Story of North Texas man killed in WWII told through his videos, letters

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by JIM DOUGLAS

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaajdouglas

WFAA

Posted on June 6, 2014 at 7:10 PM

Updated Friday, Jun 6 at 7:40 PM

ARLINGTON -- In the tiny Fielder House Museum in Arlington hangs the uniform of a paratrooper who jumped behind German lines on D-Day.

Before he was U.S. Army Captain Bill Nation, he was an Arlington High football and baseball player. Then, a student and ROTC member at North Texas Agricultural College, now called the University of Texas at Arlington.

He rarely went anywhere without shooting home movies. In 1944, he took his camera to war.

"There he is. There he is again,” David Nation said, laughing as his big brother mugs for the camera. It was Washington, D.C. in the early 1940s. Captain Bill Nation wore a cream colored uniform, and a pretty girl on his arm.

Nation had an eye for beauty, and humor. His movies show parachute training jumps, then shots of a GI scrubbing a puppy in a helmet filled with soapy water. There’s a shot of a chaplain guzzling beer, filmed in a way to tell us we were supposed to laugh at the irreverence.

David Nation laughs hard at that as we watch the film.

"I just wish he could have been back to tell us all about it,” David said. “Explain the pictures.”

The silent film says a lot about the soldier who shot it.

It jumps from sunsets, to flowers, to castles, to bombed-out towns. Captain Nation captured the silhouette of a cargo plane against the darkening sky before he parachuted into France on D-Day, behind German lines.

He got his first chance to write to his family 15 days later.

"I could hear tracer fire and machine guns," David Nation reads on the yellowed paper. "Now if the Heinies will just stop shelling for a while, I'll try to bring out this letter."

Letters came frequently. David said the film came home later, with his brother's personal effects.

German prisoners march past his camera, hands on their heads. Shattered windmills stand still in Holland. Smashed and frozen men and equipment line a roadside.

David Nation said his brother’s film is so good that many theaters in France showed it in conjunction with the movie "Saving Private Ryan."

Bill Nation survived initial battles. Filmed the beaches at Normandy. Fell for a girl in Ireland. Was dropped into Holland for the doomed Operation Market Garden. And then helped push back German forces in the Battle of the Bulge.

His letters got sadder.

"What few remaining old-time friends I had are gone," he wrote in the fall of 1944.

You can hear him searching for light in the darkness of combat.

"If the roses and flowers can still bloom and blossom in the midst of ruins, craters, and charred debris, then surely I can smile through it all and be cheerful as I know how," he wrote.

Some of the letters arrived on captured Nazi stationery.

The last film came from Belgium, where he was killed. He died instantly in an artillery blast on January 31, 1945.

Twelve days earlier, he wrote in his final letter to his mother.

“I've tried so hard to write letters, but there's nothing much to write about, except the war," it reads. "And I don't like to write about that. I have seen about all I want to see of it."

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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