Paul V. Billick

 

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Early Years § CCC-Idaho & California § CCC – Montana 1935 § CCC – Montana 1938/39 § Marriage & War Years § Post War Employment § Children § Domestic Life § Residences § Death & Burial

Paul Vincent Billick

Paul Vincent Billick (1916-1984) was born Sunday, April 9, 1916, in Toledo, Ohio, the sixth child of Louis and Tekla. The family was already established in Toledo, possibly living on Sibley Road. The 1920 Census shows five-year-old Paul, living with five older brothers and sisters (ages 6 to 17) and not quite two-year-old little sister, Helen. Little brother, Donald, would be born two months after the Census, in March of 1920. The family name is given as “Bilik.”

Billick_Paul_V_1934_yearbook
1934 High School Yearbook

Paul received his first communion at the St. Joseph Catholic Church in Sylvania, Ohio on 30 May 1926.[1]

By the 1930 Census, eldest brother, Walter, then 27 years old, was no longer living with the family.

At some point, Paul was a member of Troop 105 of the Boy Scouts of America but nothing is known about his BSA activities.

We don’t know where Paul received his grade-school education.[2] It’s not clear if St. Joseph Church had an elementary school but the Parish Web site mentions that from 1911 “The Ursuline Sisters taught the catechetical school.”[3] Other possible Catholic schools at the time include:

  • Saints Peter and Paul on S. Saint Clair Street
  • Anthony of Padua on Nebraska Ave.

Paul graduated from DeVilbiss High School[4] in June of 1934 just as the nation was beginning to recover from the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression years but it is also the peak impact period of the Dust Bowl and national unemployment still stood at a little over 21%. WPA projects were underway in Toledo, including Ottawa Park Amphitheater. His father, Louis, was working at the Willys-Overland plant on Central Avenue.

The wanderlust that was such an inherent part of Paul’s character seems to have struck him even as a teenager. On several occasions, Paul recounted hitch-hiking to the Chicago World’s Fair.[5] The exposition was held from May 1933 through the end of October 1934. Given his high school graduation date and the date of his entry into the Civilian Conservation Corps, it seems most likely that the Chicago adventure took place sometime in the summer or early fall of 1934. He mentioned traveling with a partner, but I don’t remember if it was one of the brothers or some pal from school.

CCC – Idaho & California, October 1934-April 1935

Like millions of other young men of the era, Paul joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, signing his application on October 9, 1934.[6] He agreed to send $25 of his $30 monthly pay back to his father in Ohio. He first took the three-day trip to Priest River, Idaho in the extreme north-west corner of the state, probably via train to Missoula, Montana, then by truck to the camp site; about 80 miles from Spokane, Washington and 180 miles from Missoula. Paul was in Priest River from October 10 to 29, attached to Company 533, Camp F-164 (referred to as the “Camp Four Corners”) assigned to forestry work.[7]

On October 30th, Company 533 was transferred to the CCC Camp F-350 at Bray, California, another remote forest site 20 miles northeast of Mount Shasta. Paul spent the next six months at the Bray location, known as “Camp Leaf,” departing on May 1, 1935.

CCC – Montana, May 1935-September 1935

Company 533’s next assignment was at CCC Camp F-59, called “Duck Creek,” in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, an encampment off U.S. 89 about 53 miles east of Helena. There were over 200 men working at the camp, almost all coming from Ohio, including about eighteen from Toledo.[8]

While Paul’s official documents describe his work as “forestry,” newspaper accounts note that Company 533’s major accomplishment was the completion of a 14-mile highway across the Big Belts Mountains between White Sulphur Springs and Townsend and the stringing of telephone lines from the Duck Creek Ranger Station to the CCC camp.[9] Today, this winding, mountain road is part of U.S. 12 and one of the most picturesque drives in Montana.

