Provonsha, William “Bill”

William “Bill” Provonsha


(News story) ERIE, Mich. – William “Bill” W. Provonsha, a retired foreman who was a distinguished Army Air Forces combat veteran of World War II, died Oct. 18 at his home. He was 98.  He died of an apparent heart attack, daughter Lori Hauenstein said.

Mr. Provonsha retired in the 1980s as a foreman at the Toledo GM Powertrain plant after at least 40 years with the facility, where he hired on after his honorable discharge from the Army Air Forces shortly after the war ended.

Mrs. Hauenstein said her father was a humble man who did not consider himself a hero.

Though hailed by the media as a hero pilot, he was more proud of having escaped from German custody while being marched from one POW camp to another in April, 1945 near Nuremberg while still crediting a fellow American soldier more than himself for the escape, she said.

Mr. Provonsha was born July 22, 1922, in Toledo, to Edith and William Provonsha. A 1940 Waite High School graduate, he volunteered to serve in the Army after America joined World War II and chose to serve in the Army Air Forces. Mr. Provonsha was shipped to Europe, where he was a waist gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber in the the 8th Air Forces’ 381st Bomb Group.

His many combat missions included a part in a Jan. 11, 1944 air battle over Germany. A Jan. 14, 1944 article copyrighted by The Toledo Blade and Chicago Daily News hailed him as a hero for saving the lives of his crew and shooting down two German war planes during that mission.

Sixty American bombers went missing and possibly more than 150 German fighter planes were destroyed in “one of the greatest air battles of [the] war,” which the Germans would remember as the time the American 8th Air Force “delivered a paralyzing blow to the Nazi aircraft industry,” according to the story.

“When a Messerschmitt 20-mm shell ripped the ankle of his buddy, the right waist gunner, Bill administered such expert first aid that it saved his leg and life,” the story continued. “When another shell blew out the oxygen system, Bill made his way along the careening catwalk through the fuselage nearly a dozen times carrying ‘walk around’ bottles bottles of oxygen to the remainder of the crew. Then he took over the right waist gun as well as his own. His score was one ME-109 and one JU-88.”

On March 6, 1944, his plane was shot down and he was taken prisoner by the Germans, held at four different POW camps for 13 months before he escaped.

In late 1945, he was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant and returned to the Toledo area to work at the plant.

His war decorations include two Distinguished Flying Crosses, six Air Medals, the Prisoner of War Medal, and the French Legion of Honor.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 43 years, Jean Provonsha, who died in 2017; two children; and five siblings.

Surviving are his daughter, Lori Hauenstein; son, William Provonsha; stepson, Thomas McClure; stepdaughter, Joyce Frey; five grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren; three great-great grandchildren; four step-grandchildren; and three step-great-grandchildren.

Graveside services with military honors will be held at a later date in Ottawa Hills Memorial Park. Arrangements are by David R. Jasin-Hoening Funeral Home, Toledo.

The family suggests tributes to Messiah Lutheran Church, Toledo, where he was a member.

This is a news story by Mike Sigov. Contact him at [email protected] or 419-724-6089.

Published in The Blade on Oct. 27, 2020.