Pvt 1st Class William Kellerman, 19, landed on Utah Beach in Normandy, France, 5 days after D-Day with the 79th Infantry, 315th Regiment, Company D. On June 28, 2022, he finally received the awards he was entitled to 77 years ago. In a special ceremony, he was awarded the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and the POW medal. His story is nothing less than amazing. (From Coffee or Die)
July 4, 1944
As soon as his unit landed, they came under heavy fire. A bullet took out their radio communications. Pvt Kellerman was assigned to get to headquarters and tell them what happened. So off he ran, dodging bullets, until he came face to face with a Nazi tank and troops. It was July 4, 1944. He was taken prisoner and jammed in with other American POWs.
The prisoners were given one slice of bread per day, and at night the Germans would march the prisoners across the countryside. But William “Willy” Kellerman took his Army code of conduct seriously as he found an opening to escape and took it. He knew the guards didn’t count the prisoners until morning, so at night he rolled under a hedge during the march. Then he ran in the opposite direction as the prisoners closed ranks so that the guards wouldn’t notice he was gone.
Eventually he came to a French farmhouse, where the owner gave him clothes, food, and map. The farmer burned Kellerman’s American uniform. He set off on foot for days until he came upon a bicycle leaning against a tree. He had never stolen anything in his life, but “desperate times called for desperate measures.” He took the bike and rode for miles and miles hoping to reach Switzerland. Then the bike tire went flat.
Kellerman walked the bike to a nearby town where he found a bike shop. As he entered the shop and tried to communicate with the proprietor, several men stepped out with guns. Turned out that the shop was a part of the French resistance. They took him to a nearby school where a teacher who spoke English learned that he was American. How? He knew that the Yankees had won the 1943 World Series. William Kellerman was from the Bronx, so that was an easy one.
The French took Kellerman into the Fréteval Forest to hide him with nearly 200 other soldiers from other countries. When the forest was liberated in August, Kellerman was sent back into the fight. On April 11, 1945, he was shot in the hand and leg during combat. He was sent to a hospital in Czechoslovakia, but when his leg wound became infected, he was then sent to a hospital in Germany, where he remained until the war was over.
Though he was put in for a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and the POW Medal then, nothing happened. Nothing happened for 77 years due to an “administrative oversight.” The wrong was made right in a ceremony on June 28, 2022 at Fort Hamilton. In 2018, he was graced with the French Legion of Merit for his actions to help France.
“I’m so overwhelmed it’s hard to find words,” Kellerman said to the crowd gathered in the Fort Hamilton Community Club after Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James C. McConville presented him with the medals. “But your presence is my best present. It’s like I’ve been in the shadows all my life and someone turned a light on and I can really see who I am.”Coffee or Die
Indeed, Willie Kellerman. You are a hero.
Featured screenshot via WABC video
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