Always Try To Be An Honorable Man
Thomas Calabrese — Schilling & Company was an American foodstuffs company founded in San Francisco, California, in 1881 by August Schilling and George F. Volkmann, a pair of 27 year-old Bremen, Germany immigrants. The company dealt in coffee, tea, baking powder, extracts, and spices. August Schilling had one son, Eric who was born in 1895. Eric married Joan Kleiser, a worker at his father’s successful company in 1915 and they had three children; two daughters and one son; Joan Cinnamon Schilling, Carol Ginger Schilling and William Cayenne Schilling.
Bill Schilling was born on July 4, 1922 and like his siblings, he worked at A. Schilling from the time he was old enough to walk. Bill was a small child and his nickname was Little Spice. By the time he was a teenager in the 1930’s, Bill was a natural risk taker and could often be found hanging out in the rough and tumble Barbary Coast area of San Francisco. He became equally adept with a deck of cards as he was with his fists. Since he had only grown to five foot six inches in height, many people underestimated the diminutive dynamo, but Bill Schilling was lightning fast, acrobatic and tough as rawhide. Even though James ‘Gentleman Jim’ Corbett, former heavyweight champion of the world was quite a bit older than Bill, they developed a close friendship and he mentored Bill in the art of pugilism. Gentleman Jim was heard to comment about ‘Little Spice’, “I like that kid; he reminds me a lot of myself.”
Eric Schilling came to realize that it was a futile endeavor to try and keep a tight leash on his free-spirited son so he sighed in resignation and offered this advice, “Make me one promise.”
“Sure dad, what is it,” Bill answered.
“Try to be an honorable man whatever you decide to do with your life,” Eric Schilling said.
Those words of advice would never be forgotten. When World War II broke out, the 19 year old joined the Army Air Corps on January 5, 1942 and was sent to flight school at the newly created Air Force Flying Training Command in Fort Worth, Texas. After being designated a multi-engine pilot, he went through transition training and learned how to fly bombers. When that was completed Lieutenant Bill Schilling was sent overseas and assigned to 445th Bomb Group of the 703d Bombardment Squadron at RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England.
It only took the rambunctious Bill ‘Little Spice’ Schilling three missions before reality punched him in the gut and slapped him across the face. This wasn’t San Francisco and life was fragile and temporary and could be taken away in an instant by German anti-aircraft fire or a burst of machine gun fire from a Messerschmitt fighter. It was a rude awakening for a young man who always thought of himself as invincible. It was during the unrelieved and monotonous hours of tension flying toward an enemy target, while being strapped in the cockpit that Little Spice often remembered his father’s words, ‘Try to be an honorable man.’
The aircrews were awakened at 0400 hours and Little Spice called out from his rack, “Rise and shine, boots on the grounds!”
In over a dozen small barracks that were located several hundred yards from the landing strip, aircrews got dressed and sauntered over to the chowhall for breakfast. Conversation was at a minimum, just a lot of grunts and moans as the men moved in robotic fashion. They had done this routine enough times so that they could do it from memory without their minds being fully engaged.
After chow, the crew drifted with slightly more haste to the auditorium where the briefing was being held. Little Spice sat next to a long lanky pilot, “Hey Destry.”
“Morning Little Spice, “The man drawled.
Destry was the nickname given to James Stewart, Hollywood Actor because of his 1939 movie, Destry Rides Again, where he played a pacifist lawman.
Little Spice was introduced to the two new members of his flight crew by the company clerk; Will Simons, radio operator and medic who was replacing Benny Del Portro, who was killed on the last mission and a young replacement, Charlie Buchinsky, who would after the war become a movie actor and change his name to Charles Bronson. Buchinsky would be the new tail gunner after George Klayman was grounded for medical issues that ended his flying career.
Master Sergeant Tim Halloran was a seasoned veteran with almost 16 years in the Army and had a reputation as a hardcase that always got the job done. His tools of the trade were fear, intimidation, brutality and harassment. He was as strong as a horse and as mean as a rattlesnake and took perverse pleasure in the pain and suffering of those around him. War brings out the best and worst in men and Master Sergeant Halloran was one of the worst. As the new maintenance chief, it didn’t take him long to alienate the flight crews from the ground personnel and create an aura of malevolent discontent. He was a barrel-chested braggart and bully with a booming voice and arms the size of a man’s thighs. It got to the point that crews and pilots rarely approached mechanics even about minor issues with their planes because they knew the answer that they would get, ‘Master Sergeant Halloran said if you got a problem then you need to see him.’
