398th Bomb Group

William G. Comstock

Allen Ostrom

Bill Comstock, President the 398th Memorial Association, died on January 26, 1996, following a two-year battle with cancer.

He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC, being carried to his final resting place by four Army horses pulling his flag-draped coffin on a caisson.

A rifle volley over the grave and the soul-stirring notes of “Taps” announced that Comstock’s final mission here on earth had been recorded. He was 72.

It was Wally Blackwell, Association secretary, delivering a eulogy at the funeral, who offered these words on behalf of his fallen comrade; “Bill had a very meaningful and productive life, with a good crew aboard.  He had many close friends in the 398th and we will surely miss him, but we can all expect to see him again at 30,000 feet”.

A retired Air Force colonel, Comstock’s career spanned World War II, Korea and Viet Nam. His decorations included the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, as well as the Air Medal with six clusters.

The men of the 398th knew him briefly in 1944-45 as "pilot" in the 602nd Squadron.  The men and women of the Association knew him much longer as “president”. He was the man who had led the organization that grew from a little band of 30 in 1976 to about 2,000 at his death.

Standing by with his wife, Evelyn, two children and three grandchildren, were several members of the 398th, including Wilfrid Dimsdale and Elaine Tyler, leaders of the “Friends of the 398th” from Nuthampstead, England.

Others attending the funeral were Maria Hunter, widow of the 398th commanding officer; Wayne and Ruthanna Doerstler, Bob Hart, William Ryan, Ray Stange, Ralph Ambrose, Edward Brass and Teedy Blackwell.

Blackwell, a retired Air Force major, joined four retired colonels and a lieutenant general as honorary pallbearer. He had been Comstock’s closest associate during those final months of hospitalization and recuperation at home.

“The 398th was a source of pride for Bill”, he said, “He knew the true meaning of patriotism, devotion to duty, responsibility, faith in God and his fellow man. All these traits carried over to his work with the 398th.” 

Comstock flew 35 missions with the 602nd, first as co-pilot for William Hancock and later as first pilot with the same crew. Others on his crew were Leo Croce, William Norby, Robert Chorba, Paul Petersen, Percy Paget, Daniel Mack, James Arndell and Jack Davis.

Davis was the Association’s first secretary-treasurer.

Comstock came to the 398th with a background in B-24’s. Hancock, a seasoned B-17 instructor pilot, personally selected him to fly as his co-pilot. When Hancock moved up to Command Pilot with the 602nd, Comstock took over the crew and finished out the tour.

Wayne Doerstler was not a member of the Comstock crew, but played a significant role with him on a mission as a substitute engineer-gunner.

While still in the assembly area, Doerstler detected a problem with one of the engines and advised his first lieutenant pilot.

“We’re not turning back now”, said Comstock, seeing that he was still able to maintain speed and altitude.

“You may be going to Germany”, said Doerstler to his pilot, “But I’m not!”

With that, Comstock reconsidered and reluctantly returned to Station 131.

An infuriated Engineering officer, unhappy that one of “his” planes aborted, continued to upbraid the crew until he finally pulled the cowling on the suspected engine and was shocked at the hidden fire damage.

“It’s a good thing you came home”, he told Comstock.

Comstock and Doerstler have been friends ever since.

Wildrid Dimsdale joined Blackwell in a eulogy at the service, describing Bill as “the rock upon which the 398th Association was built”.  He added, “Bill was able, dedicated and above all, approachable”.

“Today, at Station 131, the flag of the United States flies at half-staff in honor of the passing of a fine man.”

Wilfrid also noted “at the conclusion of the service at Arlington, eight of the 20 troops assigned to the procession conducted “the most spectacular piece of drill I have ever seen”, according to Dimsdale. This was the folding of the casket flag process before handing it to Evelyn.

That procedure went as follows:

Stretching the flag tightly between the eight bearers. Handing from bearer at the far end of the casket across the casket to the man on the opposite side, who handed it to one on the other until it finally arrived to the last.  The officer at the end making certain that the flag was even more perfectly folded.  Handing the flag on bended knee to Evelyn.

The condolences presented on behalf of the commanding officer of Fort Meyer. And finally, taps and the three rifle shots by seven soldiers were Bill’s final salute.

Printed in Flak News Volume 11, Number 2, Page(s) 1, April 1996

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