77 years after D-Day, 97 year-old veteran finally awarded letter of reprimand
You can run, but you can't hide.
By W.E. Linde
CINCINNATI, Ohio – William “Wild Bill” Kelso, who as a corporal in the U.S. Army helped storm the beaches of Normandy during World War II, suspected that something big was planned for his 97th birthday. But he never guessed that, as friends and family celebrated his special day, he’d experience his greatest surprise since the war: his former platoon commander, accompanied by two active-duty military police, presented him with a letter of reprimand.
“It took forever, but I finally got him,” said 98-year-old former 1st Lt. Loomis Birkhead. “He thought what he did was long forgotten. Well, by heaven, the Army may be slow, but it doesn’t forget what counts: discipline.”
The yellowing and faded LOR indicates that Kelso, prior to boarding the Higgins Boat that would plunge him and his platoon into the jaws of death at Utah Beach, informed Lt. Birkhead that he had both made his bunk and cleaned the “head” on the navy vessel that had transported them from southern England.
“He didn’t do either,” grumbled Birkhead. “He lied to a commissioned officer. I didn’t find out about it until after they left for the beaches. I couldn’t go with them at the time because I twisted my ankle or something. I decided to do a quick bunk check to fill the time. That’s when I found out Cpl. Kelso never made his bed. Plus, there was piss all over the head. I swore then I’d make sure military justice was served.”
It took some time for Birkhead to get the proper signatures for the letter since much of his battalion’s leadership fell during the fierce fighting of the following weeks. But he was determined, and shortly after the fall of Berlin in May 1945, he managed to get the necessary sign-off. However, Kelso was rapidly demobilized, and to the lieutenant’s chagrin, he couldn’t locate the rapscallion.
“But I knew Kelso earned this,” said Birkhead. “So I swore that I would make sure he received the recognition he deserved.”
Kelso’s family was overwhelmed with emotion as they watched the traditional ceremony play out before them. Cpl. Kelso was instructed to stand at attention outside a small closet that had been converted into an office for his former commander. After he heard “enter” shouted, he did a left face and walked briskly in, popped a shaky salute, and reported as ordered. Lt. Birkhead then read the LOR to Kelso. It was over within minutes.
“It was so moving,” said Donna Stratton, William Kelso’s daughter. “I’m so happy that after all these years my dad lived to see the day he could finally be recognized for the disrespectful hero he is.”
W.E. Linde (aka Major Crunch) writes a lot. Former military intelligence officer, amateur historian, blogger/writer at DamperThree.com. Strives to be a satirist, but probably just sarcastic. Twitter @welinde.