When pilots and flight engineers went to Halloran with their concerns, he responded arrogantly, “I’ll put you on the list and we’ll get to it when we get time.”
This new unwritten policy was detrimental to the safety of the crews and a colossal waste of valuable time. There was only one way to deal with a man like Halloran, but who would be up to the challenge. Little Spice was walking with Destry when he saw Master Sergeant Halloran lounging around with a group of mechanics next to one of the fuel trucks telling stories of his military exploits and decided this was the time to rectify the problem so he yelled out “Get off your butts and get back to work!”
The mechanics didn’t know what to do so they looked to Master Sergeant Halloran for guidance who responded with defiance, “We’ll go back to work when I say so!”
“Did you check number three engine on my plane?” Little Spice snapped out, “This is the second time that I’ve asked you, I won’t ask you again.”
“It’s on the list, sir,” Master Sergeant Halloran snarled and his mechanics snickered, “You wouldn’t want me to put your plane ahead of the others, would you sir? That wouldn’t be fair, would it, sir?” The maintenance chief seemed to spit out the word ‘sir’.
“I’ve heard that you’re a tough guy Master Sergeant, is that right?” Little Spice commented, “From where I’m standing you just look like one of those loudmouths that’s all talk and no action.”
Master Sergeant Halloran stood up and flexed his biceps, showing muscles on top of muscles, “What do you think, does that look like talk to you? That’s grade A American prime beef.”
“Looks like all fat and gristle to me?” Little Spice chuckled, “Do you think that you could beat me in a fight?”
“I’d crush you like a peanut shell under the heel of my boot, sir” Master Halloran slammed his foot down for emphasis. “I know your officer tricks, you get me to take a swing and when I put you in the hospital with a crushed skull, I end up in the stockade for assault. I ain’t falling for that.”
Little Spice looked at the men standing around, “Look at all these witnesses, this is just a sporting bet between you and me, no rank, just man to man,” Little Spice turned to Destry, “How much money do you have on you?”
Destry emptied his pockets and Little Spice counted it, “I’ve got 116 bucks right here. If you beat me it’s all yours, but if I beat you then things go back to the way that they were around here before you showed up.”
“You mean that all I’ve got to do is knock your head off and I won’t get in any trouble and you’ll give me money for doing it?” Master Halloran relished the thought.
“Sounds like a hell of a deal, doesn’t it?” Little Spice smiled.
Master Halloran took off his shirt and everybody was visibly impressed at his size. James ‘Destry’ Stewart whispered in Little Spice’s ear, “You sure that you know what you’re doing?”
“We’ll find out soon enough,” Little Spice answered, “I’m not worried, it’s your money that I’m betting.”
The men fanned out to create a circle; with the mechanics on one side and flight crews on the other. The mechanics were extremely confident in Master Sergeant Halloran and exuberantly cheered him on as he loosened up with several practice right crosses and left hooks.
The flight crews were considerably more apprehensive about Little Spice’s ability to even survive, let alone win. He was six inches shorter and a hundred pounds lighter and when Little Spice took off his flight jacket, he was so lean that he almost looked frail.
Master Sergeant Halloran raised both his fists and growled, “Little Spice, I’m going to season these knuckle sandwiches with your blood?”
The two men moved to the center of the circle and squared off against each other. Master Sergeant Halloran swung from his heels with his right hand and the punch sailed over Little Spice’s head who ducked at the last instant. Halloran threw several more haymakers and each time the smaller man sidestepped or ducked under the massive fists. After evading six of his opponent’s punches Little Spice started counter punching, focusing his punishing blows on the mid-section of the much larger man and each time Little Spice made contact; Halloran grimaced, groaned and twisted in pain.
It didn’t take long before Master Sergeant Halloran began teetering back and forth like a mighty oak whose roots were no longer strong enough to support it. In frustration he threw a left hand that had no power or direction and Little Spice stepped in and unloaded a barrage of body blows that brought the big man to his knees. “No more, I’m done,” Master Sergeant Halloran pleaded as he looked up. His chin was an inviting target, one that Little Spice ignored, choosing instead to help the big man to his feet and walk him over to a jeep where he collapsed into the seat.
As Little Spice walked away the new tail gunner, Charles Buchinsky approached, “Excuse me Captain, why didn’t you hit him in the face?”
