Eugene Spearman wrote some wonderful stories about his WWII experiences with the 384th Bomb Group. One person he mentioned in several stories was not a flight crew member or even part of the ground crew. But this one man’s work at Grafton Underwood touched many lives. He was Chaplain Method Billy, known to the boys of the 384th as “Brother Billy.”
Brother Billy was born December 12, 1910 to Joseph and Elizabeth (known as Baca) Billy. Joseph and Elizabeth immigrated to America from Slovakia in 1897. Joseph earned a living as a coal miner in the Midvale section of Plains Township, Pennsylvania. Elizabeth was a housewife and mother. The Billy’s raised nine children and Method, born Michael, was their fifth.
They were a religious family and Michael/Method was not the only Billy child to be called into religious service. All three Billy sons became priests: Joseph (Monsignor Florian), John (Reverend Anthony), and Michael (Monsignor Method). Four of the six Billy daughters became nuns and served as teachers: Anna (Sister Ulphia), Elizabeth (Sister Emiliana), Margaret (Sister Gemma), and Cecelia (Sister Elise). Only two daughters, Mary (the oldest daughter) and Emily (the youngest daughter), married and had children.
In 1929, Michael Billy graduated from St. Francis Seminary in Staten Island, New York. He entered the Novitiate of the Conventual Franciscan Friar in Syracuse, New York where he received the religious name, Method, and professed his religious vows in 1930. He also studied theology at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. Method Billy was ordained a priest on July 26, 1935. In 1936, he was assigned as a professor at St. Anthony-on-Hudson Seminary in Rensselaer, New York, where he remained until at least 1940, according to the 1940 census.
Method Billy enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942 and served as a Chaplain for four years. He was detailed as Group Chaplain of the 384th Bomb Group on SO #158 dated December 1, 1943. In addition to holding regular church services for the men of the 384th, he performed another very special service that impressed Eugene Spearman enough to write about him in several of his stories.
We then taxied out to the end of the runway and awaited our signal for take-off. Standing just outside the plane during most of my missions even in rain or snow stood a man, Bro. Billy, holding a Bible. His being there was such a blessing for me. Just knowing that someone was praying for me made me feel better.
Standing just beside the end of the runway, where we made that final check of instruments before releasing the brakes, stood a minister. I don’t know what denomination he represented, but it was an inspiration to me to see him there. And then we were on our way.
One thing that I was thankful for was that a minister or priest stood holding a Bible beside the runway just before we released the brakes and raced down the runway on every mission, rain or shine.
After the war, Method Billy was Guardian at St. Bonaventure Friary in Washington, D.C. There he pursued advanced studies and received the Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Catholic University of America, after which he became a Professor of Theology. In 1957, he was appointed Pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Endicott, New York, and later served as Professor of Religious Studies at Maria Regina College in Syracuse, New York. He later was assigned to Saints Cyril and Method Friary in Binghamton, New York.
Monsignor Method Billy died Nov 9, 1995. He is buried in the Saint Cyril Slovak Catholic Cemetery in Binghamton, Broome County, New York.
Photos provided by Chris Benson and 384thbombgroup.com, used with permission.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016