Casper WWII Pilot Flew B-29 Bomber With Nose Art Drawn By Walt Disney

Casper’s E.A. “Bill” Sikes flew dozens of bomber missions in Europe and the Pacific during World War II, including a B-29 nicknamed “Big Stick” that has nose art draw on it personally by Walt Disney.

Dale Killingbeck

April 07, 202411 min read

The B-29 bomber flown on bombing raids over Japan was named “Big Stick” and carried original art drawn by Walt Disney himself.
The B-29 bomber flown on bombing raids over Japan was named “Big Stick” and carried original art drawn by Walt Disney himself. (Courtesy Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum)

Many World War II combat aircraft sported unique, and sometimes racy, nose art — drawings and nicknames to boost morale, personalized the planes and even believed by many to bring good luck to their missions.

Then there was Earnest Allen “Bill” Sikes of Casper, who not only had some of the best nose art of the war on the B-29 bomber he flew nicknamed “Big Stick,” it was drawn on the plane by Walt Disney.

Sikes flew “Big Stick” — with its large Disney-drawn cartoon cave man wielding a huge club — on missions in Europe and over Japan. In both war theaters, he managed death-defying escapes from enemy fire to bring his aircraft home.

And once on his way all the way home to the United States, he ended up in the open ocean in a very crowded life raft fighting off sharks.

He Trained In Casper

Sikes’ career began as a private in the U.S. Army and ended as a lieutenant colonel in the newly created U.S. Air Force Reserve.

Along the way, Sikes trained at Casper’s Army Air Base and married a local girl.

After the war, he returned to the Oil City, struggled at times to provide for his family, invented a lifesaving device and became instrumental in launching the Wyoming Veteran’s Memorial Museum in the Casper/Natrona International Airport in 2002.

Museum Director John Woodward said the display about Sikes at the museum includes some medals, photographs, the Disney cartoon, and brief history of his military career.

“Bill was one of the individuals who really helped get the museum off the ground, both as a volunteer and to help promote the museum in its early years when it was established,” Woodward said. “He also left a very sizable collection that had distinctive ties to the Pacific theater of operations, European theater of operations, but he also trained here at the Casper Army Air Base.”

Mark Milliken, chairman of the board for the Friends of the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum, first met Sikes around 2000. His relationship with the former World War II pilot began when Sikes became a friend and mentor to Milliken’s Eagle Scout son.

Milliken was at Sikes’ bedside eight years later as he lay dying, “saluting members of his crew” and repeating commands that he likely spoke more than 60 years earlier.

E.A. “Bill” Sikes poses with a bomber during his later years.
E.A. “Bill” Sikes poses with a bomber during his later years. (Courtesy Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum)

Recognizing A Special Man

Milliken’s first encounter with Sikes came at the airport building that was to become the museum. Milliken had taken his son there to see about a potential Eagle Scout project as the veteran’s museum was in development. Once learning more about Sikes, Milliken realized the importance of documenting his story.

“It turned out that Bill had such an interesting history that I decided to compile as much information as I could, so that’s what I did,” Milliken said. “I went through and got pictures and documents and did some oral histories with him on camera. He was a brilliant man.”

Sikes was a native of California. His parents had divorced and his mother moved to Michigan, where Sikes graduated from high school. In 1941, he was at Michigan State University studying engineering as war clouds gathered.

Milliken said Sikes decided to drop out of college and go into the military to get his service over with, and then he planned to return to school. Sikes enlisted in the U.S. Army, and after basic training was assigned to an artillery unit.

Watching the airplanes flying around his base, Sikes had his imagination piqued about becoming a pilot and looking into how to get transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps. When officials reviewed his two years of engineering background, they accepted him into the flight program and he was assigned to flight schools.

Once Sikes earned his pilot wings and officer’s commission, he was ordered to train on B-17s, first in Florida and then Blythe, California.

