MAYSVILLE, Okla. — Bill Freeman was a precocious teenager in 1943.
His dad had to go with him to sign up for the Navy at the tender age of 16.
“Get rid of me,” he chuckles. “I was nothing but trouble so he signed me in.”
Bill is 93 in 2019; a little slower, a little less starch under the collar, but still full of memories from his WWII service.
“We didn’t know a thing until that morning,” recalls Freeman of the run up to D-Day. “That was when all hell broke loose.”
He was a Ship Fitter 3rd Class at various ports in England.
On D-Day, he found himself on a Higgins boat crew.
Freeman had turned 17 before delivering the first wave of soldiers to Omaha Beach.
“You didn’t know what you were going into,” he says. “Bullets were flying all over, whizzing past your head.”
“We couldn’t get the boat in close enough to dry land. They were waist deep getting off,” he recalls.
“The little guys were chest deep.”
Bill figures his landing craft made anywhere from 6 to 8 trips, from troop ship to shore and back.
Each was a little easier than the last.
Making it through was all that mattered.
“I was lucky,” he smiles. “Just plain lucky.”
A few years back Bill and his wife were still well enough to return to those beaches in France, to see the long rows of white crosses, and to recall the world of his wartime duty, clearing the beaches after the hard-won battle.
“All the bodies, the body parts,” he recalls. “That was the bad part.”
“That’s the part that sticks with you?” asks News 4’s Galen Culver.
“Yeah,” he replies. “People you knew, buddies.”
Bill came home, had two kids, outlived two wives, and is only now telling his stories to family and friends.
Those beaches are just sand now, slipping through the hourglass of history.
The last casualties are falling victim to time.
“I’ve had a pretty good life though,” says Freeman. “Interesting.”
Of the 16 million men and women who served the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII, the Veterans Administration estimates that fewer than 450,000 remain with us.