"That Eagle was my college education. ... The Eagle took me many places."
Paul Howard Poberezny, the oldest of three children, was born on September 14, 1921, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to a Ukrainian immigrant named Peter Poberezny and his Southern belle wife, Jettie Dowdy. They were poor by anyone's standard. Paul grew up in a tar-paper shack in Milwaukee and never even experienced indoor plumbing until he went to school.
"Yes, we were poor, but everyone was poor. My parents loved me. That was all that mattered," Paul often said.
A disinterested student, Paul's first passion in life was aviation. Spurred on by pulp magazine stories of true-life and imaginary heroes of World War I, Paul consumed everything he could about pilots and their aerial exploits. Like many boys of his generation, he built dozens of model aircraft and launched them into the sky. Many of these models crashed, affording Paul the opportunity to rebuild them in preparation for the next flight.
The first time young Paul saw a real airplane was at night. He was so excited that he slept under its wing with the hope of seeing the craft during the day. As the sun rose, he had to go to school and sit in a boring classroom. He impatiently waited all day for classes to end. The bell rang and he dashed back to the field where the plane was parked, only to find that it had returned to the sky.
Fate soon smiled on Paul. His insightful high school history teacher, Homer Tangney, gave Paul the life-changing gift of a battered Waco Primary Glider, with one condition: Paul was required to restore the craft to a flight-worthy status. Without realizing the significance of his gift, Mr. Tangney had just set wings in motion that would change the future of aviation.
Paul made short work of restoring the single-seat glider and soon had it tied to the back of a "tow" car. At 15 years of age Paul had the rare experience of having both his first flight in any type of aircraft and his first solo flight at the same time. Being Paul, he quickly modified the aircraft to his own tastes and replaced the landing skids with wheels as well as many other improvements.
Unbeknownst to Paul, the next great chapter of his life was unfolding just a couple of miles up the road. Audrey Louise Ruesch, born in January 1925, was the only child of Milwaukee auto mechanic Thomas Ruesch and his wife, Lillian. The Rueschs were proud of their daughter and dedicated their lives to ensuring that she was afforded every possible opportunity. Audrey was studious and meticulous in her appearance. She was voted the best-dressed girl in school on several occasions.
Needless to say, Thomas Ruesch was not impressed during his one and only occasion to meet his future son-in-law. As Audrey likes to recall the encounter, "My father told Paul to go home and not to come back until he was dry behind the ears." Audrey adds, "I was not impressed either. He had no outstanding characteristics that would make me notice him. While I took school very seriously, his mind was always elsewhere. While I took pride in my appearance, he apparently did not. I really don't know why I eventually became attracted to him. I think it was his persistence." Audrey's father passed away before he had the opportunity to experience the strength of Paul's character.
Despite the cool beginnings Paul and Audrey's romance began to grow. They spent their time together as most young people of their generation-trips to the county fair, black and white movies, and hamburgers at the local A&W.
Meanwhile Paul's aeronautical skills were also on the rise. He soon advanced to powered aircraft. At age 19, Paul borrowed $250 from his father and bought half-ownership of an American Eagle biplane with a friend. Many years later Paul would learn that his father had to take out a bank loan to give him the money.
"That Eagle was my college education," Paul would often say. "It gave me opportunities to meet people through forced landings; it provided extensive experience in engine and airframe maintenance; and it helped further develop my piloting skills. The Eagle took me many places."