“He had his crew in Blythe, California, and then he came to Casper in February 1943,” Milliken said. “Casper had been going as a training center for a couple of months.”

The original role of Casper Army Air Base centered around training flight crews for their missions overseas. The various specialists on the aircraft had gone through their schools as gunners, navigator, crew chief and radioman, but Casper became the place where they were to hone their skills as a team.

A Really Good Posting

And Sikes had more than his dreams to become an Army pilot realized in Casper. He also met Hazel Wheaton.

They married a few days before his crew and bomber were sent to England.

Sikes told Milliken that while on his way overseas, he took the opportunity to fly his bomber down main street of Lansing, Michigan, while the city was hosting a big war bond rally. The Michigan governor was addressing the crowd and Sikes buzzed him.

“They said he (Sikes’ bomber) was so low that the governor, who was elevated on a balcony, had to look down on him as the airplane flew past. Bill figured, ‘Well that’s the end of my career,’” Milliken said.

The Army Air Corps considered disciplining Sikes, but the governor wrote a letter that local sales of war bonds skyrocketed after the stunt and the investigation was dropped.

World War II pilot E. A. “Bill” Sikes flew bombers in both the European and Pacific theaters of war. At right is a wedding photo taken in Casper of Sikes and his wife, the former Hazel Wheaton.
World War II pilot E. A. “Bill” Sikes flew bombers in both the European and Pacific theaters of war. At right is a wedding photo taken in Casper of Sikes and his wife, the former Hazel Wheaton. (Courtesy Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum)

European Service

Once in England his bomber, named “Sizzle” after the sounds of the steaks his mom prepared at the Hotel Olds in Lansing, was assigned to the 305th Bombardment Group in Chelveston. During one of Sikes’ mandatory 25 missions, an antiaircraft shell lodged in the plane’s fuel tank, but did not explode.

On another occasion, this time over Norway, Sikes and his crew had two engines shot out by German fighters. He evaded them by putting the plane on its edge and falling out of the sky. At the base, the plane had been assumed lost until “Sizzle” arrived well overdue.

“On Oct. 10 of 1943, the crew completed its last mission, but Bill still had one more to go to get 25,” Milliken said.

A few days later on Oct. 14, 1943, in a different bomber, Sikes flew a mission as copilot on a bombing run on a ball bearing plant in Schweinfurt, Germany.

“Sizzle” was also on that mission, but flown by a replacement crew. It was the first aircraft shot down that day.

In all, the 305th lost 13 of its 16 B-17s that took off that day as well as 130 men, or 87% of its unit, with 36 killed.

Somehow, Sikes and his bomber crew returned.

Once back in the states, Sikes headed to Casper to see his wife and a new baby boy. Then he learned that B-29s were being built for the Pacific theater and he asked for reassignment to those aircraft and the Pacific.

The Army sent the couple to Southern California first for some rest and relaxation. While there, Hazel Sikes called Walt Disney — her family had a personal acquaintance with him. Learning that her husband was a pilot with experience in Europe, Disney invited Sikes for a meeting to ask him questions about the issue of aircraft “gremlins.”

Disney’s studio helped both the U.S. Army, Army Air Corps and Navy with training films by providing cartoons to accompany the films. The Army Air Corps was doing one involving “gremlins,” or issues related to aircraft handling and maintenance.

A Cartoon

Milliken said Sikes told Disney that there were no “gremlins,” just poor maintenance practices.

The story Sikes then told was that Disney thanked Sikes for the information and asked what he could do for him. Sikes explained that he would be going overseas in a B-29 and would need art for the nose of his plane.

Disney agreed to provide some and Sikes asked about one of Walt Disney’s cartoonists doing it, rather than Disney himself. Disney reportedly replied that they were too busy.

So, Sikes got “Big Stick,” a drawing of a caveman carrying a club and an apparent reference to Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote to “walk softly and carry a big stick.” It was drawn for Sikes by Disney himself, Milliken said.