“If I hit him in the face, maybe I’d break his nose, jaw or give him a concussion or even shut both of his eyes. He could end up in the hospital for a couple weeks or maybe he doesn’t come back at all. We’re shorthanded enough around here and can’t afford to lose any more men than we already do. This way the Master Sergeant will only be passing blood for a few days and with his attitude adjustment he’ll be somebody that we can work with. Remember, there’s a big difference between winning and winning wisely.”
Charles Buchinsky thought for a second, “When you put it that way, it makes sense.”
James ‘Destry’ Stewart smiled, “You’re a hell of a man, Little Spice.”
When they entered the auditorium the mood turned grim in an instant when the flight crews looked over to the massive map of Europe on the wall and saw the target marked by a large red string that showed the route from their homebase. It was Oschersleben again! The group had bombed an aircraft factory there five weeks ago and barely made it back in their badly damaged B-17’s to the coast of England. Luftwaffe fighter opposition was continuous on the raid and 30 planes were shot down although German radio claimed they shot down 50! The bomber group had only had some minimal fighter support from the first long ranged P-51 Mustang fighters.
The temperature was forecasted to be 55 degrees below zero at their designated altitude. What most people didn’t realize was that the Eighth Air Force lost more men to frostbite than from battle wounds. Captain Schilling cautioned his crew, “Extra cold weather gear on this one.”
While on his way to his plane, String of Pearls, named after the famous Glenn Miller song, Destry walked over with another man that looked very familiar to Little Spice. It was movie star Clark Gable. “Clark was going to fly with me to shoot footage for Combat America, but my plane is down so I told him that Little Spice is the next best pilot in the group.”
“You sure you don’t want to wait for a milk run, this is going to be a rough one,” Little Spice warned.
“They want combat footage, that’s what I’m going to give them,” Clark Gable replied simply.
A significant percentage of the flight crews detoured over to the chaplain’s office for a blessing. Each aircraft was allotted a certain numbers of rounds, but George Madden the aircrew armorer always managed to smuggle aboard additional belts of ammunition. The B-17’s began lining up at 0815 hours and a white flare from the tower signaled the pilots to get ready for take-off. Little Spice revved up the four 1200 horsepower Wright Cyclone engines one by one while his co-pilot Fred Triplett watched the instruments to make sure that everything was operating at maximum performance.
When the String of Pearls reached the altitude of 12,000 feet over the English Channel, Captain Bill ‘Little Spice’ Schilling radioed the crew, “Put on your oxygen masks then added, “Gunners, test fire your weapons.”
Clark Gable and his crew were sitting with their camera equipment since there wasn’t much to take film of so far. As was their custom, the crew began singing the song, “String of Pearls, ‘Ba, by, here’s a five-and-dime, Ba, by, now’s about the time for a string of pearls à la Woolworth.”
‘Every pearl’s a star above wrapped in dreams, and filled with love. That old string of pearls à la Woolworth till that happy day in spring when you buy the wedding ring. Please, a string of pearls à la Woolworth, Ba, by you made quite a start.”
Over the Ruhr Valley, the B-17 Jennie Lee on Little Spice’s starboard wing got hit and exploded. Clark Gable’s film crew photographed the aircraft as it crashed to earth. Suddenly there was an explosion and the String of Pearls lurched, dropped and shuddered as metal fragments tore through the fuselage. The Germans used 105mm cannons in batteries of four and fired in quick sequence. The String of Pearls flew through the shrapnel from the 3rd and 4th shells. After damage assessment, Little Spice caught up with the rest of the squadron and every B-17 had also sustained some amount of flak damage. By the time Little Spice reached the target area, number two engine had completely lost power and number three was smoking. This was extremely serious, but the catastrophic problem was that the bomb doors were too badly damaged to open. Little Spice knew that the String of Pearls could not make it back to England with a full bombload; it would burn up too much fuel. He ordered Ronnie Matheson the bombardier and the two waist gunners to push as many bombs as they could on the jammed doors and eventually the massive weight was enough to push them open and the bombs fell out. The entire crew breathed a collective sigh of relief.
On the way back to England, the String of Pearls encountered a group of enemy Me-410 fighters. They came in with guns blazing and the gunners aboard the B-17 returned fire and before long they were standing ankle deep in spent .50 caliber rounds. Luckily some P-51 Mustangs were in the area and engaged the enemy fighters.
