D-Day Survivor Who Escaped Nazi Capture Awarded Purple Heart 78 Years Later

It was an escape so unbelievable that it appeared not possible — even by Hollywood requirements. Captured within the battle for Normandy on July 4, 1944, Pfc. William Kellerman’s daring escape included dodging snipers, a “fortuitous stolen bicycle, adopted by a serendipitous flat tire, gun-wielding members of the French Resistance and a basic disguise that included a jaunty beret,” wrote the Wall Avenue Journal.  

The escape appeared a lot like a tall story – the results of a soldier’s heightened creativeness — that Kellerman’s superior officer deemed it doubtful and subsequently by no means bothered to submit the suitable paperwork. 

Now, after 78 years, the Military believes him and is correcting its mistake.  

On June 28, 2022, Gen. James C. McConville, the Military chief of employees, traveled to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York, to award the 97-year-old veteran the Prisoner of Struggle Medal and the Purple Coronary heart that had for many years been denied to him. 

“This has been annoying my mind all these years. I do know it appears like a loopy story, however it’s all true,” Kellerman instructed the WSJ. 

Born within the Bronx, New York, the then 18-year-old was drafted into the U.S. Military in late 1943, and hit Utah Seashore on June 11, 1944, with the 79th Infantry, 315th Regiment, Firm D. 

William Kellerman (third from left on the highest row) with fellow members of the 79th Infantry Division. (U.S. Military)

“The extra skilled guys, they despatched them in first. A whole lot of them had been killed on the primary day,” Kellerman instructed the WSJ. “I used to be fortunate.” 

That luck would quickly run out as Kellerman and his firm battled in, as Ernie Pyle as soon as described, “this bizarre hedgerow combating.” 

After heaving combating, gunfire took out the corporate’s radio. With no communications, the personal was ordered to inform battalion headquarters.  

As Kellerman dodged, dipped, ducked and dived by hedgerows and open fields he was quickly stopped quick by a German tank bearing down on him. 

“I used to be not going to battle a German tank,” he sagely recounted.  

Captured by the tankers, Kellerman was held with 50 to 60 different Individuals who had been taken prisoner throughout the breakout combating.  

Quickly they had been instructed to stroll. 

Subsisting on a single piece of bread every day, the POWs solely marched at evening, out of sight of American planes and their strafing.  

Kellerman was drafted into the U.S. Military in late 1943. Month later he would storm the Normandy seashores. (U.S. Military)

After a number of weeks of grueling marching, Kellerman noticed his likelihood to flee.  

Throughout a quick respite from the slog, he discovered himself subsequent to a financial institution of bushes. 

“He actually stepped out of line, rolled beneath a hedge,” his daughter, Jean Kellerman-Powers, instructed ABC Information. 

To the shock of Kellerman, his daring act was profitable. 

“As quickly as they had been out of sight, I ran like hell within the different path. I saved on going till it obtained mild,” Kellerman recounted in a 2020 interview with Patch. 

Kellerman discovered refuge with a sympathetic Frenchman who fed the soldier, burned his uniform and gave him a contemporary set of civilian garments — together with, unironically, a beret.

The Frenchman instructed the American personal to maneuver on, nevertheless, as his presence risked the lifetime of the farmer and his household. 

First sticking to the woods, Kellerman tried to make his strategy to impartial Switzerland. Quickly, although, he obtained daring and commenced to stroll alongside predominant roads, tipping his cap and murmuring “Bonjour” to any German soldier he encountered. 

On his journey east, the personal got here throughout an untended bike that he surreptitiously stole — however not with out a pang of remorse for the thievery.  

Kellerman managed to stroll and bike practically 600 miles into the Loire Valley earlier than a flat tire compelled him to hunt assist from a motorcycle store — which, unbeknownst to him, was a secret headquarters of the French resistance. 

Resistance fighters had been instantly suspicious of Kellerman’s lack of skill to talk French and drew weapons on him, cautious that he was a German spy. Regardless of quickly convincing them in any other case — he appropriately named the winner of the 1943 World Sequence — Kellerman endangered the cell.

“They stated, ‘We are able to’t allow you to go. If the Germans catch you, they’ll get it out of you,’” he stated. 

Kellerman seen right here in 1943. (U.S. Military)

Kellerman remained hidden within the Freteval Forest, France, at a camp codenamed Sherwood, till Allied forces liberated the area on the finish of August.  

However as an alternative of being despatched residence, as was typical for freed POWs, he was despatched into fight and took half within the retaking of Chames, France, based on the U.S. Military. 

In April 1945, Kellerman’s luck ran out as soon as once more when he was hit by sniper fireplace in each the hand and the leg. He was nonetheless being handled for his wounds when V-E Day was introduced. He was discharged in 1946 — with out his medals.

Now, after years of lobbying from Kellerman’s household, the executive oversight isn’t any extra.  

“I’m so overwhelmed it’s exhausting to search out phrases,” Kellerman instructed the gang gathered within the Fort Hamilton Neighborhood Membership on the 2022 ceremony. “However your presence is my greatest current. It’s like I’ve been within the shadows all my life, and somebody turned a light-weight on and I can actually see who I’m.”