Acworth WWII veteran honored at Fort Gordon
by Jessica Loeding
Jul 04, 2013 | 1890 views | 0 0 comments | 100 100 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bill Cheatham explains some of his momentos from his service during World War II. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Bill Cheatham explains some of his momentos from his service during World War II. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Spending 33 months in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Bill Cheatham downplays his service in World War II, placing credit elsewhere.

“We get a lot of credit for it and we appreciate every minute of it, but we weren’t the ones that ... There were a lot of people that didn’t even leave the states that did more than we did — the people who supplied us, the people that suffered,” said the 90-year-old Acworth resident. “I said I had to become a father to realize who paid the supreme price, and I had to become a Christian to realize how we won the war, the praying people. Four short years, it ended. ...

“We had a lot of support. It wasn’t like it is today. We had everybody behind us. ... We appreciate the honor and the comments we get on it. Personally, I don’t claim top credit. I know these other people did as much or more than I did.”

Drafted into service in 1943 at the age of 19, Cheatham served in the Engineer Aviation Division, building and maintaining airstrips.

“I think they were really culling for cadets and they figured the only thing I could fly would be a bulldozer or a crane or something,” he laughed.

Beginning his tour in New Guinea with “the mud and the gnats,” Cheatham then moved to the Philippines. With the invasion of Japan looming, Cheatham’s division began construction of 13 hospitals, with the project about half finished when the

war ended.

With the surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945, the U.S. called for the surrender of Japan on July 26, which was ignored. On Aug. 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped the first of two atomic weapons on Hiroshima, followed by the bombing of Nagasaki on Aug. 9.

“That bothered me, that was rough. It wiped out so many innocent people,” Cheatham said. “Up in Cartersville — it’s been about 10 years ago — there was a member of Enola Gay plane made a talk up there ... He made a talk and explained it all. Since then I found peace about it.

“If the war had kept going, there would have been more casualties than the bomb took out. ... It was awful, but like I say, it was a necessary evil that brought the war to a close real quick. If that hadn’t happened, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today. We didn’t know where we were going, but ... after about 30 years, all that secret stuff was released. My unit was to land somewhere in northern Japan.”

Cheatham’s wife, Irma, said for her, the war was won by the men fighting overseas.

“The ingenuity of these boys that went in service is what won the war,” she said. “They grew up having to make do with what they had, so when they got in service, that’s what they did. That, to me, is what really won the war. It wasn’t orders on paper.”

On June 22, Cheatham was recognized for his service at a ceremony at the Augusta Marriott near Fort Gordon, where his son-in-law serves as deputy commanding general.

During the U.S. Army Signal Corps’ 153rd birthday celebration, Cheatham was presented with a two-star note and coin from Maj. Gen. LaWarren Patterson, commanding general of 7th Signal Command at Fort Gordon.

“They blindsided me with that. I didn’t know it was coming,” Cheatham said. “... I didn’t even take my sword knife to cut the cake with. I didn’t know why they wanted me to wear a tuxedo; I don’t fit well in one.

Calling the recognition an humbling experience, the father of two said the honor goes beyond those who served.

“You know what you did and you know what everybody here did,” he said. “World War II was not just a serviceman’s war.”

Cheatham’s daughter, Sheril Keeler, said the memory is one she and sister Karen Baumbach will treasure.

“Ned and I, as well as Fred and Karen, were humbled by the way our dad was honored,” she said in an email. “We know how wonderful, awesome, spectacular and deserving he is, but now the Fort Gordon military community knows.

“There were approximately 600 people at the festivities Saturday night, and I think 500 of them managed to make their way to daddy to shake his hand. Karen and I will have this memory for the rest of our lives.”

Recognizing Independence Day at home, Cheatham said he sees the difference in those who fought alongside him and those serving today.

“The youth grow up today and they are exposed more to the world. I was a little farm boy and hadn’t been around too much. They showed me what the world looked like,” he said. “... I feel kindly really bad for the military today. They are switched from one spot to another and they’re criticized, and they get in one country and they want to throw them out. We didn’t have that to put up with. We thought we had it rough, but we didn’t.”