WHEATLAND — William (Bill) Strahan, formerly of Antioch, Illinois, and Chugwater, turns 100 years old Thursday. He has lived an extraordinary life.
Strahan was born March 8, 1918, and was raised on a farm in Wadsworth, Illinois. He excelled in community football and baseball teams. He attended Warren High School in Gurnee, Illinois, and he was selected by the Waukegan News Sun to be on the All-Lake County Football Team.
Strahan was fortunate to obtain a football scholarship at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he played tackle position on the Badgers varsity team. After a football injury prevented him from continuing on the Badgers team, he transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana where he was catcher for their baseball team. Strahan worked his way through college during the depression and he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture.
Strahan and his best friend, Adolf “Addie” Mauser, had played baseball together during their youth and also at U of I. They both joined the Naval Air Corps and later played baseball on the Pensacola Naval Air Station team.
During World War II, Strahan flew dive bombers in the Naval Air Corps — first, off Guadalcanal, starting in early August 1943 after his Carrier Air Group 11’s assigned aircraft carrier, USS Hornet (CV8), was sunk. Strahan’s best friend, Mauser, surprised Strahan at Guadalcanal — but sadly, Mauser went missing in action during a mission shortly thereafter.
In early September 1944, Strahan’s Carrier Air Group 11 was assigned to the new USS Hornet (CV-12) aircraft carrier. Strahan was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart during his two tours of duty in the Pacific. The USS Hornet and Carrier Air Group 11 with its fighter, dive bomber and torpedo squadrons were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for extensive damage to Japanese air, land and sea forces during their combat tour in 1944 and ’45.
In 1946, Strahan married his Wadsworth neighbor, Grace King. He served as a Navy flight training officer while stationed near Seattle during the Korean War era.
After the Navy, Strahan was a dairy farmer and crop farmer in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and Lake County, Illinois; sold investments for Investors Diversified Services; created topographic maps for the University of Illinois Extension Service; and did soil testing for Lake County Cooperative Extension. Strahan later became an Illinois/Wisconsin Realtor. During those years, William and Grace raised eight children. They lived in Antioch, Illinois, for 35 years.
Strahan joined the Peace Corps at age 69 and went to Nepal because he wanted to serve where his agricultural expertise would be sorely needed. Unfortunately, he was not able to serve his full term of two years because he developed a serious hernia that required immediate surgery — plus he became gravely ill with severe amoebic dysentery combined with a re-occurrence of Malaria that he had contracted at Guadalcanal.
After Strahan returned to the U.S. and recovered, he felt honored to be invited by his friend George Goetz to go on a trip to Switzerland.
William and Grace later bought a home and property in north central Wisconsin and William continued with real estate. They had several gardens and enjoyed growing corn, vegetables and lots of flowers. During those years, the Strahans often traveled all over the U.S. in their camper, visiting friends and relatives.
In 2008 the Strahans were invited to live with their son Will Strahan and family in southeast Wyoming. After late 2009, their daughter Kathy moved to Wyoming to be their caregiver in Chugwater, where the Strahans expected to live a quiet life of retirement. But life still had some interesting things in store for William Strahan.
In 2011 at age 93, Strahan went on the Honor Flight to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Then the unimaginable happened: William Strahan became a movie star at age 97. Strahan and 10 others from the famed World War II Carrier Air Group 11 appeared in an award-winning documentary movie called “Eleven.” The movie was endorsed by 41st U.S. President George H.W. Bush. Strahan appears on the cover of the DVD/Blu-Ray pack, and he is featured in the movie trailer on the home page of the movie website: https://www.eleventhemovie.com/.
When people call Strahan a hero, he humbly shakes his head and says the real heroes are those who didn’t make it home. For his entire life, Strahan’s mission has been to serve others with no expectation of anything in return.
Sadly, the Strahans’ eldest son, Gary Strahan (also a Navy veteran), passed away in 2012. The seven remaining children are grateful and proud to have such a sweet mother and kind-hearted, inspiring father who has always been known for his wonderful smile.
Strahan is currently living in a nursing home due to his being an extreme fall risk because of his age. He is otherwise in good health and works out in the gym there every day. Strahan’s family visits him there as often as possible.
Grace turns 92 Wednesday, the day before William turns 100. They will celebrate their 72nd wedding anniversary May 4. Cards and letters can be sent to: P.O. Box 164, Chugwater, WY 82210.
Editor’s note: Kathy Strom, the writer of this article, is William Strahan’s daughter.