When William “Bill” Strong went into battle during World War II, he carried with him the words of Psalm 91, the psalm for safety. “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty,” Psalm 91 begins. “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ ”
When William “Bill” Strong went into battle during World War II, he carried with him the words of Psalm 91, the psalm for safety.
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty,” Psalm 91 begins. “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ ”
His mother had written Psalm 91 on a piece of paper, and had given him the verse before he left for service.
“I had it in my pocket the whole time,” said Strong. “I read it every morning.”
The prayer sent with him seemed to serve him well — and his three brothers, who were in the Navy. His mother, who battled cancer, lived to see all her sons return home.
Strong’s father had not been so sure of that outcome when his son, who grew up outside Philadelphia, Pa., enlisted in the Army soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Strong had told his parents he wanted to be a paratrooper.
“You’re a dead man,” his father said.
Indeed, the elder Strong knew of the dangers of war. He had been a petty officer with the Seabees in World War I.
Still, after paratrooper training and assignment to the famed 82nd Airborne, Strong left in April 1943 for Africa with a job that was even more dangerous than his father had imagined.
Strong was a member of the 20-man Pathfinder team that jumped before the main assault, marking the drop zone with lights in the sign of a cross for the paratroopers who followed.
“Jumping at night you don’t see everything, but there always was a little light. You could pick out dark spots,” he said. “After you hit the ground you just felt your way around.”
But, the jump, as it turned out, was the easy part.
“For paratroopers, the exit from a C-47 was a moment of great danger,” Strong’s daughter and son-in-law, Nancy and Norm Mankins of Lake Mohawk, explained. “To begin with, they were heavily overloaded. They carried an M-1 rifle loaded and ready to use, 156 rounds of ammunition, a pistol with three clips of ammunition, an entrenching shovel, a knife, a water canteen, a first aid packet, four grenades, reserve rations, some maps, and a raincoat.”
Strong made three jumps. On July 9, 1943, the 82nd jumped at night in Sicily, and were mistakenly fired upon by American forces.
His second jump came at Salerno in Italy. After it he developed malaria, spending a week with an Italian family that hid him in a woodpile when Germans hunted for him. At one point enemy soldiers thrust their bayonets between the wood pieces.
Page 2 of 2 - “Bill survived the incident intact,” a family biography of Strong says. “His youngest sister said he was kept safe by his mother’s prayers.”
Each time Strong jumped with the 82nd, the paratrooper turned into an infantryman on the ground. The duty subjected the soldier to several close calls.
“I was shot at a few times,” said Strong. “I had to get out of the way and keep myself hidden.”
Strong’s final jump came over Holland on Sept. 17, 1944. The 504th had been ordered to take the Grove Bridge “at all costs.”
The bridge was taken and secured in mere hours, but bitter battles resulted from capturing it and defending it against German resistance.
“Some of them got killed. It was tough when you lost a good friend,” Strong said. “You dealt with it. You had to.”
When Strong came home from overseas in September 1945, he returned to work at Monroe Calculating Co., where he was employed before World War II. He married his wife, Jane, with whom he was married 59 years before her death in 2005. After he was transferred to Bridgeport, W.Va., in 1951, the couple raised two children, Nancy Mankins and the late Bill Strong. He came to live with the Mankins five years ago. He now lives at Great Trails Care Center in Minerva.
The seeds of military service have been placed in his three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, whose activities and achievements he has watched with pride.
“He used to tell them all about (his World War II service),” said Norm Mankins. “Our one grandson (Luke Selogy) wants to be a Navy Seal, mostly from talking to him.”
Strong will be 92 this week. To some, it appears Psalm 91 might still be at work, decades after the war ended.
“I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him,” the psalm closes. “With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation. ”