Mt. Vernon Register-News

July 3, 2014

WWII veteran set to take Honor Flight


MT. VERNON — — Decorated World War II veteran Cpl. William Lee will be one of several veterans who will be taking an Honor Flight to Washington D.C on Aug.

Lee, 94, served with the First Infantry Division of the U.S. Armed Forces, also known as the "Big Red One."

"I was drafted when I was 21 years old and was inducted on Nov. 24, 1941, at Camp Grant," Lee said.

Lee fought alongside countless other soldiers during the invasion of Normandy, a battle that foreshadowed the end of Hitler's dream of Nazi domination.

Historical records state that 12 Allied nations provided fighting units for the invasion on June 6, 1944, including Australia, Canada, Belgium, France, Czechoslovakia, Greece, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Many of the first young men that entered the surf carried 80 pounds of equipment. They faced more than 200 yards of beach before reaching the first natural feature offering any protection.

"They were going to invade on my birthday on June 5, and they did but the weather was so bad they went back on June 6," Lee said. "My unit wasn't at the first initial attack on the beach. We got there two weeks later."

Lee has been awarded several medals for his service in the military.

One of them is the most prestigious French award called the Legion of Honor in the Order of Chevalier. He received the medal eight years ago.

Lee's Mt. Vernon home is filled with souvenirs from the five years he spent in the Armed Forces. Many of the items include personal reminders of where he was throughout the time he spent in battle and overseas.

"I kept a diary while I was in the Armed Forces of where I was and what was going on day and night," Lee said.

Lee also has battle maps of the invasion, sand from Normandy, invasion money, photos he took, newspaper clippings and even artwork from overseas.

He said 95 percent of the soldiers involved in the war he was part of are already gone.

Between 25 and 35 veterans, including Lee, will take part in the Honor Flight to Washington in August. The veterans and their guardians are set to visit memorials dedicated to WWII, the Vietnam War, the Korean War and the Arlington Cemetery.

Lee said he was offered to take the flight before but did not go. He changed his mind when the trip was offered a second time because he heard stories from other veterans who went.

"A lot of the guys have gone and told me the trip was wonderful," Lee said. "My son-in-law, Randy (Saladin), is going with me on the trip as my guardian. This is his first trip to Washington.”

Lee said this will be his first time seeing the WWII Memorial, but it's not the first time he has been to Washington D.C

Saladin said he is excited to take the trip with Lee and is happy the veteran has decided to go.

"I believe that Bill is definitely a World War II hero. He accomplished so much during the five years of service and the five campaigns and World War II," Saladin said. "He has been given a lot of awards and medals but was never given a Purple Heart because he was never hurt or wounded, not even on Omaha Beach. He and I have gotten kind of close and he has told me stories and shown me several things he brought back from overseas."

Lee said the most common question he is asked when it comes to D-Day is: "What was it like when you were there?

His response is that some GIs will say: "If you weren't there you don't need to know but if you were there then I don't need to tell you."