By Contributing Editor Blair Drake
Every veteran has a story to tell, and Lt. Col. Bill Confer Sr., USA (Ret), wants to ensure they have an opportunity to share them.
Confer runs a veterans’ story group at his retirement community in Pennsylvania. Each month, a member of the group talks about their military experience on stage in front of an audience of fellow residents, family, and friends. Confer records video of the story.
“Veterans don’t always get a good chance to tell their story,” he said. “And I think it’s a shame they can’t do that.”
Some are hesitant to talk, feeling their experience might not be as notable as others.
“But I know that regardless of what they did [in the military], they contributed to the effort and it’s a worthwhile story,” Confer said.
To encourage others, Confer often will share his service story.
After completing officer candidate school, he attended flight school and then was sent to Vietnam in 1968 with the 116th Assault Helicopter Company to fly a UH-1 Huey. During his 11 months in Vietnam, he flew over 1,200 hours.
His time in Vietnam came to end because of an accident. He was flying a command-and-control helicopter and the ground commander in the backseat ordered in a hunter-killer team, an AH-1 Cobra and an OH-6 Loach. The Cobra flew over top of Confer’s helicopter, which was at 1,200 feet, and then descended down through his flight path. The two aircraft collided.
“[The Cobra pilot] lost his main rotor system completely. I can still see it,” Confer said. “His aircraft overtook mine, and he came through my rotor system. I lost part of my main rotor and my tail rotor.”
The pilot and co-pilot of the Cobra did not survive. Confer and the six others in his aircraft survived the accident.
“It’s a miracle,” he said. “That just doesn’t happen. You don’t fall from 1,200 feet [and survive].”
Confer received 36 Air Medals for his flying in Vietnam as well as a Bronze Star, a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Purple Heart, and an Army Commendation Medal with "V" Device.
Following Vietnam, he went to the advanced course for the infantry and was an instructor for Vietnamese pilots at Georgia's Hunter Army Airfield. After the advanced course, he was sent to Fort Polk, La., as a company commander. He then left the Army in 1973 after 7½ years of serving.
After returning home to Pennsylvania, he took a pilot position in the National Guard and got his associate degree and then bachelor’s degree.
He went on to serve 28 years in the Guard, working his way up from a maintenance officer to the surface maintenance manager for the state of Pennsylvania, where he worked out of Fort Indiantown Gap.
After he retired from the National Guard in 2002, he took a contractor job in long-range planning with the National Guard, working in facilities for another eight years. He continued doing long-range planning part-time for the National Guard where he was sent to different states.
“During my time, I found a lot of places and people who would say their fathers and grandfathers never told them about their service,” he said.
When he got involved with the Lancaster Chapter of MOAA, of which he is now president, he further realized how many veterans were losing the opportunity to share their experiences.
That’s why he started his veterans’ story group.
Today the group has about 30 members. Confer encourages each to take their turn on the stage to share their experiences.
“There are so many interesting stories and a lot more stories out there to tell,” he said. I want [these veterans] to be able to share them with their families.”
Blair Drake is a contributing editor for MOAA and lives in Souderton, Pa. She previously served on the editorial team of Military Officer magazine for nine years.