How Famous is Fenwick: Top Ace William Cullerton

Everywhere you turn, the word “legacy” echoes through the halls of Fenwick High School. But what is a legacy? A legacy is something passed on from those who came before. What a Friar passes down is the responsibility to use your gifts well and to live embodying truth, unity, and love, as students are taught to in their four years at Fenwick.

William Cullerton, class of 1941, was named Top Ace of the 357th Fighter Squadron. He was one of the youngest aces of World War Two; and at age 21 was credited as being one of the only fighter pilots to take down eight enemy planes in one day. His tenacity and willingness to give show his true adherence to what it means to be a Friar. William Cullerton’s story is one that can inspire all who are willing to listen.

Cullerton’s tale of exceptional bravery begins in 1945. A P-51 plane piloted by Cullerton is shot out of the sky, ejecting William into the woods below. The rest of his fleet heads back to base due to the confrontation of enemy jets. Soon after his descent, he hears enemy soldiers approaching on foot, and takes cover in the bushes nearby. He escapes unscathed by this encounter, despite having been close enough to have reached out and touched the enemy soldiers looking for him.

While making his way back to the nearest American base, he was jumped by 2 dozen Waffen SS soldiers, shot straight through his stomach and left to die. He remained starving in these woods for several days until he was discovered by a German Farmer who thought he was a German soldier. Upon being taken to the hospital, German soldiers found out he was alive and wanted to take him from the hospital for questioning. Cullerton had befriended the Jewish Doctor who was treating him, and an escape plan was devised. The doctor ordered a large truck bed of manure to be placed outside Cullerton’s window in the hospital. He was to jump into the shipment and escape the German grasp. When the time came, he did so. He traveled miles in the manure, eyelids frozen shut in the cold. When William heard American voices, he signaled to them that he was friend not foe, and was brought to an American base. Saved at last.

His story did not end there. After his nearly fatal tour, Cullerton was returned to his high school sweetheart and bride Elaine Stephen. He pursued his career as a sports fisherman, eventually having his name listed in America’s 100 Sportfishing Legends. Additionally, he hosted the Sunday morning radio show “The Great Outdoors” on the WGN station.

An article written about his life was entitled “you only live twice”, commemorating Cullerton’s gratitude for life after his near death on the European war front. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and Prisoner of War Medal to recognize his dedication to his station and will to make it home alive. He passed away in 2013, survived by three children, 19 grandchildren, and eight great grandchildren, many of which also walked the Fenwick halls.

The stories of American heroes these days are being overshadowed by criticism of history. As a Fenwick Community we cannot allow that to happen. The lives of William Cullerton and many others are tales of the past, but are laden with lessons valuable in the present. So let us carry the legacies of those who came before us with the weight they deserve, and be dignified in the truth, unity, and love that make us Friar Nation.