Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphian, 91, finally cited for D-Day heroism

Posted on April 11, 2012

Stooped after 91 years of living, Wilbur "Bill" Hoffman, still managed to stand tall as medals honoring his bravery during World War II were pinned on his chest in a ceremony on Tuesday.

Hoffman, then 20, was with the U.S. Army Rangers when they climbed the cliffs at Normandy on D-Day in 1944 and was wounded during the fighting.

But while recovering in a military hospital and feeling at the time that others had given so much more, Hoffman refused to accept a Purple Heart.

He has now been presented with that medal, along with a Bronze Star for valor and a coveted Ranger Tab during an event at Veterans Plaza in Overton Park.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who spoke of Hoffman's valor last month on the Senate floor and has seen the cliffs of Normandy, described on Tuesday the Ranger's mission: a 100-foot climb to Pointe du Hoc, the top of the cliffs, while under fire.

"A lot of them didn't succeed, but enough did for it to be a successful mission. And there was not a more daring, courageous effort than that of the boys of the Pointe du Hoc," Alexander said.

However, Hoffman turned down the medal that was offered to him.

"There's guys next to me with no arms, no legs. I was just wounded," he said.

Hoffman, now one of three surviving Rangers who climbed that day, did tell his seven children about his D-Day mission.

His son, David Hoffman, contacted Alexander's office and began the process of securing his father's Purple Heart. After reviewing Hoffman's service records, Army officials felt he deserved the other awards as well.

The process took about a year, David Hoffman said.

"I told him that I really wanted to do something for him and I sent the letter to the senator," David Hoffman said.

They got back with him, "jostled some paperwork" and communicated back and forth with the Army, he said.

"Everyone's been spectacular in this whole process," David Hoffman said.

His father didn't expect all the attention.

"This is what happens, 12 motorcycles and a SWAT team," Bill Hoffman said. "I said put it in a box and mail it to me."

Among those present were retired and active duty military personnel, Shelby County Sheriff's Office motorcycle officers, other members of local law enforcement and a group of World War II re-enactors from St. Louis.

"I appreciate every bit of it," Hoffman said.

A New Jersey native, Hoffman remained in the Army for 24 years. The family eventually settled in Middle Tennessee before he moved to Memphis after the death of his first wife. He later retired from the Tennessee Air National Guard where he worked in security.

He now lives with family in East Memphis.

His daughter, Teresa Gallarno, lives in Bartlett and got emotional with pride when talking about her father.

"My dad's very special, a very humble man and he deserves it," Gallarno said.