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Tribute to WWII veteran Bill Wilde of West Bend

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In September 2015 Bill Wilde participated in the Stars & Stripes Honor Flight to Washington D.C.  I had the privilege of talking to Bill about his military service and his family. Bill Wilde died Jan. 8, 2016 at the Samaritan Health Center.


Below is the article from Sept. 2015.


It’s a big weekend for Bill Wilde of West Bend. Tomorrow he turns 88 years old and today he is making the trip to Washington D.C. on the Stars & Stripes Honor Flight.

Wilde, a graduate of Marquette High School, was drafted into the Army in Nov. 1945 when he was 18 years old. “I went to basic training at Fort Sheridan in Illinois,” Wilde said.

He ended up spending his military career at that base working at the headquarters as the company clerk. “I took a lot of orders,” said Wilde with a grin.

A large man, Wilde is resigned to a wheelchair. We talk in a well-lit gathering room at the Samaritan Home with his daughter Mary Simon at his side.

Wilde’s voice is gravely. He speaks slowly, just above a whisper.
In the service one of Wilde’s primary assignments were to keep track of staffing and supplies, formulate morning reports and process dog tags. “They were good for opening beer bottles,” he said.

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Wilde worked alone; his office was part of the platoon. “Each unit got a machine and you press through four carbons and each part of the company got a carbon copy,” he said comparing the machine to the old retailer credit-card press.

His best military recollection was the story when dog tags started showing up all over the world.

“There were just so many mix ups in the service,” he said. “Dog tags for the privates were shipped to officers; I wasn’t blamed for it I was just charged with fixing it.”

Wilde said he answered to the master sergeants. “Some of them were tough guys depending on who you got,” he said. “The regular army guys were tough on our temporary guys.”

Discharged in October 1946 Wilde took advantage of the G.I. Bill and graduated with a Bachelor of Philosophy degree from Marquette University before going to work for his father, Henry, at Gilfoy printing company, 407 E. Michigan Street in Milwaukee.

“We printed mostly labels for Henry’s food products and a lot of liquor,” he said. “We did private labels; a lot for Amber Distillery Products.”

Wilde eventually moved to Thiensville and married Jeanne Gearhard in June 14, 1952. “Her father ran a butcher shop on Downer Avenue called Gearhard Meats,” he said.

The Wilde’s had eight children. “I didn’t have them, she did,” joked Wilde. “Every time a child was born I looked for a star in the east – virgin birth.”

Wilde’s grandson Chris Keene, a Lieutenant Commander in the Coast Guard, flew in from San Francisco on Friday to serve as Wilde’s guardian. “I really want to see the WWII Memorial,” he said.

This morning at 3:45 a.m. Dick Stommel entered Wilde’s adventure. A Vietnam veteran who served in the Marines, Stommel has volunteered to drive Wilde to Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport so he can take part in the Honor Flight.

“We have a van,” said Wilde’s daughter Denise Kist. “But my sister Mary called Interfaith Caregivers for help because it’s stressful for dad to get in and out of the vehicle and this is the best thing we could come up with.”

Stommel said it was his way to pay back to a fellow veteran. “Bill deserved to go and he really needed a wheelchair van to get him down there,” he said. “I’ve been blessed, I served my country in the military, Bill’s going to enjoy this and I’m going to get him there.”

Stommel served in the Marines from 1961-64. He got up at 3:45 a.m. to deliver Wilde to the airport and he’s going back down to Milwaukee later tonight to bring him home.

There are 23 veterans from Washington County on today’s Honor Flight.

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