WWII vet honored with Purple Heart 77 years after service

World War II veteran William "Willie" Kellerman calls the recognition overwhelming.

"[It’s] like I’ve been in the shadows all my life, and someone turned a light on," Kellerman said at a special ceremony Tuesday held at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn.

He was just 19 when, as a private first class in the army, he landed on the beaches of Normandy in 1944—just days after D Day.

But just a few weeks later—on July 4th-- he was captured by Nazi soldiers.  He escaped from his captors by ducking under a hedge. He somehow found a bike then rode it for 600 miles until he got a flat tire. That’s when he found what a bike shop in France.

It turns out that little bike shop was also the headquarters of the French Forces of the Interior. They thought he was a German spy—until they asked who won the 1943 World Series. (As a kid from the Bronx, of course he knew, it was the Yankees.)

Now 77 years later he’s being recognized.  The U.S. Army’s Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, presented Kellerman with the Prisoner of War Medal and the Purple Heart.

"On behalf of a grateful nation, the entire United States Army, we want to thank you for your outstanding service, your sacrifice," McConville said.

"I can’t thank you all right now for the attention I’m getting," Kellerman said after the event. "It makes up for all the years I didn’t get it."

"All this makes him very happy which makes us extremely happy," his grandson Jonah Corwin said, "because he has given us so much."

"I cannot thank you enough, for being here, for presenting me with these honors," Kellerman said when closing his brief remarks. "And God bless America."