Carroll still has plenty of memories
Published 2:29 pm Wednesday, May 5, 2004
By By LYDIA GRIMES Feature Reporter
Time flies, so they say, and there are many who were not around during the Great Depression of the 1930s or who remember World War II. Yet there are those who were not only around, they were right in the middle of things.
This past weekend the people of Bonsecour and Perewulz, Belgium celebrated yet another year since their release from the Germans in World War II.
Most of you will remember almost four years ago when "Operation Overlord" brought about 60 people form Belgium to the United States. They came to help us celebrate our Independence Day because their war hero lived right here in Brewton. James William "Bill" Carroll has been honored for all those years by the townspeople of the little villages in Belgium, but until about 10 years ago, he never knew.
His is a story that bears repeating once again. In June of 1944, Bill Carroll was on the second wave of troops who landed at Normandy Beach. In front of his tank destroyer group was the infantry who made the first assault on the beach. He was part of the 628 Tank Destroyer Reconnaissance Company. He paraded with the 28th Infantry Division after DeGaul and his resistance had taken Paris from the Germans. They continued north to Belgium and liberated Luxembourg. This was the first group to fight on German soil during the war.
It was at the small villages of Bonsecour and Perewulz that Carroll did something that won him the love and respect of all the inhabitants by being the first to come into the area.
He was on the outskirts of the village and Carroll was to go on ahead on his motorcycle to see if there were any Germans still in the town. He drove his motorcycle into town and found things rather quiet. He heard some rumbling and took cover in a store front while the local priest ran into the church. As he watched, a group of Germans came down the street heading out of town. After they had passed, one lone German came down the street on his motorcycle shooting at anybody he saw.
Carroll returned to his unit and when he got there he found members of the resistance asking for ammunition. They said that there were still about 50 Germans at the train station and they wanted to take them out but they needed some ammunition and grenades. As they were leaving, Carroll volunteered to go with them. One freedom fighter got behind him on the motorcycle and they rode back into town. Carroll said he watched but did not participate in the dispatch of the Germans by the resistance.
When the shooting was over, everyone came out of their homes and made garlands of flowers to place around Carroll's neck. Everyone was glad to see him and the Americans who came to their rescue.
The American soldiers, along with Carroll, went on to fight several more battles, including the infamous "Battle of the Bulge." Carroll was wounded in 1945 and received a Purple Heart in addition to many other medals. After the war was over, Carroll came back to the United States and went on with his life, not knowing that he was regarded as a hero in a couple of small towns in Belgium. The Belgium people, on the other hand, had heard that Carroll had been killed. On the 50th anniversary of the event, they decided to find his grave and place flowers on it. They couldn't find his grave where they thought he might be so they contacted Washington, D.C. to get the information. They were told that Carroll was not dead, he was alive and well in Alabama. This really surprised them but they were finally able to get in touch with Carroll and invited him to a big celebration in Belgium.
There is a celebration every year, but Carroll has not been able to attend any of them for the past few years. He has heart problems and a pace-maker, not to mention the problems he has with his knees because of his war injury.
He has made very good friends of several of the Belgium people, some that were not even born when he was there that September day in 1944. Pierre A.G. Deprez and his family have become good friends and they stay in touch with each other.
Carroll has led a very interesting life before and since his time in the army during the war. He was born in Castleberry and when things were so rough on his family during the depression. he and his sister were given up for adoption. They were sent from Pensacola to Jacksonville and later adopted by a couple from Tampa, Fla. He made a vow that he would someday find his mother and little brother and although it took him a long time, he did find them years later.
He was brought up in Florida and dropped out of school to join the Corps of Engineers, but he later got his GED and a diploma. He was drafted into the army in 1942 and shipped overseas.
After the war was over he got out of the army for a while but he rejoined and went to Korea for 16 months. He returned to the states and was sent to Fort Benning, Ga. where he ran the Sergeant's Club while his wife worked in the commissary for a while. He retired in 1964 and moved to Minnesota, where his wife was from. There he worked and got into politics. He ran for and was elected mayor of the town of Hilltop, Minnesota for two terms and was a delegate to the state convention.
He and his wife moved to Beverly Hills, Fla. for a while but came to Brewton about 12 years ago and he has been able to tie up a few loose ends, meeting relatives he never had known before.
He remembers and relives the days of his youth in his head. He lives in an apartment in Brewton and has surrounded himself with his memories of the day that he became the hero of two small communities in Belgium.
Indeed, there is a website, http://dpzworld.net, where all can become a part of it, including the year that Brewton hosted "Operation Overlord Returns."