William Rapp doesn’t remember exactly when he heard that D-Day had happened –– but without the invasion at Normandy beach, his job in the war wouldn’t have been possible.
“I missed D-Day,” Rapp said. “Thank goodness, I tell you. Those boys went through hell.”
Rapp, a 99-year-old Okmulgee native who now lives in Shawnee, was eager to join the Air Force when the war first started. But his father, a drilling contractor, had other plans for him.
“He said, ‘No I don’t want you doing that. I want you to go to Oklahoma University and study to be a geologist,’” Rapp said. “Of course you do what your dad says.”
But six months after starting at OU, Rapp was drafted –– and not into the Air Force, either. First, the Army sent Rapp to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he worked in armored field artillery.
When the tank gun that Rapp was trained to operate was discontinued, he tried his luck with airplanes again. He secretly took an exam to get into the Air Corps, passed it and was sent to Kansas City, Missouri.
“I was just getting ready to take my 10 hours basic in a Cub, when General Arnold … said that everyone that transferred from one place to the Air Corps had to go back because we had enough pilots and enough navigators,” Rapp said. “I’m going to tell you, that was one sick bunch. I was one of them.”
His flying plans foiled again, Rapp joined the 397th armored field artillery battalion before crossing the Atlantic on a Liberty ship near the end of the war. The trip took over a week, as the ship zigzagged to dodge German submarines.
“We got stalked one night, and there were depth charges going off,” Rapp said. “I never found out whether the Germans had sunk one of our ships or not. Anyway, they didn’t sink ours.”
The convoy landed in Le Havre, France, just over 30 miles by water from the beaches where Allied forces had landed months earlier for “Operation Overlord.” Rapp’s division was tasked with tying up loose ends after the major fighting had ceased, such as delivering gasoline to tanks and Jeeps and locating German soldiers who had fled to Czechoslovakia.
On one mission, Rapp passed a giant marble swastika on the stadium where the 1936 Summer Olympics were held in Nuremberg, Germany.
“I’ll never forget it,” Rapp said. “It was dark, but we could see that.”
When the war was officially over in Europe, Rapp was sent to Camp Lucky Strike in France –– camps in the area were named after cigarette brands –– and from there, back to the U.S.
When Rapp returned home, his father had passed away. Rapp took over the drilling business and now owns 14 rigs with his business partner. He also had three children with his wife, two of whom are still alive and live nearby.
And, although he never flew in the war, Rapp finally got his wish when he returned to the states.
“When I came back, I took flying lessons,” Rapp said. “And I had four different airplanes. And I flew all over the country. I flew to Canada ... Mexico … Florida … California.”
Although Rapp often chuckles while recounting his time in the Army, he had his fill of war.
“I was a T5 rank, and this fellow, he says, ‘Now if another war starts, all [you] gotta do is just sign this on this deal, and you can go back in as your same rank,’” Rapp said. “And I said, ‘Get away from me, get your pencil away from me!’ I said, ‘If there’s another war, I’m not going back!’”