Family members share some of their fondest memories about Bill, relate some stories they remember about his war experiences, and offer a personal perspective and tribute to this man.
Michael W. Hale – son of Bill
My Dad never talked about the war much, most veterans I’ve met that did see action usually don’t. The one time we talked about war and about the duty of serving our country was in 1968 when I got my draft notice for Vietnam. I was a pacifist and really felt conflicted: wanting not to kill yet wanting to do my duty as my Dad had taught me. In my whole life the only argument my father and I ever had was the night before I went to the induction center. He was really trying to get me to “grow up” and see that without guys like me going in our country would not be the free place it is now. I knew I was going to go in, but felt unsure what I’d do if sent into combat in Nam. He and my Mom drove me down to the induction center. As we went to get my little shaving bag out of the trunk he looked at me and he realized I was going and he got scared for me. He told me if I failed my physical that he’d sure be glad to take me out to dinner that night to celebrate. I had horrible hearing and it had kept me out for years, but this day it was not to be and that night I was eating dinner as an Army buck private at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
I was fortunate my computer skills kept me state-side for my whole tour, and not that many years later I realized that he was right (as he always was) and serving is a noble and necessary thing. Heck, he wouldn’t have ever hurt a flea if he didn’t have to, my sister and I got our gentle sides from my Dad. But he realized how important winning WWII was. Vietnam may not have had the sense of urgency or necessity that WWII had, add to that the whole “summer of love” mentality us young folks felt back then and you can see how easy it was for young kids to not want to go. Yet looking back on those wars and seeing young kids serving now in Iraq and Afghanistan you realize what a noble and necessary thing serving your country is. Now whenever I see a young man or woman in uniform I say hello and if I get the chance thank them for serving.
Reading that little notebook my Dad kept during Bastogne you see he was trying to let his family know what happened to him, I feel he didn’t think he was getting out of there alive and wanted my Mom to know. Once the skies cleared and the Allies were able to resupply and give the troops air support he was too busy being a soldier and realized he was probably going to make it home alive after all. So he stopped writing.
His sister, my aunt Jessie, worked as an Army Nurse in Europe in WWII. She was a lovely Irish woman with strawberry blond hair and many of the injured soldiers she met gave her the unit patches off their combat damaged uniforms. When she got home she made a felt rug and stitched all those patches on it. Must have been nearly 100 patches, all from different divisions. It hung on my bedroom closet door for some 15 years. Wasn’t until I went into the Army that I understood what those patches really meant.
I can’t find words to describe what a great man my father was, or how proud I am of him. I think my sister and I were especially blessed to have him as our Dad. We got much of our core values from him. The one thing I remember him telling me the night we had our argument was about service, he said to keep my priorities in this order:
God first, your country next, your family after that, and lastly yourself.
He told me if I did that everything would be all right. He was a pretty smart guy.
Barbara A. Hale – daughter of Bill
I think that like most children we don’t know much about our parent’s lives except for that they are our poppa or momma. Their role to us is as our parent and protector and it isn’t until we are much older that we find out the other roles they play or have played in their lives. My father was a typical returning WWII vet in that he never really talked much at all about his experiences in the war. He seemed intent to want to get on with his life back home in the states, return to work and have some kids with his beautiful wife.
It was the early 50’s and we were a young family moving from the Chicago area where my parent’s families were to California for a job transfer. We were part of the good times of moving to the land of opportunity in the northern area of California taking up residence in a brand new tract house, planting lawns and trees in our yard and becoming fast friends with our new neighbors. The dads were all returning soldiers who wanted to forget the past and take advantage of the golden years ahead, and the moms all housewives that didn’t work outside the home.
The baby boom was in full swing and so all the kids in the track home neighborhoods enjoyed the company of passels of other children their own age. We left the house in the morning to ride our bikes, climb trees and to play with our friends and were only required to return for lunch, dinner, and home for the night “when the street lights came on.” There were no worries about abductions or sinister things happening to the children…the moms could just pick up the phone tap into the party line and find out where their children were by asking the neighbors. Drive-in theaters were a standard summer night event where us kids played on the playgrounds in our p.j.s until the movie started and then we’d return to the family car and promptly fall asleep before we got through the movie trailers.
Camping trips were a big part of our family’s vacations and we were often part of a caravan of other families from the neighborhood. I remember beach and mountain camping trips with very fond memories. My dad loved to explore with my brother Mike and I and we were often accompanied by him to discover tide pools, streams, and other adventures on our vacations and weekend camping trips. I remember my dad taking my brother and me to play catch on the school baseball field and building us various versions of skate board scooters. Though he worked very hard often being off to work by 5:30 in the morning and not home until 6, he always had time to address our requests for building something or taking us on an area exploratory trek.
