I was given his name, address and phone number by another member of the 540th and was able to contact Bill in 2004. I was so excited when I found out that he lived only a few hours away from me in Michigan. What great fortune I thought.
Since our initial chat, I've learned so much from Bill. We are planning on meeting in person in August at his home near Lake Michigan. He informs me that he still has over 100 photos from the ETO, along with the American flag that he proudly carried ashore in North Africa back in the fall of 1942. I'm sure our visit will be a memorable one and I'm just as positive that there will be no lulls in our conversation. He may have to even have to kick me out of the house!
Well I did manage to visit with the Vander Walls in late summer of 2005. We had a marvelous visit and there simply weren't enough hours to talk and look through all the items of interest. I hope we will have the opportunity to meet again. I only wish we could have done this years ago!
Overseas Service Bivuoac Areas - 2nd Bn Co D (later re-designated - 2833rd Bn Co A)
Dear Bill and Lois:
So nice to hear from you. Sorry it has taken so long to reply, but things are always a bit hectic around the holidays and I've also been flooded with many email and letters from other veterans and their families too. While that is a great thing, it really keeps me hopping and I've fallen behind in my correspondence.
First off, thanks for all the address for Bill and Orphia Jelink. I sent them a letter this week along with the 540 th Newsletter. I can't wait to hear back from them. It's always exciting to receive a letter from another member of the great 540th! Secondly, thanks for giving me the list with all the names of men from Company A. I took the names, created a database in Excel and uploaded it to the site. What a fine, fine addition that is for my collection. I am forever grateful.
I was also able to create a database for the roster of enlisted men and officers who received awards, honors and decorations and I also uploaded it to the site this week. As you can see, I've been as busy as a little bee. Ah, another accomplishment.
I appreciate the heads up on the photos. I will amend it by placing the correct names (you and Lee) on the photo and re-uploading it to the site. I will also give you photo credits too.
I came up with a great idea the other day and want to run it by you and the other men of the 540 th. I emailed all the people on my WWII list on Sunday and also placed this on my site:
Dear vets, families, friends and colleagues (in other words my extended VI Corps family):
I've been doing a bit of thinking lately about reunions or the lack of them. As far as VI Corps is concerned, the 540th had their last reunion two years ago and the 36th had to cancel theirs due to lack of registration this past October. I was revved up and ready to meet all the great vets from the 36th Combat Engineers, when I got the tearful email from Capt John Fallon; the reunion had been called off. Sigh!
I received another letter from John Fallon this week and I guess they are hoping to have a "scaled-down" version later this year. That's when the light bulb went off in my head. I thought, why not try and combine the reunions? I don't know, it's a thought. Maybe have a regular VI Corps reunion and have everyone attend. It might work.
Then I got to think some more. If not this year, maybe we could have an extended VI Corps reunion. It would be a great way to meet all the people that I have been corresponding with over the last 9 months or so. This of course would include the VI Corps Engineers, engineers from other regiments, their interested families, other WWII vets, webmasters, historians and other friends. I know some of you are already attending your own reunions, so you might not be interested, but it might be something to consider for others.
I would like to hear your thoughts, suggestions, etc. Wouldn't it be wonderful if some of us could actually meet in person? It's not impossible, but would take some planning. A fine way to carry on the tradition of our fathers and grandfathers and the vets we so admire.
Looking forward to hearing from you and a Happy New Year to all. As the engineers say, Essayons (let's try!)
So far I have gotten around 20 responses in two days and everyone is really enthusiastic about it. People have come up with all sorts of ideas and advice. I am including some of the responses so you can see for yourself.
Let me know what you think of this idea. I am also going to mail this to all the other vets and their families who don't have email.
I hope your holidays were great. We had a very nice holiday season and got to spend some time with our daughter, her husband and our 1-year old granddaughter. They came up from Atlanta, GA. What a treat!
I look forward to your next letter. Take care and we'll talk soon.
The following are excerpts from Bill's letter to me. I did not include the actual letter because it contained names and addresses of 540th members and their families.
First of all - excuse my fancy stationary. I received your packet with your latest newsletter. This week I sat down and answered every question you asked in your survey. When I finished I had 12 pages written out (8 X 11's) & was ready to ship them off to you, when the thought crossed my mind that my children (5) and my grandchildren (13) should have a copy of the answers to all the questions you ask because they cover from our 1st invasion to the wars end.
