You know how they say that it’s always the quiet ones that have the most interesting stories?
William “Willie” Kellerman, a 97-year-old World War II veteran, doesn’t like telling his stories during his time in the war, as he thinks, according to his grandson, that his story wasn’t unique and just assumed that everybody had a story from WWII like his story.
William’s story, if turned into a TV show, is probably worth a few episodes. They’d be chock-full of action and suspense, but it’s still not close to the finale.
After almost 80 years of waiting, Willie was finally presented with his much and well-deserved medals. Willie was presented with a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Prisoner of War medals by the Chief of Staff of the US Army in his very own hometown, Brooklyn, New York.
It was a privilege to present Mr. William Kellerman the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Prisoner of War medals today for his service and actions during WWII. We stand on the shoulders of heroes like Mr. Kellerman, and we are forever grateful for his service and sacrifice! pic.twitter.com/YMPEieOSsH
— GEN James C. McConville (@ArmyChiefStaff) June 28, 2022
“This is 77 years late, but it’s never too late to do the right thing, the right way,” said the chief of staff, McConville. “The right thing is to recognize Pfc. William Kellerman for his heroic actions in WWII… It’s my honor and privilege to be here today to help pay Mr. Kellerman a long overdue tribute for the sacrifices he made in service to the United States of America, to our Allies, and people everywhere.”
Willie’s war story can’t really be summarized in a few words, but I’ll try my best to give you a preview of just how amazing it is. The year was 1944, the D-Day Landing at Normandy, and Willie was only 19 when he landed in Normandy and was taken as a prisoner by the nazis just less than a month into his tour of duty. Willie suffered along with many other prisoners, who were made to march every night and were only fed a single slice of black bread everyday.
Willie survived his imprisonment by escaping on foot, and fleeing to France. He managed to steal a bike but then had a flat tire, which he tried to have fixed in a bike shop. However, the bike shop he went to was hiding a French resistance fighters group, and the group captured Willie, as they thought that he was a German spy. The resistance group interrogated Willie for hours, and, as said by one of the speakers in Willie’s awarding ceremony, “the determination was made that Kellerman was in fact an American Soldier by asking him who won the 1943 World Series. It was an easy question for a boy from the Bronx: it was the New York Yankees.”
The boy from the Bronx is far from completing his duties though. After being reunited with the American forces, Willie resumed active duty after a year of his capture. During a battle with German forces, Willie was shot in the hand and leg and was then transported to a hospital in Czechoslovakia and remained there until the end of the war; he returned to his country in 1946.
And now, in 2022, Willie said that he felt both humbled and validated as he received his medals.
Reportedly, the reason why the veteran’s honors were overlooked for years is because of administrative oversight and, they say, Willie’s file was “one of the millions burned in the National Personnel Records Center fire, in St. Louis, Missouri on July 12, 1973.” These are the factors that contributed to the late processing of the awards, according to the US Army.
“I’m so overwhelmed, it’s hard to find words, but your presence is my best present… It is like I’ve been in the shadows all my life, and someone turned the light on, and they can really see who I am. I cannot thank you enough for being here… God bless America,” Willie said during the ceremony.
Watch William “Willie” Kellerman receive his awards in the video below.