The home of Carl G. Belville is decorated with airplanes, inside and out.
His dining room and living room walls are lined with photographs and posters of World War II-era aircraft and he has several plane-shaped lawn ornaments in his front yard — which he takes inside every evening and proudly places next to his driveway each morning.
His memory of P-51s and C-47s is virtually encyclopedic. He even carries photographs of his favorite planes in his wallet.
Considering his admiration of all things aviation, it's not surprising that Belville spent his birthday at Phoenix Air in Cartersville on March 31, where he had an opportunity to get behind the instrument panel for one more flight.
Not a bad way to celebrate an occasion as momentous as a 100th birthday bash.
Born on Easter Sunday of 1918, Belville has lived through two World Wars, 18 United States presidents and 99 World Series Championships. He's literally lived through the invention of the television in 1927 to the dawn of the smartphone, and through the discovery of the first antibiotic in 1928 to the age of gene therapy.
Needless to say, the Cartersville resident has had a remarkable life. In 1936 he bought his first airplane, a Waco 10 OX5, and made $5 a week as a flight line mechanic, with gigs as a crop duster and stunt pilot on the side. By the time he enlisted in the U.S. military in 1942, he already had more than half a decade of experiences in the aviation industry.
Belville, then 24, was considerably older than his brothers-in-arms in the U.S. Army Air Corps — hence, his nickname "Pappy." He spent the next three years flying all over the Eastern theater of World War II, ultimately earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal for his feats of valor.
After the war concluded, Belville remained in the aircraft industry, working as a design engineer and experimental aircraft pilot, among other positions, in California, Kansas, Ohio and Texas. He retired from the U.S. Air Force and its civilian service wing in the early 1970s. He moved to Georgia about eight years ago to be closer with his family.
It's a simple life for Belville these days. He resides in a cozy apartment at a local retirement village, and he and his daughter-in-law, Bea Belville, routinely go out for breakfast and dinner at his favorite eateries (among them, Capri Restaurant, Shoney's and Johnboy's Home Cooking Country Buffet). He's considered the neighborhood's most eligible bachelor, since he still has his own car and a valid driver's license. Of course, he's not exactly interested in the community dating scene; in his own words, "they're all too old."
To mark Belville's 100th birthday, Mayor Matt Santini officially proclaimed March 31 "Major Carl G. Belville Day" in Cartersville.
Reflecting on a century of experiences, Belville said he can't help but feel a little bit of divine intervention permeating throughout his lifetime.
"When it comes right down to it, I know the Lord had a heck of a lot to do with it, having went through what I went through and can still go through," he said. "Back during the war, I talked to Him quite often. I don't know if I ever got an answer or not, but I'm still alive, so I must have."
Name: Carl G. Belville
Current City: Cartersville
Hometown: Huntington, West Virginia
Family: Son David and daughter-in-law Bea Belville; grandchildren Robert Belville and Robyn Belville Melton; granddaughter-in-law Kathryn Williams and grandson-in-law Travis Melton; and great-grandchildren Carson Belville, Lucy Costlow Bruce and Melissa Costlow.
Daily Tribune News (DTN): What was your childhood like?
Carl Belville: I had a real good home life. I was born in Huntington, West Virginia. Excuse me. I should've said West by-God Virginia. I don't know why they say that. Anyway, when I was 6-months-old, my mother brought me up to Marysville, Ohio, where my grandmother and granddad lived. She took me in there on a Saturday and asked my grandmother if she would take care of me while she went shopping. Of course, she said yes. And the next time I saw [my mother], I was 22 years old, working at the aircraft hangar down in Columbus, Ohio.
DTN: How did you get involved in the U.S. Army Air Corps?
CB: Well, the war started. As a matter of fact, at that particular time, Culver Aircraft sent me back to Aeronco Aircraft in the southern part of Ohio. But I was only there for a couple of weeks. I did some work for them there and then I was finished ... anyway, it was in Indiana, I forget what the town was, but that was the day that the war started. I went back to Wichita and got everything straightened out there and went back to Ohio. Then I worked around Dayton, Curtiss-Wright and several places there, and finally I went into the service. This had to be six months after the war started, I guess. Then I joined the Air Force about then. The first place I got to was in Texas. I checked out on P-51s. I went through the training to be a pilot. I was [already] a commercial pilot. From there, I was in service until the war was over.
DTN: Where all were you stationed during World War II?
CB: Well, let's see. I was in France, Germany, England, Africa — I'll just say a lot of European countries.
DTN: What was your most memorable mission during the war?
CB: I hadn't been there too long, I was in England. One of our regular pilots was first pilot, so I was the co-pilot. We were getting ready to take off and we had about 15 or 20 airplanes lined up. I looked up and I saw this one airplane coming at us; he was taking off but the wing was up like that and I knew he was going to hit us ... what it did, it cut the nose off with the propeller still running, and I'm in between it. Then I fell down on the ground, and to this day [pointing to indention on leg] I've still got that from it. On top of that, I had 18 stitches in my head and they were kind of clamps. I commonly say "I discussed it with the Lord a little bit." I never had anything hurt so bad in all my life.
