McCandless brothers, heroes gave their lives in service


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When comedian Bob Hope told a joke on his radio program about Col. William H. Councill's record-setting jet flight, his family realized the veteran pilot was at least temporarily famous.

"Bob Hope said when my father's plane flew by a bird, it was going so fast that it blew all the bird's feathers off," Frances Councill recalled in a recent phone interview.

William H. Councill, who grew up in the Ingomar portion of McCandless, set a transcontinental speed record on Jan. 26, 1946, flying from Los Angeles to New York at an average of almost 600 mph. He was piloting a Lockheed P-80 "Shooting Star" jet, and his record stood for eight years.

His speedy coast-to-coast flight was only one in a series of aviation honors he earned during World War II and in his years as a test pilot.

His life was cut short when he and his plane, a T-33 jet trainer, disappeared 60 years ago during a flight between New York and Virginia. He had taken off from Long Island on April 5, 1954. The Air Force informed his family eight weeks later that he was believed lost at sea.

His death and that of his younger brother, David, in a plane crash during World War II in North Africa, were reminders of the great sacrifices that many service members and their grieving families have made.

"Memorial Day will have a deeper, sadder meaning today for the family of Colonel William H. Councill," a May 31, 1954, story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said. "The Air Force has ruled officially that Col. Councill, 42, 'was presumed dead.' "

"It's hard to give up hope," Councill's mother, Bertha, told a Post-Gazette reporter. "And we've dreaded answering questions of relatives and Bill's friends who want to know if there is any news -- but this seems like the final word."

Bertha and William Councill had two other children, daughters Ruth and Barbara Alice.

Frances Councill was 10 when her father's plane was lost. She and her mother, the former Lillie Slay, were living with her dad at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. It was the latest of many military bases where her father's service career had taken his family.

Frances Councill, 70, is a retired nurse and paramedic who has lived for many years in Florida. She said she retained strong memories of her father.

"He had a sense of humor," she said, telling a favorite story of her mother's about how her dad dealt with two airmen. The pair periodically got into trouble that resulted in their demotion in rank. "Then they would have to work their way back up," she said.

Her father was commander of the 86th Fighter-Bomber Wing, stationed at Neubiberg, Germany, when he called the two men into his office. "He just stared at them while they were running through their heads all the things they had done and which one the old man had found out about," Ms. Councill said.

"They thought they were going to get demoted again," she said. "After they were totally nervous, he finally told them he had a special assignment for them. He wanted them to go catch some trout in streams in the nearby Black Forest."

A general would be stopping at the base -- Ms. Councill couldn't recall whether it was Dwight Eisenhower or John K. Cannon, commander of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe -- and he liked fresh-caught fish.

"Even with the war over, Col. William C. Councill is seeing plenty of action in the air," a story in The Pittsburgh Press "Roto" magazine said Feb. 17, 1946, shortly after his record-breaking cross-country flight.

"The colonel got the aviation bug first at Perry High School," the story said. "As an Aero Club member in school, he helped fellow members build a glider."

According to family lore, one wing had to be removed from the student-built aircraft after it was found to be too wide to get through the basement door of the family home in McCandless, Ms. Councill said. After her father's death, she spent parts of her summer vacations with her cousins at her grandparents' home at the corner of Ingomar Heights and Hilliard roads.

Her father joined what was then the U.S. Army Air Corps after his graduation from Carnegie Tech in 1933. During World War II, he worked as a flight instructor before flying 130 combat missions in the South Pacific.

Shortly before the United States entered World War II, William Councill's younger brother, David, joined the Army Air Corps. He trained as a pilot, learning to fly four-engine bombers.

In 1943, he was serving with what had become the Army Air Forces, ferrying planes across the Atlantic and Mediterranean to Italy. On Dec. 8, 1943, shortly before his 23rd birthday, David Councill was killed when his B-24 Liberator bomber crashed in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. His survivors had included his widow, the former Kathryn Collins, and an infant daughter. Deanna Councill now lives in Georgia.

Both brothers have been remembered locally.

In 1954, lawyer Edgar Bell Sr. and his wife, Ida, donated a V-shaped tract of land at West Ingomar and Ingomar Heights roads to McCandless. The couple, who lived just across the municipal boundary line in what was then Franklin Township, were neighbors of the Councills. Under the terms of the agreement with the Bells, the 1.3 acres they gave to McCandless were to be maintained as "David E. Councill Memorial Park."

The minipark and the sundial at its center are maintained by the Ingomar Garden Club.

McCandless officials have discussed but made no decision on the idea of adding a plaque to the existing memorial to honor the memory of William Councill, Councilman Gerard J. Aufman Jr. said. "That might be an appropriate way to honor both brothers and still stay within the parameters of the deed," he said.

Ms. Councill returned to Pittsburgh in 2007 for a ceremony honoring her father and other distinguished veterans at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland.

A plaque with William Councill's name and description of his armed forces career hangs in the military museum's Hall of Valor.

 


Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184.

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