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Meet William “Pops” Kiger, 97-Year-Old Army Veteran

William “Pops” Kiger

Born in 1919, William “Pops” Kiger has seen a lot of life. He married his sweetheart, Mary Elizabeth, in 1938 at the age of 19. Drafted into the Army at the age of 27, he served his country in World War II, starting out as a rifleman and later promoted to mortar man.

“As a mortar man, my job was to pick out the enemy’s location,” Pops explained. During a battle in Germany he crawled up a drainage ditch to locate the enemy’s equipment, but as he returned to a cluster of his men lined up in a trench at the edge of the woods, all prepared to fire, the Germans fired first and the mortar landed directly in the trench with his men. “I was almost back to the trench when they fired. I hit the ground to roll into the trench, but I missed and that is what saved my life.” Pops recalled. He was the only survivor. “I was out cold for 2 ½ days, and I woke up in a London hospital. I had one heck of a headache and I couldn’t hear very well.”

Pops was wounded on the left side of his head, wiping out an eardrum. He also had a piece of shrapnel the size of a 50-cent piece embedded in his forehead, which eventually had to be removed. He still carries the scar from that injury right between his eyebrows. Pops stayed in the hospital for six weeks, then traveled to a replacement depot in France, where the Army kept servicemen who would later be assigned to replace troops on the front lines. There he unloaded ammunition and handled inventory. After about six weeks, when his commanding officer asked if he was ready to return stateside, Pops answered with an emphatic “Yes!”

Pops’ passage back to the United States aboard the USS Wakefield took eight long days. A hole knocked in the hull meant the crew had to pump water every night to keep the ship afloat. After more than a week at sea, the ship docked in Baltimore, Maryland.

Upon his return to North Carolina, Pops ran his father’s grocery store for a few years, then went to work for an asphalt company, where he spent 26 years helping to build major highways, as well as parking lots around hospitals and shopping centers in the Winston-Salem area. He worked in Greenville, North Carolina, for seven years before retiring from the L.A. Reynolds Asphalt Company.

Pops and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, had three sons, six grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. After 78 years of love and laughter, Mary Elizabeth passed away in January of 2015. Pops came to live at Carillon in late September 2016 and immediately became an active part of the community.

“Being around Pops is a joy,” said Gwen Cottrell, activities director at Carillon of Clemons. “The staff and other residents just adore him. He is so helpful, encouraging, and loving. He is always joking around and making people laugh.”

“I feel like the Lord isn’t done with me yet,” said Pops. “I’m here because God has something else for me to do.”

Posted in Sage Stories on June 28, 2017

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