Crossing the channel, Little Spice was notified by the radio operator that cloud cover had dropped to 300 feet over England so he dropped to 200 feet. By now the B-17 was shaking so badly that co-pilot Fred Trippett notified the base that they might have to ditch. Nobody liked ditching in the Channel, the water was so damn cold that crews could only live about 15 minutes.
Little Spice spotted an emergency airfield and alerted the crew, “Prepare for crash landing.”
Right about that time the propeller on Engine 2 spun off and the motor fell to the ground. Luckily one thing was still working properly on the aircraft and that was the landing gear. Little Spice used every bit of his skill and experience to gently set the plane down on the grassy field.
When Clark Gable stepped out of the B-17, he lost his balance. It seemed that one of the enemy rounds had shot off the heel of his right boot, “You were right.”
“How so?” Little Spice responded.
“I should have waited for a milk run,” Clark Gable grinned in relief.
Captain ‘Little Spice’ Schilling flew 20 more combat missions, cheating death and pushing his luck with each one. By the time the war was over, the only man in his crew who hadn’t been seriously wounded or killed was his tail gunner, Charlie Buchinsky.
After returning to San Francisco in 1945, Little Spice returned to work at his grandfather’s spice company, but that didn’t last long because in 1946 the family business was acquired by McCormick and Company. Bill Schilling took his inheritance and along with his sisters, Cinnamon and Ginger’s financial backing, began investing in the real estate market. He focused his attention on the Los Gatos and Los Altos areas, buying two hotels and several commercial properties.
In the early 1950’s Little Spice received a call from his wartime buddy James ‘Destry’ Stewart about the rapid expansion in the Los Angeles area. The two men saw the potential and invested heavily in the Pacific Palisades and Malibu areas. During the filming of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in 1962 Bill Schilling had the opportunity to meet John Wayne and they entered into a real estate partnership in the Newport Beach area.
When Bill Schilling heard that Audie Murphy was having financial difficulties in the mid 1960’s, he created a fraudulent deal that for a miniscule investment Audie would receive a lucrative monthly dividend for the rest of his life. Bill ‘Little Spice’ Schilling would never disrespect the most decorated man of World War II with a handout, but he couldn’t turn his back on a fellow veteran either.
In the early 1970’s Bill Schilling had enough vision to see what was happening in the Silicon Valley and invested heavily in numerous computer and software companies that included Hewlett Packard, Apple, Shockley Semiconductor and Cisco Industries.
In the mid 1970’s Charles Buchinsky who was now Charles Bronson and a world famous actor contacted his former plane commander and together they began investing in the Carlsbad and La Costa areas of North San Diego County, buying a dozen mobile home parks along the coast and huge parcels of land along the Palomar Airport Road corridor.
Bill Schilling and James Stewart purchased a B-17 and two P-51 Mustangs and had them completely restored to mint condition. Their call signs were Spice and Destry and the B-17 was affectionately named, String of Pearls #2. The three aircraft were hangered at the Santa Monica airport and the two combat pilots never missed an opportunity to get together and hit the wild blue yonder. Little Spice’s car of choice was a 1955 Porsche Super Speedster, the same model that actor James Dean was killed in near Cholame, California at the junction of Route 46 and Route 41 on September 30, 1955.
It was in the late 1970’s that Bill Schilling’s extensive holdings had made him a billionaire. He was one of the few people in the world to forecast the arrival of the internet and how it would eventually change the world. He had his lawyers purchase the rights to 1000 domain names in 1980 and top companies had to pay a fee to Bill Schilling to use them.
In later years ‘Little Spice’ worked with other world class investors, Warren Buffett, Carl Icahn and John Templeton on a variety of projects and entered in a partnership with Sheldon Adelson to purchase and manage casinos around the world. Although he was extremely generous with his wealth, two of Bill Schilling’s greatest pleasures were investing in companies of military veterans and bringing in deserving individuals on lucrative business deals where they could earn their own financial independence and security.
Bill ‘Little Spice’ Schilling was part of the ‘Greatest Generation’ a man who deeply loved his country and defended it with his life during World War II, then helped to build it upon his return. He tried always to be faithful to the two principles that served him well throughout his life; Win wisely and always try to be an honorable man.
NOTE: Aspiring Writers Join us on the 3rd Saturday of each month between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm Veterans Writing Group of North County (non veterans are welcome) 1617 Mission Avenue , Oceanside,Ca. 92054
(619) 991-8790 www.veteranswriting group.org – www.facebook.com/VMGSDCounty