A selfie taken by Tricia Bowes of Bowes and Bill Strong, her grandfather, a few days before his 103rd birthday. This photo won Fort Worth Report’s April Photo Contest, “Milestones.” (Courtesy | Tricia Bowes)

Fort Worth resident Bill Strong just turned 103. 

He’s a World War II veteran, a former airplane repairman for American Airlines, a great-great-grandfather and a bowler.

And he has a huge smile.

His granddaughter, Tricia Bowes, couldn’t resist taking a selfie next to Strong days before his 103rd birthday. The photo won the Fort Worth Report’s April photo contest titled “Milestones.” 

Strong had no idea the photo was posted — or that it won — but he thought it was wonderful to share his story, he said.

At his age, Strong has more energy than most in their 20s. He told his stories with vigor, remembering the most minute details, like the full names of neighbors he’d play with as a young child or what he was doing moments before a certain photo was taken. 

In one photo, of him and some childhood friends taken in his first home’s backyard, he remembered they were chasing each other around beforehand.

His memory blew away his daughter, Jennifer Pullen, and Bowes.

“How do you even remember that?” Bowes asked, as Strong told a story about his childhood.

‘I’ve been everywhere’

Strong was born in 1920 in Portland, Oregon. He moved to Tucson, Arizona at a young age and grew up there. At 18, he enlisted in the Arizona National Guard. 

By the time he was 21, World War II was heating up. The Army Rangers had taken a hold of the National Guard, Strong said. He became an Army Ranger and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He was sent overseas during the war.

“They’d send us journeying and we’d be somewhere in Europe for two weeks, and another convoy would meet us and we’d journey somewhere new again,” Strong said.

The military took Strong all over the U.S. and world. He’s been everywhere from California to New York and from Canada to Algeria, France and Tunisia. His final stops were in Naples and Bari, Italy, where he and his convoy stayed for the duration of the war.

“I’ve been everywhere,” Strong said. 

In the Air Corps, he repaired fighter planes for soldiers on the frontline, stole equipment from the Germans and discovered his love of bowling.

Camaraderie through bowling

Back then, workers called pin boys stood behind the bowling pins, setting them up by hand after each roll of the ball, Strong said.

“We’d laugh at the pinboys running to get out the way, and we’d cheer whenever someone bowled a strike,” he said. 

Bowling’s unique attributes are why he has not stopped playing the game, even as he gets older.

“It’s the only game where you can cheer on the opponent, the only game you can pat the shoulder of the opponent if they make a strike,” Strong said.

Bowling builds camaraderie, Strong said. He plays in a senior bowling league, where members, teammates or opponents, high-five each other after spares and strikes. 

While bowling is not as competitive, Strong still gets mad at himself when he doesn’t bowl up to par, said Pullen, his daughter.

Cherishing memories

One thing trumps Strong’s love of bowling — the love he has for his wife, Bess. They were married for 65 years. She died in 2010.

The two did everything together, granddaughter Bowes said.

“They were always like that, always holding hands,” Bowes said, pointing to a photo her grandfather held of himself and Bess holding hands.

The Strongs had three children: Pullen, another daughter, Jo Ellen Strong and a son, Stephen Strong. Strong and his wife raised them in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he repaired commercial airplanes.

After his wife’s death, Strong moved into a nursing home. However, Pullen moved her father into her home in Fort Worth during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic in October 2020.

Pullen cherishes these years she gets with her dad, she said. 

So does Bowes, who will never miss an opportunity for another selfie with her grandfather. As the winning selfie shows, with Strong smiling ear-to-ear with his granddaughter, who wouldn’t?

Matthew Sgroi is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at matthew.sgroi@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Matthew Sgroi is the 2022-23 Fort Worth Report multimedia fellow. He can be reached at matthew.sgroi@fortworthreport.com or (503)-828-4063. Sgroi is a current senior at Texas Christian University, majoring...