My Memories of a ‘Good Egg’
I met Bill in the early 1990s after contacting him through AFV News (he had been prominent in writing articles for Military Modelling, World War 2 Journal and AFV News). What started as a formal letter writing exercise evolved into a close friendship with a shared passion for late war German AFVs. His research on this subject and others took him across the US, Canada, UK, France & Germany, where along with the late Tom Jentz, they dug around in archives and met like-minded researchers. The two remained close friends until Tom passed away in December 2012.
Bill was born and raised on Long Island and was a proud Long Islander. He graduated Summa Cum Laude (with the highest honour) from the State University of New York at Brockport with a Bachelor of Science Degree and was studying towards his Masters in Business after working at Grumman Aerospace on Long Island when a management career in the business machines industry intervened. There he enjoyed a career spanning 30 plus years.
Our first face to face meeting was in 1998, during my first research trip to NARA, where I had the opportunity to visit Aberdeen Proving Ground with Tom Jentz. Bill drove the four hours from his home down to APG for a couple of hours walking and learning about the German AFVs there – we were with the guru of German tanks after all. I recall the poison-ivy around the tanks and the surreal sight of a personnel carrier refuelling at a local petrol station. Around 1999-2000 we came up with the idea of reworking his long out of print 1984 classic ‘Last of the Panzers’. The publishers we approached were very encouraging, but we thought we’d have a go at publishing the book ourselves and after a steep learning curve, protracted period of laying-out and more laying-out, Panzerwrecks 1 was finally published in February 2005. In the May we were lucky enough to attend the opening of Flanders Scale Models in Dendermonde, Belgium. To my mind, this gathering of researchers, writers and modellers is still unsurpassed. Bill flew over from the US and battled jet lag while I talked on and on over dinner. Being short on room, Bill had my daughter’s bed, complete with pink bedding and a large leaf as a bed-head, I assume his feet stuck out of the bottom of the bed as he was rather tall. In the morning we took the ‘Le Shuttle’ to Calais and drove down to Dendermonde. Map reading skills aside, Bill made the journey more enjoyable and shorter than it was. The day after the event, we headed down to the Ardennes for a spot of tank-tourism, taking in most of the sights that any tank-nerd would. We managed to get a (miniature) room at the Hotel du Lac in Bütgenbach, and this was the subject of much chuckling for years to come – due to flatulence and our collective mental age of 10. I was made welcome by Bill and his wife at their home many times over the years, and together we conducted our research in the archives. Bill’s ability to research without a break is something I’ll not forget, as he could last from breakfast until being thrown out with no meal breaks, whereas I had to stop for food and coffee regularly.
The advent of cloud computing made writing the books much more straightforward since we could both work on the same document. With a time difference of 5 hours, I could work during the day, finish up and hand over to Bill, thinking that he’d work into the evening. But, he would work through his night and still be in the document when I returned to work the next day! And remain lucid for my inevitable “why are you still awake?” emails. There were few days that we were not in contact – something that email, Skype and iChat made so easy, and at times, it felt as if I communicated with Bill more than I did my wife. With me in the UK & Bill in the US, our Skype conversations often started late at night (for me) and lasted for many, many hours, mainly when we were going through the next Panzerwrecks with a fine-toothed comb. Despite the constant read-throughs we still managed to publish a book with two page 95s, and the inevitable typos. My wife would disappear off to bed, and we’d still be chatting, pausing only for coffee/tea breaks and their inevitable side effects.
Bill was very supportive, seeing the positive side in the projects that we undertook and always being so kind to me in the Panzerwrecks’ introductions. It must be said that his support helped authors across the world, from proofreading the Panzer-Tracts series to the use of photos from his collection in many publications.
On 16 April 2015 Bill Auerbach passed away. He was a kind and compassionate man with a tremendous heart. Loving and generous, brilliant and witty with a wonderful sense of humour and contagious laugh. A true gentleman who is missed by so many, Bill left a wife and family that loved him greatly, and to them, he was called Billy. I often called him a ‘Good Egg’, because he was. I am humbled to have known and worked with that ‘Good Egg’.
Susan and John Auerbach wish to express their heartfelt appreciation to those who offered sincere condolences and loving gestures in memory of our Billy. Thank you for your kindness.