Henderson World War II veteran William Kendall insists he’s “an average guy,” even after receiving the highest honor the French government bestows upon military personnel for their work in France during wartime.
The former U.S. Navy radioman first class set up radio communications with England at Utah Beach on June 6, 1944 — the first day of the famed Allied invasion that liberated Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s rule. He’d entered the combat zone nearly a year earlier, in July 1943, when he helped set up a communications center in Sicily. He was sent to Salerno, Italy, before heading to Normandy in the lead-up to D-Day.
Kendall, 99, received the award in the rank of chevalier (knight) from The National Order of the Legion of Honour at a Nov. 17 ceremony at the M Resort. It was bestowed by the French Honorary Consulate in Las Vegas; also honored were former Navy Motor Machinist Second Class William Dunsmore, of Boulder City, and former Army Cpl. Selwyn Dante, of Las Vegas.
Kendall is part of the Sun City Anthem Veterans Club, a group of veterans living in that community. The club’s chief of staff, William Campbell, called Kendall “a shining example of our greatest generation.”
Campbell said Kendall, who’s set to turn 100 in September, is the club’s oldest member and deserved to be recognized for his “perilous duty” in World War II.
After enlisting in April 1942, Kendall attended basic training in Great Lakes, Illinois, and after two months was sent to the nearby University of Chicago to learn how to become a radioman — a Navy rating that existed from 1942-48. There, he learned how to use radio codes and to operate and maintain equipment.
After school, Kendall attended training in Little Creek, Virginia, and became part of the Second Beach Battalion. The battalion was quickly shipped to North Africa to train with the U.S. Army Combat Engineers. Sicily was his next destination.
Kendall said he never felt afraid when he would hear enemy shells. He just kept moving.
“I think you just think of each day as an individual day; you don’t think about what is going to happen tomorrow,” he said in an interview.
After the war, Kendall stopped briefly in Boston, where he was born and where his family still lived. He then moved to Southern California and used his communications skills at CBS in Los Angeles. Kendall worked there for 34 years and moved to the Las Vegas Valley in 1999, 10 years after retiring.
Kendall attributes his long life to his family and successful upbringing.
“I go through my days as a young child, and I think about how lucky how I was to have parents and brothers and sisters that were always there by my side,” he said.
Bob Reed, an officer with Elks Lodge 1468, coordinated the Nov. 17 ceremony and has been a liaison between the valley’s World War II veterans and the French government for four years. In that time, he has helped 16 veterans receive recognition like Kendall’s.
In addition to Reed, the ceremony featured keynote speaker and Clark County Museum administrator Mark Hall-Patton, emcee Andy Truelson and Sebastien Thevenin, honorary consul of France for Southern Nevada.
Reed, of southwest Las Vegas, said he didn’t serve in the military but is passionate about recognizing those who did.
“The greatest generation is so important, and people don’t realize how close we came to coming under either Japanese or Nazi rule,” he said of the high stakes in World War II. “If they would have won the race to get the bomb and just dropped a few (here) … everything would have been different.”
Reed said he often asks veterans if, knowing in advance the hardships they’d endure, they still would have chosen to join the armed services and fight in World War II.
“They reply, ‘I would do it today,’” he said.