At halftime of the Michigan-Ohio State football game Nov. 27, Bill Rosnyai was honored for his service to America during World War II. He was in the Army Air Corps, operating as a B-17 Flying Fortress navigator.

At halftime of the Michigan-Ohio State football game Nov. 27, Bill Rosnyai was honored for his service to America during World War II. He was in the Army Air Corps, operating as a B-17 Flying Fortress navigator.

Photo provided by Bill Rosnyai

Local World War II vet honored at Michigan-Ohio State game

By: Alex Szwarc | Metro | Published December 8, 2021


BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — Bill Rosnyai has been around plenty of Michigan football games, but none with as unique a view as last month.

At Michigan’s Nov. 27 rivalry football game against Ohio State University, Rosnyai was honored at halftime as the veteran of the game. He was escorted onto the field at Michigan Stadium and waved to the crowd of over 111,000 as a short biography was read over the public address system. He watched the game from a suite.

Rosnyai, of Bloomfield Township, turned 97 on Thanksgiving. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1950 with a mechanical engineering degree.

“My grand-nephew works for a company and was telling his boss I was a veteran, and the boss knows the contact at Michigan,” he said. “The guy said we’re all booked up and maybe we can work him in next year, and the boss said, ‘Wait a minute. He’s 97, there may not be a next year.’”

Rosnyai attended the game with his son-in-law, a nephew and his nephew’s son.

The day included Rosnyai attending a tailgate event outside of the stadium, interacting with people like Jim Brandstatter, the radio play-by-play broadcaster for Michigan football, and getting a photo with the Michigan marching band drum major.

Later in the day, Rosnyai had a chance to meet with Charles Woodson, the 1997 Heisman Trophy winner who played at Michigan and is also an NFL Super Bowl champion.

“There he was, the one guy I think is the greatest player ever at Michigan, and he shook my hand and took a picture,” he said. “It was so thrilling.”

Rosnyai said it was a fantastic view of the stadium from the suite on the 50 yard line.

“At halftime, I was thrilled. The crowd, because of the Ohio State game, were cheering even before anything started,” he commented. “It was a total roar. I had my World War II hat on, then switched it to a Michigan hat. Then they really were clapping.”

Commenting on the game, which Michigan won 42-27, advancing to the Big Ten Championship against Iowa, Rosnyai said he’s still winding down from all of the excitement.

A 1943 graduate of Detroit Southwestern High School, Rosnyai was accepted into the Army Air Corps in June 1943.

Upon completion of an extensive classification process, he opted to be a navigator, as opposed to a pilot or bombardier.

Rosnyai was a B-17 Flying Fortress navigator, part of the 351st Bomb Group based in Polebrook, England, during the war. Between December 1944 and April 1945, he participated in 35 bombing missions, was shot down once and was rescued.

Debi Hollis has known Rosnyai for about a decade. She formerly was the president of the Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial and currently sits on the board.

“Before we were the memorial project, we were known as Honor Flight Michigan,” she said. “We flew World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., and Bill was on our third flight.”

Hollis said Rosnyai stated a lunch group — The Fly Boys, consisting of World War II B-24 or B-17 bombers — would regularly meet at Little Daddy’s in Bloomfield Hills.

“Bill is loved by everybody and is a sweet man and kind,” Hollis said.

A B-17 crew, as explained by Rosnyai, consisted of nine men. The goal of missions, which took about nine hours, he said, ranged from hitting targets like railroad marshalling yards, buildings and bridges.

He summarized his role as figuring out a way to get to the target and find a way home.

Rosnyai described the greatest danger while on a mission as flak, or anti-aircraft guns.

Rosnyai received an Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, the World War II Victory Medal, the European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and the Legion of Honor Medal.

He married Vivian, who died in August, in 1950. The couple has three children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Bill Rosnyai worked at Ford, retiring as an engineering manager.