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Highly-decorated veteran shares memories of WWII

Highly-decorated veteran shares memories of WWII
Highly-decorated veteran shares memories of WWII | Highly-decorated veteran shares memories of WWII
Staff Reporter
Highly-decorated World War II veteran Bill Tanner has released a very personal collection of letters from the war entitled “An Infantryman Writes Home.”
The 30-page anthology documents Tanner’s adventures during the war from October 1942 until June 1945.
Tanner, who achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel during the war, was guest speaker at Friday’s Union City Rotary Club luncheon at Hampton Centré.
He entertained club members with stories from the war, some humorous and others very graphic. It was a fitting program, considering America observed Veterans Day on Sunday. He was able to pack three years of military service during World War II and eight campaigns into a speech that lasted well over half an hour.
Tanner opened his program telling details about how he survived a court martial. He described the episode as a “rocky start” to his military career. As a member of Company K, under the leadership of the late Col. Tom Elam, Tanner colorfully recalled how he disobeyed a direct order and was threatened with a court martial. The charge was brought to the attention of Col. Elam “and that was the end of it,” Tanner said.
After surviving that misadventure, Tanner carried on for a distinguished career that spanned two continents and numerous encounters with enemy forces.
He recalled for the Rotary Club a lesson he was taught early on in his military career, by a Major Hyde, who said, “It’s pardonable to be defeated, but it’s not pardonable to be surprised.”
Tanner’s World War II experience began with his crew being part of an armada of more than 800 U.S. ships that traveled from Chesapeake Bay in 1942 bound for Africa.
“To me, that was a miracle,” Tanner said. “We made it all the way without losing a ship.”
Truly a miracle considering Tanner said “the Atlantic Ocean was just alive with German submarines.”
With remarkable accuracy, Tanner described in detail his many missions throughout the war. He provided vivid descriptions of German forces, the geography of Africa and Europe, the names of officers he worked with and battle scenarios and even described, in detail, the weather conditions.
In his letters home, Tanner kept his parents updated on how things were going for him and his unit. In all, there are more than 40 letters included in Tanner’s publication, as well as some images from his time during the war.
The introduction to the book provides an overview of Tanner’s achievements.
“LTC Tanner commanded I Company through the remainder of the Tunisian Campaign, which included the heavy fighting at Bald and Green Hills, Sedjenane Valley and Bizerte, and through the Sicilian campaigns. His company distinguished itself at the battles of Troina, Cesaro, and Redazzo,” the introduction states in part.
“LTC Tanner is recognized by all officers and men of the Regiment as one of the most courageous and aggressive leaders in the Regiment. He rose from the rank of second lieutenant platoon leader to the command of an infantry battalion and the rank of lieutenant colonel in 31⁄2 years. He commanded the 3rd Battalion, in war, at the age of 25,” the introduction states.
Tanner is a 1941 graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and was a member of the university’s ROTC program. He has been married to Doris (Brinker) Tanner for 71 years. His infantry division was among the first to see combat during World War II. His unit fought in North Africa and across Europe.
He earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star Medal for Heroism with an oak leaf cluster, the Purple Heart with an oak leaf cluster and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
Tanner’s book is currently available at Lanzer’s Printing and Office Supply in downtown Union City for $10 a copy.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at
Published in The Messenger 11.12.12