Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran William A. Bonsall. William served during World War II.
William A. Bonsall enlisted in the United States Army in 1942. After completing his semester at Pennsylvania State University, Bonsall was sent to Camp Walters, Texas, for basic training. From Camp Walters, he was sent to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, and assigned to the 16th Mountain Division Ski Troops. He remained at Camp McCoy for the winter and was reassigned for overseas deployment following the dissolution of the 76th Mountain Division.
In May 1944, Bonsall arrived in England in preparation for the D-Day assaults on France. Two days after the initial invasion, he arrived on Utah Beach and joined the 9th Infantry Division, who then made its way to the front line, beginning their push through France.
After moving around German-occupied Paris, Bonsall and the 9th Infantry Division made its way to the Meuse River in Belgium. Bonsall recalls crossing a river and climbing up a heavily wooded hill, when they came under heavy fire. In the ensuing chaos, Bonsall and his radio man became separated from their squad. While attempting to regroup, the men were captured and taken prisoner by German forces.
Bonsall and his fellow prisoners were loaded onto trucks and brought to the prisoner of war camp at Aachen, Germany. There, they were processed and assigned to different camps based on rank. From Aachen, Bonsall was sent to POW Camp 12A in Limburg, Germany. Having been conversationally proficient in German, he was tasked by his captors with translating basic orders to his fellow prisoners.
As American forces began closing in on Limburg in the winter of 1944, Bonsall and his fellow POWs were loaded onto box cars and moved to Camp 3C near the town of Alt Drewitz bei Küstrin, 60 miles from the Polish border. As the Allies closed in on Berlin, conditions in the camp quickly deteriorated. By the middle of January, he and his fellow prisoners learned that Russian forces would reach Camp 3C in the coming weeks. In response, the POWs began stockpiling food and taking notes of their surroundings.
As Russian forces closed in on Camp 3C, the prisoners prepared to march towards Berlin. As they began their march, Russian forces reached the camp and began firing on their position. The men dove for cover and waited for the assault to end. After emerging, Bonsall and his fellow prisoners made contact with Russian units and were told to go east into Poland where they eventually reached Warsaw. There, they were enthusiastically greeted by the Polish and put on a train to Odessa, Ukraine, where they boarded a ship bound for the American-occupied city of Naples, Italy.
After being repatriated in Italy, Bonsall was sent back to the United States and was discharged from Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, in August 1945 at the rank of staff sergeant. Following his discharge, Bonsall returned to Penn State where he earned a degree in physical education. He then went on to found and head the men’s gymnastics program at West Virginia University for 31 years.
William Bonsall died in 2015. He was 91.
We honor his service.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Graphic designer: Tenzin Chomphel
Editor: Kaylee Hogsed
Fact Checker: Shelby Bennett