Once overseas with his new B-29, Sikes flew 30 missions, including many low-level incendiary bombing excursions ordered by Army Air Corps Gen. Curtis LeMay. Sikes’ 2008 obituary described an event on one mission when a shell exploded in the B-29 cockpit and wounded him.

“He took control of the situation and flew back to the base despite great agony, thereby saving the plane and the crew” the obituary stated. “Bill was awarded the Purple Heart for this action.”

On his last mission, headed back to his base in Saipan, the B-29 lost two engines and he was forced to land on Iwo Jima.

After the war, Sikes took part in the post-occupation of Japan, and during his flight back to the U.S. a few days before Christmas, he landed in Guam.

No passenger seats were available on flights leaving the island for the U.S. He met a fighter pilot headed home who introduced him to the commanding officer of a cargo C-54 transport group. The commander, learning Sikes flew B-29s, offered him the pilot’s seat in a C-54 and the commander took the copilot chair.

The B-17 “Sizzle” in flight with Bill Sikes at the controls during World War II.
The B-17 “Sizzle” in flight with Bill Sikes at the controls during World War II. (Courtesy Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum)

Pacific Crash

After a series of issues with the aircraft, and now loaded with a large air compressor, 31 members of ground crew and six flight crew, the plane ran into a thunderstorm between Guam and Kwajalein and lost two engines. The compressor was thrown out of the plane hatch to lighten the load. A third engine of four went and the C-54 commander took over the controls to ditch the plane.

The plane landed and sunk in minutes. The crew and all inside managed to get out, but lost all but two life rafts. Thirty-five men were forced into two rafts that were each designed to hold five.

A three-day ordeal of fighting off sharks and dealing with heavy seas followed, and two men died before the group was rescued.

Sikes began his military career as a private, the lowest rank. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1950 as a lieutenant colonel. Then he remained active for a time in the Wyoming National Guard.

After the war, Sikes and Hazel had two more children, both daughters. He became a contractor working for other contractors and various projects around the city. Sometimes, the jobs did not provide enough income.

Some Hard Times

When Milliken inquired about Sikes’ uniforms, he was told some of Sikes’ military-related career items has been sold to provide for the family. During a certain period, the family struggled so much that Sikes hunted wild game to feed his family.

In the decades after leaving the military, Sikes committed himself to caring for his children and wife, who was diagnosed with a serious condition that required dialysis treatments obtainable only at the hospital.

Sikes, the former engineering student, designed, built and patented a portable blood dialysis machine that allowed the family to travel and helped extend her life.

His son, William, died in a car accident in 1980, and Hazel died in 1984. The following year Sikes married again to Grethe Jensen.

In the years that followed, Sikes freely talked about his wartime experiences with various organizations and volunteered many hours to the veteran’s museum.

Milliken said he was asked by Grethe Sikes to sit with her husband during the last few days of his life at Central Wyoming Hospice.

During the time at Sikes’ bedside, Milliken witnessed the former war veteran reliving some of his wartime experiences as he slept.

“Right toward the end there he was doing things like sitting up in bed and saluting the air,” he said. “And then he reached up and put his arms around the air and was like hugging something in the air. I was sitting there in the chair one time and all of a sudden he got up and pointed in the corner. He said, ‘William, William is over there.’

“He was seeing these people … his bomber crews, he was saluting them. His first wife, he was hugging her. It was a very interesting experience to be with him, and he passed away right after that in hospice.”

E.A. “Bill” Sikes died March 25, 2008. In addition to the Purple Heart, the veteran had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and several other recognitions for his wartime service.

And he flew the “Big Stick” with its unique Walt Disney-drawn nose art.

Contact Dale Killingbeck at

Members of the B-17 “Sizzle” crew pose with their bomber. Pilot Bill Hines is standing at right.
Members of the B-17 “Sizzle” crew pose with their bomber. Pilot Bill Hines is standing at right. (Courtesy Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum)

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at

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Dale Killingbeck