DTN: What happened after that?
CB: The pilot that was in the airplane that hit me was in the next bunk and one of the nurses came in and said "that's the man that caused all this." I told her "you get his ass out of here or I'm going to kill him." She said "don't feel that way" or something like that. I had been talking to him. I didn't know he was the pilot of it, so we were having a nice talk. But that just popped out. About 15 minutes later, here comes two or three big guys and they say "we're going to move you" and I said "what's this all about?" A nurse came in and I asked her and she said "well, when you said you wanted to kill him we had to get you out of there." I said "I was just talking!" and she said "we didn't know that!" I never saw him again. 30 days later he was coming in, he had 18 people onboard a C-47, and it was real foggy. The fields were closed ... he hit one of these big poles out there, real tough, and it just killed everybody on the airplane.
DTN: Did you have any other close calls?
CB: We landed and there was a big tree there and a ditch. So we hit the tree, we hit the ditch, went over it, and there was a German — they called them "six by sixes," but it was a big truck with machine guns on it. They kept firing at us ... I started to get out and this guy said "I can't get out, my foot is sliding." There are two bars that are coming in like this on the bottom, and he had a foot under there — I reached down like that and pulled it out and we got out of it. The next day we went back there and I tried to pull the other one back, and I couldn't even move it. So I guess I was pretty scared. That was my one time going into a glider. And I wouldn't have gotten into another one of those things if it killed me.
DTN: You were actually behind enemy lines at one point, weren't you?
CB: We were for a while. I worked my way back and finally got into a big old hay mound. There was a hole in there and I saw some Germans coming and I got in there and there's a big old sow, a pig. I thought "boy, I didn't know whether to stay out or stay in." I stayed in and they parked over a little distance there, but I got out of it. They missed me [with their pitchforks] and they finally left.
DTN: What went through your mind during dogfights?
CB: I really don't remember a lot about it. But I was probably thinking "what the heck am I doing here?" or something.
DTN: What was your proudest moment of World War II?
CB: I don't know if I had any particular feeling about it or not. But I know one thing: I was awful happy when the war was over.
DTN: What would you say is the most important lesson future generations can learn from World War II?
CB: There are just so much things that goes on there that I don't know how to come up with something. Probably "how the hell to get out of here." It was just something going on and I had to do it. Wartime is just something that shouldn't be. But it is ... just from my own view, I joined the Army because I wanted to. I don't know why. Maybe I thought it was going to be exciting, and it was exciting, I'll say that for it. But I wouldn't want to go through another one.
DTN: What would you like to say about the sacrifices your countrymen made during the war?
CB: The only thing I can say there is it's something that goes with a war. It's going to happen. Certainly, it's not a happy thing. I don't know why, but when a war starts, guys seem to want to get into it, and I guess I did, too. The only reason I went into it was because I knew sooner or later I was going to get into it anyway, so I might as well pick what I want ... I wanted to fly, and I got to.
DTN: Do you think World War III will happen?
CB: I hope to God not, but anymore, you don't know. Things are changing and our president could get us into a lot of trouble with someone, I think. I hope he don't. It just seems probably impossible that sooner or later we don't, because it's been happening ever since the world was here. People get so they don't understand the other guy, and next thing you know you're at war.
DTN: What's your daily life like today?
CB: I get up in the morning. I have to take pills twice a day then quite often, we go out for breakfast in the morning. We've got a neighbor lady, we sometimes take her out ... that's my life right now, and it ain't a bad one. I'm enjoying it.
DTN: What was your 100th birthday like?
CB: Bea and her husband and her family, they set all of it up and it was just one of the nicest things I've ever done in my life, and I think about it everyday since then. There's a guy we're acquainted with that's a pilot and he's got an airplane and he took me up in his airplane and I flew it. That was a big thrill.
DTN: Do you have any advice on how to live to 100?
CB: I don't know if I've really done anything to cause it, it just happened. I haven't done anything special, just what I think I should do. I don't know much about my family, but I know my granddad, I think he was in his early 90s. My dad was in his late 80s … maybe I had good genes or something.
DTN: Do you have any pastimes or hobbies?
CB: I like to help people. That's something I do. If I can do something to help somebody, I do it. I probably spend a lot of money doing that, but I've got this thought in mind that I can't take it with me, so I might as well use it here to a good advantage. And that's what I do.
DTN: Is there anything in particular you'd credit your long life to?
CB: I know doggone well that He's kept me going all this time. Because some of the things I can think back to were close, but I got through them. That's like flying, and stuff like that. Man, you've got to have some outside help, that's all there is to it. You can't be that lucky all the time. Other than that, I just like people and I like to help them. Maybe that's got something to do with it, too.