On this 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy – D-Day, as it will forever be known – we wanted to take time to present this short but fascinating story from our archives that ties together two college sweethearts, a War Loan Drive and a unique auction. It is related under the headline, ‘Singing Bills’ Return to Baylor Campus; Auction, D-Day among War Experiences, found at the bottom of the front page of the September 28, 1945 edition of the Baylor Lariat.
The article relates the story of Bill Shriner and his wife, Billie Guynes Shriner, two alums who met during their time at Baylor and who became known on campus due to their singing abilities. They earned a reputation as “Bill and Coo of Baylor U.,” and they were featured in several editions of World War II-era Round Ups as representatives of the romantic scene to be found on campus.
In 1943, Bill was a Baylor alum who had secretly married Billie before heading off to midshipmen’s school – which did not accept married men – and was in Columbia when he received his commission in October 1943. On June 6, 1944, Bill’s voice was recorded by the National Broadcasting Corporation giving the order to shoot down a German JU-88 (mislabeled as a JN-88 in the article).
Billie, who was living in Washington, D.C. at the time, heard the recording and recognized Bill’s voice. Per the Lariat article, Billie was quoted as saying, “I could only cry for joy because of Bill’s safety. I wanted to go out and help him finish the enemy.”
Raising Money for the War Effort
At the launch of the fifth War Loan Drive in July of 1944, the recording of Bill’s voice was to be auctioned off by Attorney General Francis Biddle. He opened the bidding, which stayed low, and was about to sell the record for a mere $500 until Billie “leapt into action.” The rest of the story deserves reproduction in full:
She talked, she plead, she wept. […] She told [the audience] how she and Bill had been a couple of school kids down at Baylor two years before, and how they used to walk to chapel hand in hand singing “Sweethearts” and plan how they would have a home together one day. Then Bill went off to war and left Billie with no home to keep and no song to sing.
After telling her story, Billie again sang “Sweethearts.” She vows that she could feel Bill there singing beside her. A Washington dairyman whose son had been killed on D-Day wrote a $100,000 check for the record of Lt. Bill’s firing command.
The Lariat story concludes with the note that the “Bills” were under contract with National Concert Artists and were to begin concerts as soon as Lt. Bill was available. He was scheduled to report to New Orleans for further duty on October 5, 1944.
Throughout Baylor’s long history, she has provided countless young men and women in service to the nation’s armed forces, but this story of college sweethearts, a shared talent and serendipity is surely one of the most fascinating.