My recollections of the few times my dad spoke of his war experiences came as I got older. When I was 10 we moved back to the Chicago area by then to be near family and I found a stash of Nazi memorabilia in a closet that dad used for his clothes. There were several Nazi arm bands and a uniform jacket, as well as a Luger, and a sword that my dad had brought back as souvenirs from the war. When I asked after these items my dad would put them up out of reach and not explain their significance. I had no idea that he had fought in some very important battles or that he had been part of the famous 101st Airborne. On occasion my aunts or uncles would speak with awe of my dad’s service as if I knew these great feats he had done, but he never engaged in these conversations by bragging or elaborating, instead politely defer to some other topic of conversation.
In a cedar chest that we kept family photographs and mementos in I found numerous pictures, medals and other war related things, and I loved to look through the drawers of this chest trying to make sense of what I’d found. My mother was always anxious I would ruin something and so the occasions of going through the items inside were carefully monitored. What I could piece together from the scrapbooks of old newspaper articles kept was that my dad had been part of some very big and important battles. On occasion after he’d had a few cocktails with neighborhood couples I’d hear him sometimes relate stories from his war experiences.
One story he told had to do with being in a trench with a buddy and that my dad had traded places with this buddy at some point. During a gun battle that later ensued my dad’s buddy was killed by mortar fire and my dad I think felt a kind of survivor’s guilt that he had missed death by the change in spots. He also spoke of how he carved his initials along with other G.Is from his platoon into the wooden mantle piece above a fireplace in of one of Adolph Hitler’s hideouts as the war was ending… later I came to recognize this hideout might have been the Eagle’s Nest. There were stories my dad told of more light-hearted things like their platoon walking through a cellar that was flooded with what they thought was water and later turned out to be cognac from which the soldiers filled their canteens and celebrated.
After my father had a stroke in his 70’s his health deteriorated over several years. Due to his altered physical and emotional state he would become quite upset when any anniversary of WWII battles were broadcast and memorialized on television. He often would criticize documentaries or movies about the war for their inaccuracies in the telling of events and would read extensively any historical book that came out about the period he served in WWII.
I really didn’t know about his experience at the Battle of the Bulge until many years later as an adult when the diary was found. It was clear from his writing that the situation was so extreme that he did not think he was going to survive this ordeal and it appeared that he was writing his last thoughts and events to my mother. It was also clear that he wasn’t really aware of how important the battle was that he was part of and that it would become a turning point in the history of the war. Given this unique perspective from his own writings I was finally aware of how important my father’s role in the war was and most especially how extremely emotional the experience was for him.
Al Schmeling – son-in-law of Bill, husband of Barbara
My father passed away the year Barb and I started our relationship. Within a couple of years I began to think of Bill as my dad. He was a great substitute and although we didn’t spend a lot of time together I have a few lasting memories and I had a great deal of respect for him.
One of the best memories I have of Bill is when he took me to my first major league baseball game. It was the Chicago Cubs and although I don’t recall who they played I remember the day and the great seats we had on the first level down the first base side. Bill took me to a couple more games in the following year and one game I especially remember because it was the hottest day on record in Chicago. I was also impressed that he had a “choice” place to park in near Wrigley Field where he knew some residents that lived very close to the stadium. It’s funny how you remember strange stuff like that. Anyways, Bill loved sports and I would enjoy watching college basketball, baseball, and hockey games with him whenever I stayed in Chicago for business. We watched and enjoyed many games together.
I was also impressed with his interest in history and cultural things such as musical productions and theater. He loved going to plays and had a great deal of knowledge about the productions and the actors and actress in the entertainment fields. He also loved going to Las Vegas to play the slot machines and go to see the entertainment.
I also always respected how hard he worked and yet he would always take vacation time to see us when we would visit. However, his dedication to Newly Weds was also evident because he usually would go to the plant on Sunday afternoon just to be sure things were operating smoothly.
He was also very helpful to Georgia with household tasks; it seems to me although he didn’t cook he would usually clean up the kitchen after meals. Bill also had a very calm spirit and had a gentle way of defusing family disagreements or tension.
I know today he would be so proud of his children and grandchildren.
Stephanie Schmeling – granddaughter of Bill and creator of this website
I do not remember very much about my grandfather. I was a very shy child and since I didn’t see my grandparents often it always took a few days to warm-up to them every time they came to visit. By the time I was comfortable they were getting ready to leave. I remember my twin sister and I would sit on the steps in the morning, too timid to come down into the kitchen where our mom and grandparents were. To most visitors this was frustrating, but Grandpa was always very patient with us and never forced us to be social.
One memory I do have was from a Christmas I’d say maybe when I was eight or nine years old. It was Christmas morning and my sisters and I were trying to wait to open our presents. Grandpa, sitting in his recliner, looked at me and said “did you hear the jingle bells and reindeer on the roof?” NO! I responded in shock. “Oh, well I definitely heard something last night” he said. I was astounded because I was at an age when I knew Santa wasn’t real but I liked to pretend that he was and I thought it was really special that Grandpa would play along.
I was only four years old when my grandpa had a stroke that left him permanently effected. As a result, much of my good memories of him are from watching home videos and listening to stories from my mom and uncle and grandma. Finding the diary and having the opportunity to research the war he served in has let me know the man I never knew when he was alive. I deeply respect the service he gave to his country and I honor him with this tribute project.