ORIGINAL REPORT, Dec. 6:
One of Middletown’s most decorated World War II veterans died Monday at Hospice Care of Butler & Warren Counties.
Bill Wilch served as a rifleman in the Army’s 29th Infantry Division. He fought in the Invasion of Normandy by Allied forces in 1944 and received the Purple Heart Medal, Bronze Star Medal, and the Knight of the Legion of Honor medal, the highest honor that France can bestow upon a person.
He died after a lengthy illness, his son told the Journal-News. He was 92.
“He wanted to go,” said Steve Wilch, one of six children. “He said before he died he wanted to taste beer one more time.”
So on Monday, two members of Team Fastrax, the Middletown-based skydiving team who adopted Wilch as part of the team, visited him at hospice and poured a beer into a sponge and put it to his lips. His father responded for the first time in days, his son said
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Arrangements are being handled by Herr-Riggs Funeral Home on South Main Street but are not yet complete, his son said. His father will be cremated, Wilch said.
Members of Team Fastrax are expected to participate in the funeral, according to John Hart, the owner of of Start Skydiving where the team is based. Weather permitting, he said, three planes will fly over and disperse red, white and blue smoke and a team of skydivers will perform with American flags.
Wilch and the skydivers formed a friendship over the years. He often visited them at Hook Field and the team performed some volunteer maintenance and landscaping work at Wilch’s Middletown home.
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“He was part of the team, the soul of the team,” Hart said.
He said Wilch frequently called and asked where Hart was staying. One time Hart told him it was 3 a.m. and he was in Qatar.
“How many strings are on that guitar,” Wilch quipped.
“Full of humor,” Hart said of the veteran.
“He loved his country,” said Hart, who added Middletown “lost a legend” when Wilch died.
Steve Wilch said he will miss his father's friendship and humor. After his father watched the movie "Saving Private Ryan," an epic war drama set during the Invasion of Normandy in World War II, he opened up about his war experience and became "a different man," his son said.
Then he added: “He blossomed in life.”
His father frequently was called “a hero,” a label he refused to wear.
“I’m not the hero,” Bill Wilch often replied.
To that, his son told him: “You’re telling the stories of the men. You are the messenger, the communicator.”