Sgt. Bill Pekrul was 19 years old when he stormed Omaha Beach. As Dan O'Donnell reports, 70 years later, he is still serving his fellow soldiers and his country.
“The killing on Omaha was terrible.”
And 70 years later, Bill Pekrul remembers every detail.
“I was shocked to see so many dead and wounded on the beach.”
And 70 years later, he can still see their faces.
“It’s something that you can’t forget.”
And 70 years later, no one who was there ever will.
“Company A was almost wiped out.”
The 19 year-old Sergeant Pekrul was in Company B, the second wave of infantry to land on Omaha Beach.
“We never go to the beach with our Higgins boat,” he said. “We hit a sandbar and I had to wade in. That is one thing that I think actually saved my life, because when the Higgins boats dropped the ramp, the machine guns were zeroed in on the ramps and these guys were murdered.”
But Pekrul wasn’t, and led his men up the beach.
“It took us at least two hours to get up the cliffs,” he recalls. “I made it up the cliffs on grappling hooks.”
“When we got up the cliffs, the Germans were in the trenches. The killing was unbelievable. It went on ‘til nighttime. At nighttime we were getting a lot of artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire, and patrols. I didn’t sleep for two nights.”
“But then the battle went on for 42 days.”
And 70 years later, the now 89 year-old’s voice cracks just slightly.
“If I had to do it over again, I don’t know if I could do it,” he said. “Too much killing, too many guys died in my arms, and you do so much of that and you just can’t take it no more.”
Pekrul nearly died of dysentery and spent weeks recovering, but rejoined his men and served in the occupation of Germany until he was discharged, came back home, and met Rosemary.
“I said to my girlfriend, ‘I’m going to marry that guy,’ ” she recalls with a laugh. “I’d never met him before. It was amazing!”
“We had 11 children,” Bill adds. “Six girls and five girls, and I’ve got 22 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren.”
And he also still has his sense of duty.
“I’ve been selling poppies now for 28 years at the VFW,” he says proudly.
“He’s very involved in Legion, and VFW, and the Veterans’ Parade,” adds Rosemary. “He loves it, and he loves all the guys.”
“I do it to support our veterans who are at the VA,” Bill says. “If you ever go to the VA and know what goes on in that hospital, you know that you have to support these troops.”
And he does.
“I’ve seen so many guys wounded and crippled. I’ve seen so many died—a lot of G.I.s died in my arms in combat, and that’s one of the main reasons I do poppies. I’ll do them until I can’t do them anymore.”
And like his service on D-Day, he says his service to his country every day since doesn’t make him a hero; it’s simply something he had to do.
“I just happened to be at the time of history when this came about, and I just felt it was my duty. I think in those days people were very patriotic.”
And 70 years later, people like Bill Pekrul still are.