The angular fellow on the left in the above picture is Sgt. William G. “Bill” Presnell. It’s spring 1945, he’s 29 years old, and he’s standing outside a building in Kerkrade, in the Netherlands, as far away from his North Carolina home than he’s ever been or will ever be again.
By the end of this year, World War II will be over, and he’ll be home. He’ll take a job in a textile mill and, through the years that follow, will rise through the ranks to the position of production superintendent. Two years after the photo, he’ll marry. In four, he’ll have his first child. Nine years after the photo, he’ll be living the American dream, settled in his new ranch house in a nice neighborhood, raising children, taking summer beach trips and fall mountain trips, falling asleep in his recliner at night, his dog, “King” asleep on the doormat by the garage door.
Twenty-four years after this picture is taken, he’ll be gone. He’ll leave behind a young wife and three children who will spend the rest of their lives trying to make sense of his tragic, early death. He will also leave behind boxes of memorabilia from his year in Europe–maps, a journal, a scrapbook of news clippings, over 3000 photos, including the one above.
For years, those boxes will move from house to house. The children will grow up, marry, have children of their own. Their mother will remarry and then pass away. And then, one day, the youngest child will open one of the boxes and start reading. Inside that dusty cardboard box, she’ll discover bits and pieces not just of the war but of her father. Within a short time, a plan will hatch: the three children will go to Omaha Beach and from there, will follow his map across France, into the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. They’ll look for that young man in the photo above. They’ll search for their father. This website and blog page is about that journey, from its planning stages through its completion. Please join me, the youngest, my brother, the oldest, my sister, the middle child, and our spouses as we record the details and discoveries of our incredible journey.