Osage Beach, MO -- (11/09/17) Nearly 500,000 Missourians served in the military during WWII. And one of them is 93-year-old Brumley-native Bill Gilliam, who served as a U.S. Tank Gunner in the largest battle ever fought by the United States Army – The Battle of the Bulge.
Bill begins his story in December 1944.
“Them guys like me, 18- or 19-years-old, didn't think anything could hurt 'em." he says.
In the dead of winter, when supplies were limited, you had to keep marching on – with only one pair of boots... and a lot of caffeine.
“I'd say more boys got on coffee over there than anything they ever drunk, because it was hot.” he adds.
The Battle of the Bulge derives it’s name from this: the Germans wanted to recapture a popular Belgium port to create a ‘bulge’ between American and British armies in France and cut them off from the port. And it didn’t take long for bill and his platoon to experience, first-hand, the realities of being on the front lines.
"We went flying down the road with a platoon of tanks, when that boy threw that grenade in there. It killed the boy that was standing right by me. I just got a little of it in [my] arm and [my] leg. That boy that it killed… it just went off in his face, so he didn’t have a chance.” Bill states while wiping away tears.
The tank driver who helped Bill get out of the tank was later killed, leaving wounded Bill to find safety on his own – with bullets flying non-stop right over his head.
“It was just constantly, you had to stay on guard all the time. When I was wounded, it was overnight. And I don't know how they found that plane. But they found a plane to put me on, and I didn't get off of it until I got in Springfield, Missouri. Probably the happiest day of my life.” he says.
In 1945, Bill was awarded the Purple Heart. The medal takes him back to the war that caused a lot of pain and a lot of perseverance.
“They don't help you heal, but it's nice to have one. It was an honor to serve this country. I did my job as best I knew how.” Bill humbly states.
Our deepest thanks go out to those who have served or are currently serving our country.