I sent all 13 sheets to a friend of mine in the Spring Lake who is going to type them up on her computer for me. I called her about it and she will be gone next week, but will do it the week following. She will do a nice job- wait till you see it. As soon as she mails it all back, I will forward it back to you. I will have copies made for my children and grandchildren...
Bill then gives me the name and addresses of several people and ends with this.
...All these men were good soldiers and were good civilians all the years they lived. All of them have attended the 540th reunions at various times and places.
I know they would be thrilled to hear from you and to be informed that all is not dead with the 540th "yet"! Rene Rouselle has the name and address of Ed Fritchman in Penn. I don't have it. Will send info as soon as I receive it back from Michigan.
Bill Vander Wall
How very, very nice to hear from you. I was so thrilled to receive your letter with all the info and just delighted to hear (no ecstatic) that you took the time to fill out the 540th questioneer. Bless you. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your efforts. Your help will not only enable me to create a page for you on the website, but will be valuable input for the 540th book.
What a great idea that was to make copies and share them with your family. I am glad that my questions prompted you to pass along the info to your kids and grand kids. That made me smile.
I hope others will take the time to fill out the questioneer too. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
Wow, more 540th’ers and/or their families to contact too. You are an angel. I will let you know who I wind up hearing from.
I look forward to getting the chance to meet you this spring or summer. It will be a nice drive for us too. Just wanted to touch base and let you know how appreciative I am. Take care and must run for now.
Sunday, May 15, 2005
Imagine my surprise when I received your package with the beautifully bound interview questions and answers. When you do something, you really do it right. My husband was also impressed.
I sat down and read the whole thing from start to finish and I don't know how to thank you enough. Your answers will be a real plus for the book and I'm just tickled pink that you took the time to do this for me.
I think it's just incredible that you took this one step further and shared it with all your children and grandchildren. What a wonderful gift to hand down to present and future generations. I am so glad that I could play a part in this.
With all the info I now have regarding you and your tour of duty, I would be honored if you would also allow me to create a web page for you too. I hope you will say yes.
I look forward to the time when we can actually meet in person and hope we will be able to arrange a trip to your home in Michigan in the near future. I know we will have plenty to talk about.
I am so happy that God brought us together. I know it wasn't a fluke chance.
Bill was the first 540th member to complete the interview questions that I had created earlier this year. Bill became so inspired while working on this project that he decided to have the questions and answers professionally printed and bound into a wonderful booklet. He not only sent a copy to me, but had approximately 30 copies made to present to each of his children and grandchildren.
The Bill Vander Wall Interview - May 2005
Note: This file (an Adobe PDF) is quite large and may take sometime to download. Please be patient.
Here's Bill and his buddy Gilstrap at Memmingen Airfield in Germany in 1945
If you've gotten this far, then you already know about the American Flag that Bill carried with him when the 540th landed on the North African shores in November of 1942. Below you will see a photo that I took when I spent the weekend with Bill and his wife Lois or "Low-ee" and he affectionately refers to her as. So here's Bill and the ageless flag, almost 63 years later.
Bill and Lois - August 2005
540th Combat Engineer Group - 2833rd Bn - Company A Roster - circa May 1945
540th Engineers Directory - March 1994
The Mess Cup
On April 14, 1942, I enlisted in the Army. I was issued a brand new mess kit and a new shiny aluminum cup. I took three months basic infantry training and then went to Massachusetts for amphibious training. On Novemeber 8, 1942, we made our first invasion at French Morocco, Africa. Our second invasion was at Licata, Sicly; third invasion was Salerno, Italy; and our fourth invasion was the Anzio beachhead on January 22, 1944. We were at Anzio for over five months.
Furing the latter days of the campaign, the army shipped beer to us on the beachhead. I helped dish it out with my mess cup and at that time, I lost it. This was the latter part of May, 1944. On August 15, we made our fifth invasion at St. Raphael, Southern France. On our drive from St. Raphael until Christmas Eve, when we entered the Battle of the Bulge, I recognized a fellow soldier with my mess cup. Since my name was on it, there was no argument. With a leather punch, I had scrolled the name of the places we were at fro nearly three years. Because of these inscriptions, I was able to identify and get back this precious souvenir, a one of a kind.
I brought the mess cup home with me. I gave it to one of my grandsons who lives in Grand Haven, Michigan.
After the Battle of the Bulge, we moved to the Rhine River and built a pontoon bridge at Worms, which took 9 1/2 hours.