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‘Huge Heart’: This Vietnam Veteran is Now a Beloved School Bus Driver

From the jungles of Khe Sanh to a different type of service on the streets of St. Louis

spinner image marine corps veteran bill goodbread now serves as a bus driver at the age of 80
Brian Munoz

Bill Goodbread volunteered for the Marines at the height of the Vietnam War, shipping out in 1967 as a combat engineer attached to the infantry. In country, he joined teams dropped into remote areas to clear jungle to establish helicopter landing zones and fire bases.

Now, at 80 years old, he has a different mission: driving children to school safely each day, maintaining discipline on his bus but also taking care of his young passengers, learning about them and keeping a kindly eye out for their welfare.

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Known as “Mr. Bill,” he’s been a school bus driver in St. Louis for 15 years, while also acting as principal caregiver for his wife, who has a chronic illness.

‘A challenge I treasure’

“When you pull out of the parking lot you are the captain of that yellow ship with wheels on it,” Goodread told AARP. “Some people find that a challenge, but I enjoyed it because I had experience leading older men, not school children, and as a result of my Marine Corps training and my discipline, I run a pretty tight ship on the bus.”

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Instilling a sense of order is part of the joy of his job. He believes in creating a structured, positive environment for students who might be having some struggles. “I need to carefully drive the bus through traffic but also monitor the behavior of the 45 or 50 kids who are behind me,” he explained.

“I view that as a good challenge, one that I gladly accept. Some of the kids I haul on the bus, I know a single parent or grandma is bringing them up. It’s a challenge that I treasure to set a good example, to lead from the front.”

After getting to know who the children are, Goodbread makes sure he finds out who their parents are and which is their bus stop. He notices if there’s something concerning or out of the ordinary and will then check in with teachers or the principal.  

‘Something for the good guys’

After college, Goodbread decided to serve his country because he wanted to fight communism overseas rather than risking it reaching American shores. He chose the Marines because he thought they were the best and was commissioned as a second lieutenant after completing officer training at Quantico.

He served on active duty for three years, including 13 months in Vietnam, and another nine years in the reserves as a civil affairs officer. Later in his time in Vietnam, where he was at Khe Sanh, just south of the demilitarized zone, he went into villages with medics to administer vaccines and other treatment.

“It was rewarding,” he recalled. “It was nice to do something for the good guys.”

‘That huge heart that he has’

The satisfaction of helping others stayed with him. After a career at Proctor & Gamble, Wilson’s Sporting Goods and a variety of other companies, he retired at 64, mostly to look after his wife. But he didn’t feel done with working — or giving back.

Driving a bus for Parkway School District in suburban St. Louis gave him something meaningful to do while also affording him the flexibility to take his wife to appointments on weekdays.

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David Duckworth, principal of Craig Elementary, said: “There’s not a bus that is more prompt than Bill Goodbread’s, I’ll tell you that. You can set your clock by Bill’s bus.

“Bill is a natural leader. He is a veteran and you can see that military background.” While he operates the bus with a firm discipline “at the same time he makes connections and relationships with students.”

He added: “It's an awareness of the kids he works with and the families he works with that’s well beyond the expectations of a normal bus driver. It’s that huge heart that he has.”

spinner image 6-year-old student caden cochren talks to his 80-year-old bus driver, Marine Corps veteran bill goodbread
While on their way to school in suburban St. Louis County, Mo., 6-year-old Caden Cochren talks to bus driver Bill Goodbread about what he wants for Christmas.
Brian Munoz

‘Sometimes he can be a little bit strict’

Early on, Goodbread conducted the “Buster the Bus” safety presentations for kindergarteners, teaching them how to sit properly and setting expectations for behavior.

“As I grew in the job and became more comfortable, I enjoyed it more and more,” he remembers. “I learned all the kids’ names — that’s very, very important.”

Two years ago, Goodbread was recognized for helping to “create a positive and caring environment” in the school community by becoming a recipient of a Light of Parkway award.

But perhaps the most significant accolade Goodbread will receive is the testimony of his passengers, the children of Craig Elementary School in St. Louis.

“He’s nice to the kids,” says Wyatt Dean, a fifth grader who started riding Bill’s bus this school year. “He’s caring. And he’s a good bus driver.”

The children appreciate the way Goodbread keeps order and the reason why. “Sometimes he can be a little bit strict, but he’s just trying to keep us all safe,” said Charlie Scanlon, a fourth grader who has been a passenger of “Mr. Bill” since kindergarten.

Charlie’s twin sister Hannah agreed: “You can still talk to your friends, but we’re not all yelling and jumping around.”

After due deliberation, Manny Boyd, a third grader and passenger for two years offered his verdict: “If I could ride any bus, I would probably choose his.”

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