Community mourns loss ofveteran deemed community hero

Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor

Photo/Salem Chamber of Commerce
World War II veteran and Battle of the Bulge Survivor, Bill Strauss at the May, 2023 Fulton County Homecoming festivities where he was awarded the oldest attendee at 103 years old. Mr. Strauss passed away July 21 and left behind a legacy in Fulton County among friends, students and memers of the VFW.

Fulton County, the City of Salem and Salem VFW Post 9777 learned July 21 of a great loss of one of their own, a friend to all, and of one of the last of the Greatest Generation. 

William “Bill” Strauss passed away in Salem. He was 103 years old and deemed a local hero by many. The kind hearted man enjoyed life to the fullest, always taking an opportunity to educate the community about his past military service. 

Bill always looked forward to parades, especially the Fulton County Homecoming Parade, where he served as the Grand Marshal in 2021 and 2022. He loved playing Bingo at the Salem Senior Citizen’s Center and VFW. Bill might have had a little bit of a competitive spirit. He was recognized for at least the last decade for being the oldest person in attendance at the Fulton County Homecoming and always enjoyed the day. 

Besides being a Battle of the Bulge veteran, Bill was a friend to the community and enjoyed earning his honorary high school diploma from Salem High School in 2017. Because he was sent to the front lines when he was just 18 years old, Bill never received his diploma until he was 98 years old. 

Fulton County students sent letters to him as he reached the century milestone birthday in 2019. They  were given to him during mail call on his Honor Flight to Washington D.C. Honor Flight gives veterans the opportunity to share their momentous occasion with other comrades, remember the fallen, and share their stories and experiences with other veterans in the nation’s capitol free of charge. 

Always gracious to his community, Bill made his way back to the school to thank the students and share his story and photos of the historical Battle of the Bulge. He even shared with the students, a picture of the first person to cross the bridge over the Rhine River during battle. Bill also fought in other battles during World War II. He always enjoyed the birthday cards and letters from the community each year. 

For his century birthday celebration, he was also honored locally by the Salem VFW and was always a fixture in Fulton County veteran and Memorial Day events. 

In 2021, Bill gifted a massive American flag to the Viola School that was flown over his beloved Fort Riley in honor of his 100th birthday in 2019. The flag graces the wall of the school’s gym and stands as a living testament to Bill’s love for students and America. 

The students love for Bill was reciprocated as last year for his 103rd Birthday Oct. 27 the Salem Beta Club volunteered their Saturday to work with VFW and Auxiliary Post 9777 to do fall cleaning at Bill’s home and ensured he was ready for the winter. 

Bill was a long-time active member of Salem VFW Post 9777 and American Legion Post 1231 in Illinois. His life was spent supporting fellow veterans, family members and the community. 

Bill’s obituary details his military and community service. He was one of the oldest World War II Battle of the Bulge veterans living in the state.  He was a participant of ROTC in high school in Chicago, Ill.and when World War II began, he went to California to join the Navy in 1941.  Bill wanted to serve on the USS Kennison with others from Chicago, but when they found out he was color blind they wouldn’t take him. He returned to Chicago to work and was drafted on Jan. 30, 1942, and chose to join the Army. He was stationed at Fort Riley, Kan. and was assigned to the 73rd Field Artillery Battalion, 9th Armored Division, where he was able to serve in the mounted cavalry.  He always remarked at how much he enjoyed Fort Riley because he had fond memories of stables which were close to his home in Illinois.  After receiving training in California in 1944, his unit was sent to New York and then shipped to Europe aboard the Queen Mary, where his bunk window was right at the water line. 

Eventually, they landed on Omaha Beach and made their way to Bastogne.  Bill fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the United States in the war. This battle, helped to hasten the end of the war.  

His unit was known as the “Phantom Division” and was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism against a surprise attack by a German division, which outnumbered allied troops five to one.  

Numerous military awards were bestowed upon Bill during his service to the United States. These include European African Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with three Oak Leaf Clusters;  World War II Victory Medal; Army of Occupation Medal with Germany Clasp; Presidential Unit Emblem; Meritorious Unit Emblem; American Campaign Medal; Driver and Mechanics Badge with Driver Bar; and Good Conduct Medal.  

Bill was honored by the Arkansas House of Representatives on in 2015 where Representative Scott Baltz presented House Resolution 1003 to honor Bill Strauss for his military service during the war.  

On August 15, 2017, Bill was honored by the French Consul and awarded the French Legion of Honor which is the highest award given by the French government and recognizes exemplary service to France.  Bill received the award for assisting in the liberation of France during World War II and became a Knight of the Legion d’Honneur.  

Bill was passionate in his desire to educate and share his experiences and often visited local schools in Viola and Salem talking to the faculty and youth.  In 2019, he was interviewed and recorded for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project to ensure generations present and future, will know of the sacrifices he and others made in service to the United States.   

 Bill was united in marriage to Betty D. Saulsman on October 12, 1946, in Guthrie, Oklahoma. In 1954 they bought their home in Lake in the Hills, Illi. and raised their family.  Bill worked with streets and sanitation for the City of Chicago and after retirement they moved to Arkansas in 1995. He enjoyed gambling, hunting, fishing, playing cards and bingo, but most of all he enjoyed his family and friends.  Bill was a member of VFW Post #9777 in Salem, Arkansas, American Legion Post #1231 in Lake in the Hills, Ill. and was of the Methodist faith. 

Besides the gapping hole left in the hearts of the community Bill He leaves his son, Richard Strauss, two daughters, Deborah Lindenberg and Jeannine Balmer all of  Illinois and three grandchildren. 

Visitation will be held on Sat. July 29 from noon until 2 p.m. funeral service time at the Salem VFW Post #9777 with Bro. John Hodges officiating with Barker Funeral Home at Salem officiating.

Bill leaves a legacy behind through the historical knowledge he passed along to hundreds of Fulton County students through the years . This will stand as a living tribute to the life he lived. 

Memorials may be made to the Salem VFW Post #9777 in his honor.

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