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Hernando neighbors | Bill Gemmill, 84

Bill Gemmill: No better place to live than Hernando County

Bill Gemmill, 84, was shot down in World War II over Yugoslavia, where he and his crewmen managed to escape the Nazis.

RON THOMPSON | Times

Bill Gemmill, 84, was shot down in World War II over Yugoslavia, where he and his crewmen managed to escape the Nazis.

How long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?

I was born and raised in Hyde Park, Ill. I've lived in foreign countries during my military days. We lived for 25 years in Myrtle Beach, S.C., spent a couple of years in Mexico, and have lived in Hernando County for 22 years.

Who are the members of your family?

My wife, Carole, and I have been married for 39 years. We met while I was serving in the Air Force. I had been sent from Turkey to Germany, where she was. She was a Department of the Army civilian who was divorced. I was divorced as well. We have not been apart since.

In my previous marriage, I had two sons and one daughter — William B. Gemmill III, Susan Gemmill and Bruce Gemmill. We have several grandchildren, and just recently our great-granddaughter Rose was born. Susan is the grandmother.

Tell us about your career.

I retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel. During World War II, I served as a lead bombardier flying B-24s out of Cerignola, Italy. I was shot down over Odertal, Yugoslavia, where important oil refineries were located. When the mission was planned, we were unaware of one crucial item: The refineries were heavily guarded by some of Germany's best fighter groups.

After being shot down, my fellow bomber crewmen and I managed to evade capture for 10 days. We eventually escaped the Nazis with help from local partisans and the British Air Force.

Most of my missions, including time I spent later on working at the Pentagon and in Turkey, are still classified.

After moving to Florida, I initiated the formation of the Air Force Association in Hernando County and served for several years as president of our Bomber Group Association. I served as the national president of the 455th Bomber Group, 15th Air Force and spoke at the group's national convention in 2005. I delivered the dedication speech at the ceremony dedicating a liberty tree at Veterans Memorial Park in Spring Hill in 2005.

I am also one of the few charter members of the Withlacoochee Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution still around.

What kinds of activities are you involved in now?

I've been active in civic work most of my life. I began teaching English to foreigners while I was commander of a base in Turkey, and it carried over to the states. I taught English to immigrants for 20 years while I lived in Myrtle Beach, and after we moved here I taught for another 20 years at both the Spring Hill and North campuses of Pasco-Hernando Community College.

I've been a member of Kiwanis for 60 years, first in Washington, D.C., and then became a charter member of the Kiwanis Club of Spring Hill, where I served several terms as president.

I've had to cut back on attending weekly meetings on orders from my doctor, but I still try to help out in any way that I can.

I'm still active in the Withlacoochee Chapter of the SAR. Over the years I served as the editor and publisher of the chapter's newsletter and was chairman of the Knight essay contest.

The Withlacoochee Chapter has approximately 60 members who reside in Citrus and Hernando counties. In order to be a member of the SAR, you must prove that you are a direct lineal descendant of a patriot of the American Revolution. Our chapter has an Eagle Scout program, and we present an SAR JROTC medal to an outstanding cadet from each of the six programs in both Citrus and Hernando counties.

The chapter also presents Outstanding Good Citizenship certificates to students in all of the fifth grades who have been nominated by their teachers in both counties. We promote contests for both oration and essays, and honor law enforcement, heroes, firefighters and others with medals.

Twice a year, the chapter travels to the Baldomero Lopez State Veterans Nursing Home in Land O'Lakes with gifts, and at Christmastime the chapter is furnished with names of residents who have no immediate family in the area, and we provide them with five gifts each.

And the chapter's color guard participates in Memorial Day services and marches in annual St. Patrick's Day parades, as well as the Brooksville Christmas Parade and the Fourth of July parades.

Do you have any special hobbies?

I really enjoy oil painting. I haven't done a lot of it lately, but I hope to be able to take it up again soon.

What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?

Hernando County is a fantastic place to live. After living here for several years, we moved to Mexico for approximately two years, but missed Hernando County, so we moved back. We've lived in many places throughout the United States and in foreign countries, and there is no better place to live than Hernando County.

What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?

The only thing I would suggest is that the county build facilities and have more activities for teenagers. That's the only thing Hernando County lacks.

Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.

I was honored when I was chosen to run for the South Carolina House of Representatives. I was on the same ballot as Ronald Reagan. He was elected, but I wasn't.

Hernando Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Hernando Times. Do you know someone who would make a good profile? We'd like to hear from you. Contact Jean Hayes, community news coordinator, at jhayes@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1438.

Bill Gemmill: No better place to live than Hernando County 08/30/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 1, 2008 2:08pm]

    

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