PIGGOTT, Ark. (KAIT) - As our country celebrates the Fourth of July, our Independence Day, we want to recognize someone who fought for that freedom.
98-year-old Willard Whaley of Piggott is a man of few words.
“Well, I’d say it was the worst time of my life,” said Whaley. “You never did know what the next hour would bring.”
Whaley served through the deadliest conflict in human history.
“You might have an easy day, or you might have to be moving, or worried about if you were going to get shot at,” said Whaley.
While he’s lived a full life, with memories he’ll cherish, World War II isn’t one of them.
It was a time plagued with sacrifice and hardship.
It wasn’t until five years ago, on the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, that Whaley’s family, including his son Vance, began to hear his story.
“Not many of him left, so, I guess, he feels like he needs to tell his story right now,” said Vance.
Whaley was 22 when he was drafted.
He served in General Patton’s Third Army.
“They were the ones that came in and moved 120 miles in 48 hours and went in to Bastogne, relieved the First Airborne,” said Vance.
“I was a lineman,” said Whaley. “Laid telephone lines to our sections.”
He worked 24-hour shifts.
“We didn’t know when we’d be called to pick up telephone line, of course, we had to reuse that same wire all the time,” said Whaley. “I remember a few times it would be pitch dark and maybe we’d have to make a river crossing."
Whaley and his fellow troop served close to the frontline.
“We was lucky, maybe careful, we didn’t have any casualties,” said Whaley.
And he recalls close encounters with German forces.
“There was a German plane that flew over at night and we called him bed check Charlie, because when you hear them taking pictures and checking where everything was at," said Whaley. “It wasn’t but a few minutes until a couple of planes came over and they started dropping flares.”
And while most of Willard’s time in service involved constant moving, he remembers other adventures.
“We toured one of Hitler’s homes one time, it was up on the side of a mountain,” said Whaley. “You could see for miles from a big picture window in his house.”
Serving during five of the major battles of World War II, including the Battle of the Bulge and D-Day, did come with valor.
“He’s got quite a few medals in there we’ve discovered in the last few years,” said Vance.
Including 5 Bronze Stars....
“I’ve never heard of anybody else that had five Bronze Stars,” said Vance.
Whaley earned numerous other medals while serving his country.
But, in the end, he was ready to return home to Stella.
“His wife read the paper every day to see if he was coming back," said Vance. “Packed up everything and met him at the train station and came back to Piggott.”
They’ve been married for 73 years now.
“I was glad to get back to the US and get them uniform clothes off and get some blue jeans on and get out on the field,” said Whaley.
He did just that.
Willard farmed until 1982 and then continued to help his son on the farm until he was in his 80′s.
His advice for others is to do the best you can with what you’ve got to do it with.