A veteran of D-Day came to the Fort Hamilton Army Base on June 28 to receive three decorations he should have been given 78 years ago.
The Dept. of the Army gave 97-year-old William Kellerman the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Prisoner of War Medal for his actions in France during World War II.
Pvt. First Class Kellerman was 19 when he landed on Utah Beach in Normandy in 1944. On July 4, while on a mission to contact his battalion headquarters, he stumbled upon a Nazi tank and was captured. While en route to a POW camp, he snuck away from his captors during a nighttime rest stop. He ran to a nearby farmhouse, borrowed an unattended bicycle and rode about 600 miles to a bike shop, which turned out to be a front and hideaway for the French Resistance.
Kellerman resumed active combat duty with the 79th Infantry Division that August. In April 1945, he was shot by a sniper and hospitalized. He recovered, returned to the U.S. and separated from the Army without being recognized for his incredible escape and heroic actions.
Kellerman’s daughter, Jean Kellerman-Powers, lobbied and petitioned the Army to correct the situation. The Army blamed the delay on an administrative error made while processing Kellerman’s records.
Well, the Army finally got it right! They sent the highest-ranking officer – four-star Gen. James C. McConville, the Army’s chief of staff and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – to congratulate Kellerman, herald his actions, thank him for his service and personally pin the medals on his chest.
After McConville presented the medals and citation, Kellerman said, “I’m so overwhelmed, it’s hard to find words, 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 see who I am.”
Kellerman’s children gave brief remarks, and his grandchildren also attended. When Kellerman mentioned his late wife Sandy (they were married 70 years), Gen. McConville said, “I’m sure she’s looking down on you from above.”
Garrison Commander Col. Craig Martin hosted the ceremony, which ended with the singing of “The Army Song.”