Muskegon Veteran Waits 73 Years for Occupation Service Medal

When Muskegon resident William Naill, 91, completed his service in Guam in 1946, he was relieved just to have escaped with his life. Years later, though, he regrets that he never received the medal of service he was promised.

Thanks to employees at SKLD Muskegon, where Naill’s wife resides, Naill was finally awarded his Occupation Service Medal, presented by the Muskegon County Department of Veterans Affairs, on May 3 at the SKLD facility. On site were

Service in the Pacific

William Naill was just 16 when he signed up to fight, winding up on the island of Guam in the South Pacific struggling to stay alive even though the war was technically over. Naill tried three times to enlist in the U.S. Navy, but couldn’t because he was under age. Finally, he convinced his parents to vouch for him so he could follow in the footsteps of his older brother who had already joined the war effort.

“They said I was born in September, and my brother was born in January,” Naill told, a grin spreading across his face. “It’s possible -- that’s nine months – though it would have been tough on my mother.”

His reason for joining was simple: “I wanted to win the war.”

In 1945, he was sent to the Atlantic on a destroyer escort and soon, the European conflict ended following Adolf Hitler’s suicide. Naill then was sent to the Pacific, and soon after Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered. That was on Aug. 15, 1945.

But fighting continued on Guam even after the surrender. Naill, who had been a fireman 2nd class and a gunner onboard ship, was one of two crew members dropped off at Guam, according to Naill’s son, Ed Naill of Muskegon. It was on the island where Naill switched from being a sailor to being a combat solider.He served in the Navy, under the Marines, while stationed first in the Atlantic and then in the South Pacific. In the Atlantic Theater, Mr. Naill served aboard a Destroyer Escort in the Gulf of Mexico where Germans were sinking ships to disrupt the Allied supply of oil and other materials. 

In the Pacific, Naill served in the occupational forces in Guam in 1945-1946. He recalls stopping at Pearl Harbor and seeing that it was nothing but bombed out craters. When asked what he did in Gaum, Naill described the realities of war gravely, “What did I do there?! I tried to survive. They were killing us, and we were killing them.”

Years ago, Naill received a personal letter from the major general he served under during the war, but he never received his Occupation Service Medal. That was before SKLD Muskegon cook, Stephanie Jenkins, entered the scene. Stephanie knew Naill from around the facility because he typically spends eight hours a day at SKLD visiting his wife. Stephanie one day commented to Naill about his veteran hat, thanking him for his service. Stephanie says,

“Mr. Naill replied that it’s amazing anyone remembers still, and I said I always remember.”

Stephanie comes from a military family, and her husband is a disabled veteran. Her husband is part of the Honor Guard in Muskegon, as well as her pastor, Pastor Wesley Spyke. Stephanie knew that she could reach out to Pastor Wes and help Naill get his medal. Pastor Wes is known in the area for his tireless work on the behalf of local veterans. “Every time someone from our area dies overseas in the military, my husband, Pastor Wes and 50 other vets all go to airport on motorcycles to escort the soldier home.”

Stephanie reached out to Pastor Wes, and the next day he called to say the medal was on the way. “When I told Mr. Naill, he thought I was joking,” says Stephanie. 

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Medal Ceremony

SKLD Muskegon administrator Chelsea Rink agreed to help Stephanie organize a medal ceremony, where the Muskegon County Department of Veterans Affairs came on motorcycles to deliver the long overdue medal to Mr. Naill at SKLD Muskegon. Both the local Fox News and stations were on site to report on the ceremony.

Although Naill waited nearly 75 years for this medal, he says he is now feeling a little excited about it. “After all, I’m almost 92 years old. I can’t afford too much excitement,” he says.

Although he’ll be pleased to finally receive his Occupation Service Medalthis week, just as Stephanie acknowledged originally, Naill was already an American hero.

Wendy Margolin