Newspapers in Butte, Great Falls and Helena also recount Company 533 being dispatched numerous times to fight forest fires. For example, in September 1935…

One hundred sixty CCC men from the Duck Creek Camp, 40 miles north of the fire area, were sent by truck to combat the blaze. …the men dug five miles of fire trench along the outer edge of the burn.[10]

The Duck Creek camp newspaper provides a glimpse of the enrollees’ schedule:

  • Reveille   6:30 a.m.
  • Breakfast   7:00 a.m.
  • Work call   7:45 a.m.
  • Dinner   noon-12:45
  • End work   4:45 p.m.
  • Supper   5:00 p.m.

After his Summer stint in the CCC, Paul worked for the Gendron Wheel Company”[11] in Toledo in October and November of 1936, then for the “Toledo Metal Co.,” June through August of 1937. Finally, he spent two months, June and July of 1938, cutting weeds for the City of Toledo.

CCC – Montana, October 1938-March 1939

Paul re-entered the CCC in October of 1938 being processed through Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana and was assigned to Company 1586, to Camp F-57, “Squaw Creek,” 100 miles east of Bozeman, Montana, and less than 25 miles from the beginning of the justly famous Beartooth Highway (U.S. 212) at Red Lodge. He functioned as “Acting First Sgt., Asst. Company Clerk, Acting Asst. Ldr.” and received an “Excellent” rating for his performance. He remained at Squaw Creek until March 20, 1939 and was honorably discharged through Fort Benjamin Harrison on March 27.

Paul’s time with the CCC included other (mis)adventures. He was twice treated for injuries. Once for a sprained ankle and another time for a laceration on his ankle from an axe blade. In March of 1935, he was found guilty of failing to report for KP duty and confined to his barracks for one week.

Paul’s discharge document summarizes his work thus:

Axeman-sawyer ½ month
Telephone line construction

Pick and shovel

6 months
Telephone line construction

Climber

4 months
Forest fire suppression duty ½ month

The CCC camps offered an array of personal improvement opportunities and the record shows that Paul completed courses in bookkeeping, photography, typing and first aid.

In the 1940 Census twenty-four-year-old Paul was again living with his parents and younger sister, Helen, and younger brother, Donald. His occupation is listed as “shipping clerk” in a “toy factory.”

Marriage & War Years

Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army on February 3, 1941, ten months before the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.[12] On the enlistment document his occupation is recorded as post office clerk. He is 6 feet, 1 inch tall, weighing 189 pounds. Paul did his basic training at Camp Shelby, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.[13] Paul qualified as a “carbine marksman” and at the end  his service was listed with an occupational specialty of “postal clerk.”

Paul married Bonita Mae Jackson (1921-2000) on March 15, 1941 in Gulfport, Mississippi. He was five weeks short of his 25th birthday and she had just turned 20.[14] Bonnie was already four months pregnant with the couple’s first son.

Paul was deployed with the 148th Infantry Regiment, most likely with the 37th Infantry Division. On October 6, 1942, Paul was one of 5,440 soldiers who departed San Francisco aboard the SS President Coolidge, a former luxury liner that had been converted to a troop ship. The ship had help evacuate critically injured soldiers just days after the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 1941. The vessel was headed for “New Caledonia and the New Hebrides. Embarked were the 172nd Infantry Combat Team, 43rd Division, and a harbor defense unit intended to protect the airfield at Espiritu Santo that was providing bomber support for forces at Guadalcanal.”[15]  On October 26, the ship stuck mines and the soldiers were marooned on Espiritu Santo Island in the New Hebrides.[16]

president_Coolidge_sinking
Troops abandoning the SS President Coolidge, 26 Oct 1942

In all, Paul served nearly three years overseas in the Pacific region. He received three citations: the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon, an American Defense Service Medal and a Good Conduct Ribbon. There is an odd detail in Paul Army Discharge papers. His home address is noted as 54 Fassett Court in Toledo, an address and location which otherwise are never mentioned in any documents.

