NEW YORK (PIX11) — Ninety-seven-year-old William “Willie” Kellerman is a war hero but never received the medals he deserved until now.
Kellerman served in the 79th Infantry Division and was among those who landed on Utah Beach in Normandy on D-Day. He lived a tale movies are made of, but his story got lost in the shuffle and the bureaucracy that failed to honor him for his heroism. Family and friends gathered at the Army Garrison Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn where Kellerman was presented a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and a Prisoner of War medal for his valiant service and courage in World War II. He endured a harrowing ordeal and survived to tell about it.
The medals were presented along with the verbal declaration, “Private First Class Kellerman’s exemplary performance of duty in active ground combat was in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit and the Army of the United States.”
Kellerman was 19 years old when he was shot by a German sniper and taken prisoner. But he managed a dramatic escape and ran deep into France where he was captured again, this time by members of the secret French resistance who thought he was a German spy. But after interrogating him, they determined he was not a spy by asking him who won the 1944 World Series. Being from the Bronx, the answer for him was easy: the New York Yankees.
Kellerman survived his wounds and was sent back into combat. The honors he earned were overlooked for years reportedly because of some administrative oversight, and because he rarely talked about his incredible story, except with family.
Grandson Jonah Corwin told PIX11 News, “For a while he didn’t tell the story because he didn’t think it was unique and assumed everyone had a story like that.” But his family realized that Willie was quite the hero and deserved the recognition. They lobbied the Army for it. During the presentation, General James McConville, Army Chief of Staff, lauded Kellerman, noting that “for those still serving, we stand on your shoulders as we strive every day for the legacy you have left us.”
Humbled by the attention, Private First Class William “Willie” Kellerman said he was “so overwhelmed, it’s hard to find the words.” He added, “It’s like I’ve been in the shadows all my life and someone turned on the lights, and I can really see who I am.”
The audience applauded, and one by one they approached the Army hero to say, “Thank you for your service.”
It’s never too late to honor a true war hero.