A Royal Oak man surprised members of the Royal Oak Historical Society with a spur-of-the-moment gesture of kindness and respect at the group’s annual dinner at Red Run Golf Club on Oct. 17.
No stranger to public speaking, Bill Shaw, 71, is well known for delivering planned remarks during the public comment portion of City Commission meetings. So when Shaw grabbed a microphone to express his views on Carol Hennessey—as she was being presented with the Sophie V. Bowman Award—it seemed both unexpected and expected.
Normally armed with neatly typed notes, Shaw shot-from-the-hip as he presented Hennessey with a Soldier’s Medal awarded to him 52 years ago.
“It was very spontaneous,” Shaw said. “I’ve worked with Carol doing a lot of things with veterans—putting flags out and cleaning graves. She’s just a super lady and I was moved by the moment.”
Hennessy is much loved and greatly admired for the work she does as president of the Royal Oak Memorial Society.
Flying tackle wins medal for airman’s quiet heroics
It’s been more than a half-century since the Daily Tribune headline read: “Flying Tackle Wins Medal for Airman’s Quiet Heroics.”
Shaw recalls he was going into his senior year at Dondero High School when he decided he wanted to join the Air Force. After talking to a recruiter, he ended up interviewing and becoming the poster child for the Air Force and his picture appeared in magazines, such as Life, Look and Boys’ Life, he said.
After his graduation from high school, Shaw left for Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi in 1960 to attend radio school.
“I was in my school training and one day I had to go back over to the lab. We did have some extremely high voltages. If you know anything about RF (radio frequency) energy, it is pretty deadly stuff,” Shaw said recalling the day he saved a man’s life. “The cardinal rule was that you never ever go into the lab by yourself.”
Shaw said one of his friends made the mistake entering the lab alone.
“I walked in probably about two or three minutes after him and he was hanging on a high voltage line. The only way I could get him off—after I hit him about three times—was to grab some more voltage myself and then hit him at the same time.”
Shaw made a flying tackle knocking the airman loose from the cable, the Daily Tribune reported at the time. He then applied mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration until the airman was breathing again.
“I took about 100,000 volts and got him off the line,” Shaw said.
The two men decided to keep the incident quiet.
“Number one, I didn’t want my mother hearing about it, and number two, he could have been court-martialed for disobeying the order to stay out of the lab by yourself.”
Shaw transferred out of Keesler to a Royal Air Force station in Mildenhall, which is approximately 90 miles north of London, England. After he was there about two or three months, he was approached by the Air Force.
“Somebody blew the lid on what we tried to do at Keesler,” Shaw said.
The Airman Second Class was 19 years old when he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal, the highest peacetime award given to a member of the armed forces.
“Unfortunately, the Air Force went and told my mom, ‘Hey do you know what Bill did?’ and I got chewed out for that.”
Pin gives its new recipient goose bumps
When Hennessey received Shaw’s red, white and blue hero pin she was shocked.
“I didn’t know what to say at the time. I remember asking him ‘Are you sure?” Hennessey said. “I am just so honored.'”
Hennessey still gets goose bumps when she thinks about it.
“I will wear it with pride and honor.”
Shaw and his wife Dorothy will be moving to Jasper, GA soon.
A member of the Optimist Club, Shaw shared the details of his life growing up in Royal Oak to members of the club Wedensday.
“I want you to know Royal Oak is the greatest city in the world,” he said fondly.