Post-War Employment

Paul ended his Army service on 27 September 1945, three weeks after the formal surrender of Japan. What he did in the years from ’45 to ’49 is unknown. By 1949, Paul was employed by the U.S. Postal Service where he worked until 1972. For some time, he worked the second shift starting at 4:00 a.m. at the Station B location. Paul was active in the National Association of Letter Carriers.

postal_workers_b
Paul with the Station B Postal Workers

After his retirement from the Post Office, Paul worked for ten years in the mail department of First Federal Savings and Loan.

Children

Paul John Billick. Paul’s first son, Paul, was born on August 29, 1941, probably just months prior to his departure for military service. I don’t know if Paul got to see his first-born before shipping out and if he did, did he visit Ohio or did Bonnie travel south with the infant? Paul, Jr. attended St. Francis de Sales High School then transferred and graduated from Rogers High School. There, he met his future first wife, Suzanne Beczynski. Paul enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1961, doing his basic training at Parris Island, SC. Paul and Sue were married {date ???}. Paul served in Vietnam. The couple had two daughters, Julie (born 18 August 1966) and Brigitte (born 19 May 1969). They divorced 1987.

Paul married Julianne Mercurio in 1987. She owned a State Farm insurance agency on Navarre Avenue in Oregon, Ohio. Previously, she taught at Lark Elementary School and Fremont Ross HS and had been a guidance counselor at Saint Ursula Academy. Julianne passed away in December of 2005. Paul married Karen Dillon in 2007.

David Joseph Billick. Paul Sr.’s second son, David, was born on May 19, 1947. David attended Little Flower grade school, then St. Francis de Sales High School, graduating in 1965. He was co-captain of the football team and captain of the track team. He spent six years at the University of Toledo, earning B.A. and M.A. degrees in Spanish. He spent the fall semester of 1968 studying as an exchange student at the University of Puerto Rico. He also did a summer study program in Santander, Spain in 1970. He taught for two years at St. John’s Jesuit High School where he was also an assistant football coach.

David was awarded a teaching fellowship at the University of Iowa and obtained a doctorate in Spanish literature in 1976; with a dissertation on the 19th-century Spanish poet, José de Espronceda. He also did graduate work in the Library and Information Science program and was an intern in the library Special Collections unit.After completing his PhD degree, he taught first at the University of Iowa, then at Rutgers University from 1977-1980, and at the University of Michigan in 1981-82.

He worked for two years in the University of Michigan Graduate Library, in the Serials Department and later in Reference Department.

In June of 1983, David took a position with University Microfilms International (UMI) in Ann Arbor. In October of 1992, he was named Vice President of Acquisitions and Imaging Operations, managing a staff of some 215 employees. In August of 1995, David joined Microsoft Corporation in Redmond, Washington. He worked there in various capacities related to Microsoft’s online services until he retired in February of 2010.

Paulette Anne Billick. Paul’s only daughter, Paulette Anne, was born September 14, 1963 when Paul was 47 years old. Paulette attended Little Flower grade school and went on to graduate from McAuley HS.

Domestic Life

Along with his brothers, Peter and John, Paul was a volunteer fireman with the Adam’s Township Volunteer Fire Department. He was a member of the Adams Township American Legion Post #553.

He took advantage of the Veterans’ education benefits to take classes in upholstery repair. He was a collector of Life Magazine and avid reader of the daily newspaper and Time and Newsweek magazines. After Sunday morning mass, he nearly always watched the weekend news broadcast on television while browsing the Toledo Blade.

Paul was interested in politics, always listening to the radio and following the national political conventions of 1952, ‘56 and ‘60. He supported President Eisenhower and greatly admired President Kennedy. I recall accompanying dad to a rally in late 1956 where President Eisenhower spoke and attending a fundraiser picnic for Ohio Governor Frank Lausche who was running for a U.S. Senate post. Attending the picnic was the up-and-coming first-term Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy.

