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Dayhoff: Remembering Reese life member Bill McKenzie, a World War II hero

Dayhoff: Remembering Reese life member Bill McKenzie, a World War II hero

On Saturday, July 27, firefighters, friends, and family gathered at the Reese and Community Volunteer Fire Company to celebrate the life of Bill McKenzie — an American hero from World War II who just happened to call Carroll County his home.

McKenzie, or “Mr. Bill,” as he was affectionately known as at the Reese Fire Company, was 97 years old when he passed away on June 18.

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His memorial service on July 27 was officiated by Reese Fire Company Chaplain Ted Wilson, Deacon Phil Czajkowski, and Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association Deacon Charles Barnhart. The keynote speaker was local historian and Reese volunteer Kati Townsley.

Although Mr. Bill was born in St. Clare, Pennsylvania, on May 31, 1922, he and his wife Wilma moved to Carroll County in 1971. According to Townsley, Wilma and Mr. Bill “joined the Reese & Community Volunteer Fire Company in 1990 and became an instant part of our family.” At Reese, he was the company historian, fire police officer, and served on the board of directors.

“He was a staple at our weekly bingos, breakfasts, and pretty much every fire company function that we hosted,” said Townsley. “He was always found with a cup of decaf coffee and a smile on his face …

“After graduating from St. Clair High School, he worked for the National Youth Administration and learned the trade of acetylene welding. This trade allowed him to go to work for Oriole Gas Stoves in Baltimore…”

While living in Baltimore, he was drafted into the Army and reported for duty on October 17, 1942. After first being deployed to England, he subsequently landed at Utah Beach, in Normandy, France, after D-Day, on August 3, 1944 with Company H, 319th Infantry Regiment, in the 80th Division of the 3rd Army.

According to an article written for the Carroll County Times on May 1, 2010, by Bill Hall, “While the Germans were still shelling the beaches, they headed inland to the front lines. The battle of the hedgerows had been ongoing since D-Day. Gen. Omar Bradley told Gen. George Patton that he was tired of being bogged down and wanted an old tank man to make an end run. The 80th was ready …

“They moved like lightning across France to the Seille River, then the Saar Basin and eventually to the Siegfried Line. Once the Germans started the Ardennes Offensive, they moved into Luxembourg, fighting the Germans southeast of Bastogne. McKenzie recalls walking 30 miles one day and 32 miles the next …”

According to Townsley, later, “Once the Battle of the Bulge started, the 80th moved toward the 101st Airborne who were trapped by the Germans in Bastogne and made a night attack on the town of Heiderscheid on Dec. 21, where the American’s were able to take back control of the town….”

Hall’s article picks up the story there: on “Dec. 29, (1944) the enemy launched a counterattack at Ringel, Luxembourg, threatening McKenzie's command post. He held his position at the command post, killing three, wounding five, and forcing the remainder to find shelter in a barn. He then ran to the barn and forced … 16 enemy soldiers to surrender. Later, when he observed an enemy rocket launcher team in firing position, he crawled within range to throw a grenade, thwarting the attack by killing two and wounding another. For this, he received the Distinguished Service Cross…”

According to Hall’s article, on “April 4, 1945, he was summoned [to headquarters] for something he knew nothing about. He thought he was in big trouble. Instead, it was for a flag-raising ceremony for Army Day. Generals Patton, Bradley, and Montgomery shook hands with him. The most decorated soldiers from each outfit in the 3rd Army were invited. It was a day he will always remember…”

That day he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the United States 2nd highest Military Honor, for his multiple acts of valor on December 29, 1944.

At his memorial service, Townsley reported, “Mr. Bill said that one of the rewarding but disturbing events that he participated in during the War, was-the liberation of four Polish concentration camps, most notably Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora in April 1945…”

According to Hall, “McKenzie was discharged Oct. 21, 1945. He married Wilma McKenzie … on June 29, 1947. He returned home to work for Oriole, then Locke Insulator and finally the Social Security Administration until he retired in 1977…”

McKenzie was a life member of Reese Fire Company, a member of the American Legion Post 31 and a founding member of the Catholic Veterans of Carroll County and undoubtedly one of Carroll County’s Most Decorated Veterans.

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Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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