The Life and Times of Young Bill Porteous
Timothy James Bazzett
Combining copious and meticulous research with original letters, interviews, personal recollections and anecdotes, Tim Bazzett tells Bill Porteous’s story with compassion, insight and humor. His narrative conveys a contagious and obvious delight in discovering how we are all connected. Here is a homespun history lesson about the nearly forgotten polio plague years and our fathers’ and grandfathers’ war, presented in a way that manages to bridge the gap between generations and even allows us to laugh a little as we learn of such serious matters.
Perhaps in the end, however, Love, War & Polio is a simple and universal tale - one of faith, hope, and the healing power of love.
Bill and Mable's cross country journey.
But the trip did have a purpose and a practical destination, and the two finally arrived at Fort Ord on September 9th, where Bill reported for duty at the AGF 2nd “Repo Depo” (replacement depot). Upon reporting in, he found that it was business as usual, army-wise, i.e. more “hurry up and wait.” He and Mable had nearly two more weeks of “casual” time to kill before he would head further north to Oakland, where he would report in to begin his actual “escort duty.” There were undoubtedly more reams of paperwork for Bill to complete as he hung about the post for at least part of each day, but he and Mable were also able to get away much of the time for more sightseeing too. So on some days they visited the shops in Monterey and lunched in its small cafes near Fisherman’s Wharf. other days they drove to Carmel and walked the shimmering white sandy beach, or into the salinas Valley to view the vineyards and orchards and sample their delectable riches. it was a near idyllic time for the country boy from Leroy and the farm girl from Webberville, and being able to see and sample all these new things together made it all that much more special and memorable. Young love has a way of making every experience more pleasurable and delicious, and Bill and Mable made the most of what they figured could be their last days together for a long time.
They managed to rent a room in a private home in salinas shortly after their arrival at Fort ord. this would be Mable’s home while Bill was away at sea. Housing was still at a premium near military bases in these early post-war days, so they felt lucky to find any place at all.
The last couple days before Bill departed were filled with last minute paperwork and a full regimen of numerous immunizations and inoculations for him. They also squeezed in one more “tourist” trip to the redwoods national Park. Because of all these activities and the shots too, Bill was not too surprised that he felt exhausted, sore and achy the night of his departure from Fort ord. in point of fact, he had been feeling sick most of the day, and it was all he could do to get himself dressed and onto the train that was to take him to Camp Stoneman, some forty miles north of San Francisco.
In describing it today, Bill remembers a “splitting headache, the worst headache I’d ever had,” along with a stiff neck and another very peculiar symptom. It seemed as if the soles of both his feet had suddenly become extremely sensitive, and every time he put a foot down to take a step, it was as if he could feel it jolting all the way up his spine and into his brain. It was a very unsettling and disturbing sensation, not to mention painful.
But he had his orders in hand and it was time to go. So, with Mable’s solicitous and worried assistance, he got his gear together and boarded the train. It would have been difficult enough for the two young people to say good-bye, not knowing for sure when they would next see each other, but now they were pre-occupied by this unexpected turn of events. Both of them figured, however, and quite reasonably, that Bill was probably just experiencing an adverse reaction to all the shots he had received in the past forty-eight hours, and that the unpleasant symptoms would soon pass. So, with large lumps of emotion lodged in their throats, they embraced, kissed, and made their good-byes.
A few painful hours later, Bill arrived at Camp Stoneman and, after checking in at post headquarters, he was directed to a transient officers barracks where he could spend the night. By this time, he remembers, he was in “just excruciating pain” in his head, neck and shoulders, and it still hurt to walk. But he was determined to gut it out, figuring that this awful feeling couldn’t possibly last much longer, and besides, his own personal “excellent adventure” was about to begin. He rationalized to himself that if he could just get some rest he would start feeling better. He got himself undressed, then, and went to bed. And lay there, hurting horribly, and praying that it would soon stop. It didn’t. In fact, it seemed to be getting worse, as the near debilitating pain radiated throughout his body. So finally, after a few sleepless hours of silent suffering, he got himself up again and – very painfully – got dressed and made his way slowly to the post clinic, which he had noted nearby on his way in to the barracks.
An army medic, an enlisted man, was on night duty at the small clinic when Bill reported in and haltingly explained his problem and described his symptoms. The man listened sympathetically and then showed Bill to a chair and sat down with him to take down his name, rank, serial number and other information. Then he also wrote down the symptoms and the approximate time of their onset on his clipboard. Taking Bill’s temperature, the man looked at the thermometer’s elevated reading, and decided Bill had better spend the night in the clinic and see a doctor first thing in the morning. Gathering up the paperwork and rising to his feet, the medic told Bill to follow him and he would find him a bed and get him settled in.
It was a moment Bill Porteous will never forget.
