94-year-old ex-prisoner of war Bill Overmier of Albuquerque, New Mexico appears on the May 3 & May 10, 2014 editions of Hometown Heroes, remembering his more than 1,200 days in captivity.
Bill moved to Albuquerque at the age of 8, heading west from Illinois after his mother had contracted tuberculosis and sought help in the climate of New Mexico. He joined the National Guard to pick up some extra cash, and while studying engineering at the University of New Mexico, was called up for active duty with the 200th Coast Artillery, Battery B. You’ll hear him remember those early days in Albuquerque, as well as the way the war began for him on December 8, 1941.
Bill narrowly missed being swept up in the Bataan Death March when he caught a boat headed for Corregidor. You’ll hear about a near miss on the fortified island of Fort Hughes before he was captured there in May, 1942. From his time at 92nd Garage on Corregidor, to his work as a ship’s carpenter at Yokohama shipyards, all the way to his last few months of captivity at Sendai Camp 2b, Bill describes the conditions he faced as a prisoner of war. You’ll hear what he had to eat, what some of the other prisoners endured, and the triumphs and tragedies he witnessed over more than three years in captivity.
Bill feels fortunate to have survived it all, especially knowing how differently the fates of some of his best friends from the service unfolded. He returned to the University of New Mexico on the G.I. Bill after his liberation, earned a degree in engineering, and enjoyed a long career building houses and other structures in northern New Mexico. He and his wife of 66 years, Ann, enjoy their five children, nine grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren, and appear regularly at events around New Mexico and other states with the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Foundation. He knows that of the 1,800 New Mexicans who arrived in the Philippines with the 200th Coast Artillery, roughly half that number never got to come home, and he tells his story frequently as a way of honoring them. If you run into this spry 94-year-old, make sure you thank him for serving our country, and reminding us all that freedom is not free.