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By Dennis Carlson
What can you say about a friend who called you his “little brother?’ Who called you “his son?” To my son he’s “Uncle Billy.”
Billy was that kind of friend. “Family” isn’t a special enough word to describe my friendship with Bill Jones. I came to learn I couldn’t out-work him, out-laugh him, out-generous him or out-ride him.
Much to his wife’s dismay, prior to every riding season he’d take my beat-up old ’72 Sportster into his garage and somehow breathe
new life into it. He’d work on it whether I was there or not. I know he never charged me the full cost of the parts he put in it. He said he did it because he wanted to make sure I was ready to ride with him.
Billy and I had a sort of synchronicity together that was hard to explain. Whether we were putting a window in for his sister-in-law, changing the clutch on my truck, or riding down a two-lane together we seemed to know what the other was thinking.
We had thousands of long conversations about everything. At TWA he would come upstairs to the avionics shop during our lunches and we would design airplanes, cars, and the garages of our dreams on paper towels. We always knew they would never get built, but we didn’t care.
Interspersed in these design sessions were stories of family, of love, of life. We often shared our pride in our families, our joys, frustrations, dreams and pain with each other. We cussed and discussed politics, patriotism, the Navy and those other, lesser services. We were both proud of our Navy service
He and I rode with the ‘Run for the Wall’ Organization, a group of veterans on motorcycles that travel to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial every Memorial Day weekend. We did that for eight years. We caught up with them in Salina, Kan. and rode with them to Wentzville in Missouri. After that, the rest of the trip was ours. We’d ride along lazy rivers and visit old towns with funny names like “Frankenstein” and “Wahoo.”
We once went to Salina via Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska. We were never lost, just re-directing.
Billy recently accompanied me on a ride back to Salina for a reunion with one of my old Navy buddies. He even got a hug from his mom before we left for home. Go figure.
“Buffet Bill” knew the best places to eat. Out of the way places where he could get an apple cobbler the size of his head and afterwards moan about having eaten too much. Places with names like Chicken Annie’s and Chicken Mary’s and places without names but mainly known for their specialties, like sausage rolls and sliders. When he found a place he liked, he insisted Mary try it, and they’d go back.
Billy’s favorite activity was riding his motorcycle. We called it “Asphalt Therapy.” Mary told me that even if he had things to do, if the weather was nice, those things just had to wait. He was going riding. He used his love of motorcycling as an expression of his love for his countrymen by making ride after ride with the Patriot Guard to honor Fallen Heroes and shielding their families from the hatred of protesters.
Now that same Patriot Guard will escort him to his final rest. I’m sure he’s smiling, knowing his brothers and sisters are with him.
Billy loved his family and friends. He let you know with his smile and the things he did. Countless projects in car parts, motorcycle parts, paint, wood, metal and anything else he could put his hands to were the ways he said “I love you.” Countless pool parties with family, neighbors and friends made a wealth of warm memories.
Everyone here has a story of how Billy touched them in one way or another. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here. His loss hurts. It hurts a lot. But I urge you not to cave in to the bitterness of loss, but do give in to the grief for a while. Let the tears come.
For me they are washing out a place that will someday be filled with memories of Billy. One day, out of the blue and in a quiet moment, there he’ll be. In a spray of pool water or a swirl of barbecue smoke or the song of a motorcycle engine in the distance he’ll walk up, smiling that smile, and for a moment, we’ll be together again.
Editor’s Note: Denny Carlson writes occasional columns – usually lighter topics – for the Richmond News under the heading
When we read an abbreviated version of his eulogy for Bill Jones, who passed away in a car-motorcycle accident Aug. 14, we encouraged him to send the complete one so we could share it with you.
Carlson read the eulogy at Jones’ funeral service Aug. 21 at Leavenworth National Cemetery, where Jones received full military honors.