By Derek Maul
Born in the coal town of Wigan, Lancashire, Bernard “Bernie” Hill was just a child when England went to war with Germany.
By the time bombs started falling in the industrial corridor between Manchester and Liverpool, Bernie was old enough to remember. “We could see bombs going off in Liverpool,” he said, “and planes coming down in flames.”
Hill’s father served in the Royal Air Force, eventually flying the B-25 “Mitchell” which came into service in 1943.
“One day a bomb hit outside his offices,” Hill said, “and blew him all the way to the other end of the hall.”
In 1945 a bomb exploded near the Hill’s home and the blast blew out the eight-year old’s eardrum.
“In 1947, we moved to Brooklyn,” he said. “I joined the U.S. Navy in 1957.”
Hill was a “Bosun’s Mate” on the peacekeeping destroyer USS McGowan.
“We sailed the Mediterranean, and went through the Suez Canal into the Persian Gulf,” he said. “There were sunken ships everywhere. It was great, we travelled all over the place.”
Honorably discharged as seaman first class, Hill returned to New York, where he took a job with the iconic Automat vending machine restaurant and became a U.S. Citizen in 1961.
“Then I worked as an elevator operator at the Plaza Hotel,” he said. “That job had its ups and downs.”
In 1963, Hill joined the utility giant Con-Ed, where he completed his career laying cable and operating heavy equipment.
“I lay cable while they were building the World Trade Center,” he said. “All that cable and asbestos and now I have Mesothelioma.”
In 1994 he retired and moved to Springhill, Florida, where his wife, Rita, sold real estate and he worked at the Lions Club.
Rita, who taught school in an asbestos-riddled New York building, was also exposed via her husband’s work clothing. She lost her battle to Mesothelioma in 2008.
“But being here in Florida is all right,” Hill said. “I’ve enjoyed my retirement.”