FOLLANSBEE, W.Va. (WTRF) – Like so many things, Veterans Voices took a break during the pandemic for the safety of our nation’s heroes, but now 7News is pleased to say it’s back.
Around this time of the year we celebrate high school graduates, but in 1943 those high school graduates were headed to fight in World War II.
William “Bill” Schwertfeger of Follansbee left school early so he could defend his country.
He calls it a swell of patriotism, but said it was a shock going from the comforts of home to the trenches.
I don’t think I really knew what I was getting into when I was full of the patriotism and I volunteered for the draft.William “Bill” Schwertfeger, World War II Veteran
Schwertfeger recalls that when he was in high school the Board of Education announced that any senior with qualifications could leave school early to join the service and still graduate. So, he signed up.
After that Schwertfeger quickly found himself going through Army training, then traveling overseas as part of a 34th Infantry Division machine gun platoon.
Most of his service was spent in Italy.
It was my job to keep the machine guns, the mortars, connected to the officers. That might sound like a simple job, but you’d be surprised how quick, when you connect telephones, that a mortar shell comes in and breaks the line or the radio quits working. It was constant at night for me having to go out and reconnect those lines.William “Bill” Schwertfeger, World War II Veteran
He said it was there in the middle of mortar barrages, seeing friends pass away, that fear took over, but also self-preservation.
If a guy got hit with a mortar shell and was screaming, it just seemed like something took over. You had to help him. That cry is just something that forces you to do, to help. In those situations when you’re being shelled and your’e laying on the ground you’re so frightened that it takes over.William “Bill” Schwertfeger, World War II Veteran
That selflessness to help his Army brothers earned Schwertfeger the Bronze Star. He also received the Combat Infantry Badge. In the height of combat a member of a tank crew was injured, so Schwertfeger and another soldier pulled him to safety.
I want to make it clear that I never did pull the trigger on anybody, any German soldier. When I speak at schools one of the first things kids will ask you ‘did you kill anybody’. Directly, no. I didn’t. Indirectly, I probably did by directing artillery fire.William “Bill” Schwertfeger, World War II Veteran
It was also in those moments he says he realized how far away from Follansbee he was.
I was probably the most homesick soldier in the Army.William “Bill” Schwertfeger, World War II Veteran
Schwertfeger to this day says when serving your country you fight more than just the enemy.
Homesickness, the weather, an enemy of the soldier and the enemy himself.William “Bill” Schwertfeger, World War II Veteran
After two years of service and combat in key conflicts like the liberation of Rome, he came home. It’s a day he calls one of the happiest of his life.
When we heard at 4:00 in the morning that life was sighted on the United States, we were outside of Norfolk Virginia, we knew we were home.William “Bill” Schwertfeger, World War II Veteran
Schwertfeger said he considers himself lucky.
All through that and I didn’t get a scratch. I was lucky because we had our share of purple hearts. The Army experience is just something you never forget. Never forget.William “Bill” Schwertfeger, World War II Veteran
Schwertfeger also had a brother who served during World War II and made it home safely.
After he returned home, Schwertfeger went on to a more than 30-year career in education.
He was married to his wife Mary for 65 years and had two sons, Mark and John. He also has several grandchildren and tells 7News he will be a great-grandfather soon.
He’s now 97-years-old and still lives in Follansbee.