Profiles in Sacrifice: Cpl. William H. Myers, Jr.
Shortly after Cpl. William H. Myers, Jr., arrived overseas with the 571st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion in November 1944, he learned he was going to be a father. Thrilled with the news, he shared it immediately with everyone around him, and he excitedly wrote back to his wife, anxious to start their family together. “He asked my mom to keep the family name if it were a boy, and if it were a girl, he’d leave that up to her,” said his daughter, Billie Ann Myers Meeks, recounting the contents of that letter from decades ago.
Originally arriving in England, Bill’s unit was soon after sent to the front lines in the Netherlands. On February 3, 1945, just one week short of his 28th birthday, Bill and a comrade, John Jensen, began their assignment for the day. As aircraft spotters they would take their jeep to high points in the area, and dig in to spot overhead aircraft. Knowing that these areas often included land mines, the men would look for tire tracks to indicate safe areas for driving. The Germans had become aware of this tactic, and began creating false tire tracks on top of the land mines to deceive American forces. Bill, who was at the wheel that day, drove the jeep to a point he thought was safe and passable because of the tire tracks. A land mine exploded directly under the jeep, killing Bill instantly and causing severe wounds to another team member known only as, Reeber.
At four months pregnant, Ann Myers received the telegram with the devastating news. Not long after sharing news of his death with family and friends, she had to prepare for the birth of her child. “It’s my understanding that when I was born and I was a girl, I was Baby Myers for about a day or two before my mother chose the name Billie Ann, after my father and my mother,” said Billie. “I have to give my mother so much credit because I love my name, and it’s one of those that people remember.”
Shortly after giving birth to Billie, Ann became ill with cancer. And by age 5, Billie had lost both her mother and her father, and was living with her paternal grandparents. “When I tell people about my story they say, you truly are an orphan,” said Billie. “I have to say that I never felt alone like some people, because I was given love, security, and direction by my grandparents and by other members of the family.” While their time together was short, Billie has distinct memories with her mother—visits to the seashore, and holding the color palette for her mother when she painted. And even though Billie never met her father, she’s been told by family and friends that they share the same laugh, the same smile and the same mannerisms.
Growing up, her grandparents talked about her dad often. It wasn’t until 1967, when Billie first visited Netherlands American Cemetery, that she and her grandparents truly felt reassured in their decision to have Bill buried overseas. “They thought it was best that my father remain with his band of brothers, but I felt that they were never quite sure of that decision until I went myself to see the grave,” said Billie. “I told him [my grandfather], they made the right choice because it was a beautiful spot. It’s well taken care of, and the Dutch honor them. And I think that’s all he needed to know.”
Sometime after her visit to the cemetery, she recalled a conversation her grandfather shared with her. The conversation happened between her grandfather and her father before he went overseas. “You know Dad, I need to go. It’s the right thing to do. I think we need to take care of this situation.” In recounting the conversation, Billie explained that her dad broke down in the middle of it, scared of what his future held. “I’m just so afraid I’m going to be fodder for Hitler.” Billie feels fortunate that her grandfather chose to share this memory with her, providing a glimpse into her father’s perspective. “I hope that my father didn’t feel that he was defeated before he even began that journey,” said Billie.
Decades later in 2003, Billie became involved in the American World War II Orphans Network (AWON). Through this group she has traveled to Netherlands American Cemetery multiple times, and she has connected with her father’s gravesite adopters, Tiny Van Poll and Jos Burhenne. “Going over to Margraten on Memorial Day really opened up my eyes to what Memorial Day is all about. I do think it’s been lost here in the United States because we really don’t know what loss is all about unless you’ve walked in those shoes,” said Billie. “Over there they lost so much, not only in death, but in destruction, and in starvation.”
Billie has seen a deep appreciation and gratitude from the Dutch during every visit to the southern Netherlands. During one trip, Billie along with some family and friends were having dinner in Maastricht, located just a few miles from the cemetery. At the end of the meal, the waitress inquired about the reason for their visit. Billie’s husband explained. The waitress’s reaction has stuck with Billie for years. “She comes over to me and she’s crying, and she holds me and kisses me on both cheeks and said, ‘I’m so sorry I didn’t know. Thank you. Thank you for my freedom, and I’m so sorry for your loss.’” This young waitress had never lived through German occupation, but she understood and immensely appreciated the sacrifice that Bill made for her country decades before her birth.
“If my father had to die for a cause I couldn’t think of a better place, because the people still honor these service men, respect them, and love them,” said Billie.
This Memorial Day weekend, thousands of Dutch citizens will gather at the cemetery, along with Billie and more than 50 members of AWON, to remember and honor the sacrifices made seven decades ago in the fight to liberate Europe.
Follow along on their journey Memorial Day weekend via the ABMC website, Facebook, and Instagram as they return to Netherlands American Cemetery.
Established in 1923 by Congress, ABMC is a U.S. government agency charged with commemorating the service, achievements and sacrifice of the U.S. Armed Forces where they have served overseas since 1917. ABMC administers our nation’s overseas commemorative cemeteries and federal memorials. For more information visit www.abmc.gov, or connect with us on Facebook, Youtube or Instagram.