SHELBYVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — Many people learn about World War II in school, but few are still around to tell their stories from that time.
Kenneth Roellig was born not long after World War I ended. Most men born around that time expected to be drafted into service for World War II, and he knew it was only a matter of time. That time came five months after D-Day, a turning point in the war.
“The war was about over, but they hurried to get us over there because in basic training time, the Battle of the Bulge was going on,” Roellig said. “They needed people over there I guess.”
After basic training, he was sent to Italy and was trained to be a combat engineer. There, he studied mine warfare, mines and bridges. He also studied booby traps and how to disarm a mine.
His time in Italy ended in August of 1945, when he boarded a ship bound for the Pacific.
“There was a lot of word that we were going to be having an invasion of Japan eventually,” Roellig said. “Knowing what would happen with that, how many people would not survive it.”
But his day in combat never came. Six days before Roellig left Italy, President Harry Truman ordered an atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima. Three days later, another was dropped on Nagasaki.
The bombings persuaded Japan to surrender, and Roellig believes the bombings saved his life. Instead of going to Japan, he was sent home.
After returning home, he attended the University of Illinois on the GI Bill, an opportunity he received because he served.
“I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it had it not been for going overseas and being in the war,” Roellig said.
He dedicated his life to education and spent his career teaching. When he retired a few years ago, he bought a Christmas tree farm in Shelbyville. Now, at 96 years old, he is enjoying the simplicity of everyday life.
In doing so, he often looks back at his time in the service. Roellig went on an Honor Flight in 2017 with his grandson.
Now, Roellig encourages everybody interested in joining the military to serve.