OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — He was Billie Byers then, a farm kid from Blanchard drafted into the Army.
He’s Bill Byers now, a retired builder with a truck load of memories from his experiences in World War II.
“You’ve hardly changed,” jokes a visitor to his home next to the Surrey Hills Golf Course.
“Really?” he smiles. “Here’s a picture,” says Byers selecting one from a pile on his kitchen table.
Bill and his wife Louise have been married 63 years.
They’ve long since discussed the old stories from nearly 70 years ago.
They bring the old pictures out for family, for WWII reunions, and for reporters on Memorial Day.
But he admits, “You know, I just kind of forgot the whole thing for years.”
Sgt. Byers trained to build bridges and blow them up with the 300th Combat Engineer Battalion.
His unit proved so good at what they did that generals turned them back from the first wave to hit the Utah Beach on D-Day.
They wanted to save the 300th for bridge building jobs they knew would take place after the initial landings.
Byers recalls, “We trained on Bailey Bridges day and night, one time for 22 hours straight.”
“We built this bridge and (General) Patton came over and said, ‘Hey boys, damn good bridge.”
He remembers thinking his 11 months in combat would be his last.
“I said I would never get out of this place alive. There’s no way.”
He also remembers a friend and fellow soldier from Blanchard lost before his unit even hit the beaches of Normandy.
“One of our ships was blown in two, and killed 91 people.”
Of those memories, Bill admits, “It gets kind of touchy sometimes.”
Byers built a lot of bridges through France and Belgium.
He came home and built them too.
“I went to work for a guy who built concrete bridges for the state,” he says.
In a sense, Bill Byers is a bridge himself to the great events of the 20th Century.
His great-grand daughter Evie will see and recalls portions of WWII as ‘the apple of Bill’s eye’.
In June of 2014, he plans to return to France one last time for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
It is another bridge to build and cross, remembering how grateful civilians in France were to be liberated from the Nazis.
Byers recalls, “We just couldn’t believe how that affected you, you know, how great it was.”
Bill Byers is still building strong bridges, some of the last that still stand to help us remember those who couldn’t cross back.