Bill Schildhouse served with the 101st Airborne Division — the Screaming Eagles. He fought in the Pacific, jumped into Normandy on D-Day in 1944, and was wounded in Alsace, France.
He saw combat during the Battle of Bastogne and always wanted to return to the Belgian city to thank those who helped him there.
Alas, Bill was never able to make that return journey before he died at just 62 in 1984. On what would have been Bill’s 100th birthday, however, Wish of a Lifetime, an AARP charitable affiliate, was able to send Bill’s son Rex Schildhouse to Bastogne.
Bill didn’t talk much about the war — but there was one exception. “Whenever Bastogne came up, it was going to be a long conversation,” Rex told AARP Veteran Report.
Late in 1944, the 101st Airborne was sent to defend the crossroads city after an unexpected attack. In their haste to get there, they arrived without proper food and clothing — and it was the coldest winter in decades. Soon the Americans were encircled by the Germans, who outnumbered them five to one.
Several thousand Bastogne residents were surrounded too. Rex remembers his dad’s often-repeated praise: “The citizens of Bastogne were cold, and they brought us blankets and clothes. They were hungry, and they brought us food. They would take men inside their own homes when they were injured, putting them on their beds, and they would sleep on the floor.”
The Americans held on for six harrowing days — and the 101st sustained almost 2,000 casualties — before they were relieved by Gen. Patton’s Third Army.
After the war, Bill settled in Chicago, worked as a machinist and raised a large family.
Inspired by his father’s service, Rex joined the U.S. Marines and transferred to the U.S. Navy to become an aviator. He spent 19 years in uniform, including flying off the USS Midway and USS Nimitz, and was stationed in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. He retired in 1994 as a lieutenant commander.
Rex and Joyce Schildhouse spent six days in Belgium. They toured the battlefield, the Bastogne War Museum and the 101st Airborne Museum.