 1968 and worked for various civilian contractors on Vandenberg AFB until completely retiring on 30 June 1989 in Lompoc, California.
In 2004, he and his bride - Doris Jean - sold their home in Vandenberg Village California and moved to Longview Texas to be near their two youngest grandchildren (and their parents Don and Rosy). After 63 years, 3 months, and 3 days of marriage, on 17 January 2009, Doris Jean was called home to heaven.
Puett's feet had been badly frost-bitten during the winter of 1945. So much so the doctors who treated him upon his liberation told him, "The damaged flesh on your feet will grow back. However, since the bones in your feet actually froze at times, when you get older it will be excruciatingly painful." In order to endure all he suffered from May 1944 to May 1945, Puett was gifted with a very high pain threshold. However, when it finally became time for him to "get older" he found the truth of those doctors' words come to bear - eventually causing him to be wheelchair bound most of the time. Even that being the case, along with Macular Degeneration robbing his eyesight and having to rely on hearing aids due to all the unprotected airplane engine noise he experienced before all that was understood -- Puett remained relatively healthy until an AFIB / heart attack / swarm stroke event in 2018 which he had nearly fully recovered from, until he had a spill out of his wheelchair onto asphalt in 2019 and broke his left hip. Though he recovered from the broken hip, life changed completely for him after that.
On Wednesday 4 August, Puett was admitted to Christus Good Shepherd Hospital with Covid-19.
On Thursday 5 August, while visiting with his son Don and after a great phone call with his son Puett III, Puett Jr. confronted the seriousness of what he faced. Though he had bounced back so many times before, he dealt with the reality of his mortality and the possibility he might not make it through this time on this side of heaven. He chose to confront the sin of pride and issues in his life spanning decades he needed to repent of. He cried out to the Lord and received the forgiveness of his previously undealt with sins. His repentance was manifest in the realization of how his pride had caused others great pain and the desire to apologize and ask forgiveness of them if the opportunity ever arose. He did call out to God and received great and lasting Peace. This was to be one of the last actual conversations he would have with any of his family. Just a few days later he would be in Regional Hospital ICU on BIPAP oxygen. During his time in ICU he had another AFIB event along with other Covid complications. On 21 August 2021 he passed peacefully after his family had one last opportunity to talk to him (though he could not respond) by means of compassionate nurses who made their private cellphones available for the interactions while they stayed by his side giving him what comfort and acts of lovingkindness they could until his final breath at 11:11am.
Puett LaFayette Willcox Jr. is survived by: his brother James Willcox. His children and their spouses: D. Darlene Quealy and Joe; Puett Willcox III and Karen; and Don Willcox Sr. and Rosy. His grandchildren: Shawn and Scott Harris, Puett IV and Oliver Willcox, Donald Willcox Jr and Carmen Wright. Great grandchildren Puett V and Noah Willcox, and numerous nieces and nephews.