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Roseville war veteran honored at 90th birthday

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published July 24, 2015

 Palmer, 90, of Roseville, holds a set of Canadian military ribbons from his service in WWII.

Palmer, 90, of Roseville, holds a set of Canadian military ribbons from his service in WWII.

Photo by Sean Work

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ROSEVILLE — Roseville resident Bill Palmer served as a medic with the Canadian Armed Forces during World War II, but it was not until his 90th birthday July 17 at his Roseville home that he received formal recognition for his life-saving efforts during the 1940s.


Palmer was born and raised in Chatham, Ontario, the son of a Canadian man and a Roseville-raised mother. He said that when Canada declared war on Germany in September 1939, he went to Windsor to enlist and lied about his age so that they would accept him despite being only 16.


“I started out to be a soldier, and then they had us go overseas,” Palmer said. “They were out of medics, and I had worked first-aid in the Boy Scouts and such, so I got assigned to work that.”


Palmer shipped out as part of the Essex Canadian Scottish Regiment, one of the first units to reach the European theater of war. When he first arrived, Palmer said, he worked out of Britain, but once the Allies invaded mainland Europe in 1944, he went with them into France and Germany.


As a battlefield medic, Palmer’s job was to go into the war zone, find injured soldiers, tend to their immediate injuries and get them back for more robust medical care.


“I’d patch them up, pull a bullet out of them or a shell, stop them from bleeding,” he said. “And then sometimes I’d have to hide them in a bush for a while, but I’d get them out and back to safety and go out looking for some more.”


“Sgt. Maj. Greg Chiles here (for the birthday party) was saying how Bill, as a medic, was out on patrol, and he laid his body over some servicemen to protect them from the fighting until the rest of the troop caught up to them,” Charlene Palmer, Bill’s wife, said.


Bill Palmer said he does not remember too many specifics about his service after 70 years, though he did receive his “quota” of injuries, having suffered gunshot wounds and shrapnel — the latter of which is still in his legs today.


While in the service, Bill Palmer said he had no time for sightseeing, even after the war — he was too busy trying to save lives during it, and afterward he could not go anywhere without seeing some kind of problem that he felt he could help alleviate.


“I’d be out and around doing something, I’d see an accident or something, and I was just a creature of habit,” he said. “I’d see if there was anything I could help with — you figure nobody knows as much as you do.”


Bill Palmer was in the service for about 10 years, rising to the rank of sergeant before being discharged. He said he wanted to join the U.S. Army, but it was not interested.


Instead, Bill Palmer stuck around metro Detroit and got work at local hospitals as a “pan handler” — helping people move around beds and tending to their needs. Eventually, he moved on from there to work at Sears and Aco Hardware, where he became manager of the paint department before retiring in the 1970s.


In the meantime, Bill Palmer married twice and had five children with his first wife, Beverly. Charlene Palmer said she and Bill had been married for 40 years as of this year.


Bill Palmer also became a car racing enthusiast and even befriended NASCAR driver Richard Petty “over a Bud.” Bill Palmer said he has not been back to Europe since the 1940s, but he has been around the U.S. to places including California, Florida, the District of Columbia and other areas. He also has made it back to his native Canada once a year for a family reunion.


Bill Palmer kept in touch with some of his military friends for a few years after the war, but eventually, he fell out of contact, and due to his work in the Canadian armed services, he was not eligible for veterans organizations here for years.


Charlene Palmer said the situation changed at his 90th birthday party, when the Canadian military presented her husband with a veteran’s blanket.


“He didn’t get anything when he came back,” Charlene Palmer said. “Because he came here, he didn’t get any benefits or anything, so for his birthday we contacted his family and his relatives (in Canada), and the Canadian service contacted us and wanted to honor him with that blanket for his service that he didn’t get to receive when he was a young man.”


In addition to representatives from Canada, Bill Palmer’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren attended the party, as well as neighbors, Canadian relatives and Roseville Councilman Bill Shoemaker. Shoemaker presented Palmer with a proclamation from the city thanking him for his service.

 

Bill Palmer said that later in life, he met men whose injuries he patched up while he was

in the service. Seeing them alive with their spouses and children made him feel good about his service.


“Life is strange,” he said. “You read about soldiers now, and all everything they did. When I did them, I didn’t think there was anything to read about.


“I had a job to do, and I enjoyed it.”

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