“I couldn’t get out of the chair,” he tells me. “It was the oddest thing. I couldn’t move at all.”
It was September 26, 1945. The private war of Young Bill Porteous had begun.
"Bazzett has a way of pursuing what may seem like trivia but in fact often gets to what is significant. And it all adds up to a detailed picture of a life, a time, and of course, polio, that dreaded disease, still a serious threat in many parts of the world ... A well-rounded, informative biography."
Author of the classic Iowa memoirs, We Have All Gone Away and The Attic
"I thank Bill Porteous for his valiant service in World War II and for the inspiration he has been for others over the years ... Because of men like him we enjoy liberty and freedom ... Great job!"
former U.S. Senator from Kansas, and author of the acclaimed WWII memoir, One Soldier's Story, a national bestseller
"I read Love War & Polio with the greatest delight and interest ... A terrific book!"
Irving Babbitt Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard, and author of Polio and its Aftermath: The Paralysis of Culture
"Prolific author Tim Bazzett tells the story of buddy Bill Porteous in Love, War & Polio ... An inspiring tale of war and polio, told in Bazzett's breezy style."
The Grand Rapids Press
"Tim Bazzett's latest offering, Love, War & Polio, celebrates the life of Reed City banker, Bill Porteous, providing an in-depth look at his pre-banking days ... The story follows Porteous through his childhood during the Great Depression, his military service, his relationship with his wife, Mable, and his bout with polio ... The book also provides a wealth of information in its nearly 500 pages about World War II, the depression years, and the little known Polio Veterans Association"
Pioneer News Network
"I enjoyed Love, War & Polio very much ... An intriguing aspect of World War II than has not been [previously] explored ... A master of insightful detail, [Bazzett] writes not only with talent, but with heart ... Fascinating!"
Jack Suberman, Ph.D.,
Retired Dean and Professor of English, College of Humanties, Florida Atlantic University; and Professor of English, North Carolina State University, 1952-1967
"Recently there has been much public interest in stories about World War II veterans, who are fast disappearing. One such interesting story is Tim Bazzett's Love, War & Polio: The Life and Times of Young Bill Porteous. Now a retired banker, Bill Porteous' early life and his army years during WWII were especially touching, given that he contracted polio and spent nearly two years in three military hospitals ... The book also features a unique organization never before examined - the Polio Veterans Association (PVA), formed at Army & Navy General Hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1946."
@MSU Newsletter (for alumni & friends of Michigan State University)
"For a fine dose of northern history, especially of the Reed City area, and the moving story of a true northern man, you can't do better than a recent biography, Love, War & Polio: The Life and Times of Young Bill Porteous, by Timothy Bazzett, author of Reed City Boy ... The story of Bill Porteous' fight with polio is also the story of many who raged to return to normal after contracting the disease. Bill's way was to keep going, to set his eyes on a future and go after it ... With a great deal of research and mitigating humor, Bazzett tells the story of a disease that once swept the nation, [and in telling] the story of one banker's ordinary life, shows how every person's life is truly extraordinary ... A story made exemplary by virtues learned in a small Michigan town."
Traverse City Record-Eagle
"Love, War & Polio is vintage Bazzett, who has his own voice, and it works well and consistently ... The transition from autobiography to biography was made very smoothly -- mainly because [Bazzett] keeps his own place in the story ... An open, folksy narrative style ... likeable and interesting, and true-to-life sounding ... It's good to know that the true voice of Reed City continues loud and clear."
Professor Emeritus of Literature at Princeton University, and author of the classic memoir, Flights of Passage: Recollections of a World War II Aviator.
"Bazzett's fourth book, Love, War & Polio, focuses on hometown hero Bill Porteous's youth, his time as a soldier during World War II, his relationship with his wife, Mable, and ensuing bout with polio ... History buffs will find interesting information about the local areas of Chippewa Lake, LeRoy and Reed City during the war and immediately after. Women will enjoy the love story."
Reed City Area Chamber of Commerce Newsletter, December 2007
"This life story of a remarkable man who lives with honor, courage, and love is also a slice of history, filled with authentic details ... Love, War & Polio transported me to the 1940s and introduced me to a host of people I'd like to have as neighbors. A remarkable re-creation not only of one man's life, but of a simpler time, with its references to ten cent milk shakes and listening to the Hit Parade ... Bill Porteous's letters to Mable shine with youthful optimism and, most of all, love. It was a pleasure to read them. Tim Bazzett captures perfectly the ideals of the 1940s and shows us love in action."
author of the award-winning memoir, Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio
"A unique account of a soldier's battle with an unexpected enemy -- polio. Told largely through original letters, this account reveals just how challenging recovery from polio could be."
Daniel J. Wilson, Ph.D.
Professor of History at Muhlenberg College and author of Living with Polio: The Epidemic and Its Survivors
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