He enjoyed dabbling in the garden, once making his own batch of wine from grapes grown on Dolly Schneider’s property on Airport Highway. He even collected a few trees on the Western U.S. trips and planted them at the Blackburn home site. He had a very thorough knowledge of trees, expertise he may have acquired during his stints with the CCC in the 1930’s.

He enjoyed travel, taking his family on extended trips to Mississippi, the Smokey Mountains, Civil War battlefields, and cross-country to California, stopping at several of the West’s famous locales like the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, Yellowstone, Badlands, Grand Tetons, Mount Rushmore and the Rocky Mountains (~1957); and stopping in at the recently-opened Disneyland.

Residences

  • Sibley Road, Toledo
  • RR 3, Swanton, OH (nowadays, Country Road 3, west of Swanton)
  • Wrenwood Road (a little four-block long street SW of the intersection of Alexis and Secor Roads).
  • 1010 Blackburn Road. Garage fire in (around 1957??). Next door to his parents, Louis and Tekla.
101 Blackburn Road house; circa 2018

Death and Burial

Paul passed away on 4 November 1996 of congestive heart failure in Toledo, Ohio, at age 80. Following a funeral mass at Little Flower Church, he was buried at Resurrection Cemetery on Hill Avenue in Toledo.

His surviving sister, Helen Osowik, died on 20 October 2006.

Paul’s wife, Bonnie, passed away on June 10, 2000.


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Notes
[1] Parish history notes that in the first decade of the 1900’s, parish families ”were of German, French, English and Polish descent.” “History of the Parish,” St. Joseph Church. Accessed 14 April 2017. http://www.stjoesylvania.org/parish-history
[2] Little Flower Church did not begin operation until 1928.
[3]  “History of the Parish,” St. Joseph Church. Accessed 14 April 2017. http://www.stjoesylvania.org/parish-history
[4] He must have been in the school’s initial class; it opened in the Fall of 1931.
[5] Properly called the Century of Progress International Exposition.
[6] All data regarding Paul’s CCC activities are taken from his complete CCC record obtained from the National Archives, St. Louis facility.
[7] A nine-minute, 1934 film provides a good sense of daily life in the Montana and Idaho camps. See https://archive.org/details/TheCCCAtWorkMontanaAndNorthernIdaho
[8] Based on the camp roster, printed in the camp newspaper, vol. 1, no. 1, 1935; available at the Center for Research Libraries, https://dds.crl.edu/crldelivery/20349.
[9] “Road Over Helena Forest in the Big Belts Near Built,” The Independent Record (Helena, MT), September 27, 1935, p. 10.
[10] “Forest Fire Burns over 200 Acres in Lingshire District,” The Independent Record (Helena, MT), July 17, 1935, p. 7.
[11] At that time, a subsidiary of The American-National Company, and leading manufacturer of wire wheels (for bicycles, toys, etc.) with a large plant covering an entire block in downtown Toledo. “Toledo’s Gendron Wheel Company,” Toledo’s Attic, Accessed April 26, 2017. https://toledosattic.org/index.php/essays-menu/ess-commind-menu/97-essays-cat/ess-commind-cat2/100-ess-gendron
[12] Paul’s full service record is unavailable. It was among the documents destroyed in a 1972 fire at the National Personnel Records Center, in St. Louis.
[13] Camp Shelby was one of WWII’s largest troop training centers. Located just south of Hattiesburg, it is also a little over an hour north of Biloxi, a spot where Paul vacationed on one or two occasions in the mid 1950’s.
[14] Maybe at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic church? I recall on one of our summer trips to Biloxi, we attended Sunday mass at a nearby Catholic church. I wonder, now, if it was where they were married.
[15] “SS President Coolidge,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_President_Coolidge.
[16] The rest of the Division, not stuck on the island, went on to combat roles the Solomon Islands, including Guadalcanal.
{last update: 10-Mar-2020}