WWII US Army soldier’s belongings uncovered, donated to museum
By STEVEN M. GRAZIER | The (Canton, Ohio) Repository | Published: September 3, 2019
MASSILLON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — D.J. and Jessica Carson were hoping to discover a small fortune when they purchased contents within a storage unit during a public auction earlier this month in Canton.
Much of what they won for their $270 high bid included items worth reselling, such as crossbows, Harley Davidson motorcycle gear and a few biker vests. But an unexpected surprise fell into their hands on Aug. 9.
Inside an old trunk were a Purple Heart and other military-related memorabilia that belonged to Lewis R. Billman, a U.S. Army soldier and Massillon area resident who died in battle in France on Aug. 21, 1944, during World War II.
The Purple Heart is awarded to those who are wounded or killed in action against an enemy of the U.S.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime find for myself,” said D.J. Carson, a collector who frequently buys and sells secondhand or antique merchandise. “I felt his (Billman’s) memory should be preserved and displayed. So we (located) and came to the museum.”
The Carsons dropped off contents of the trunk on Aug. 22 to the Massillon Museum, which enthusiastically accepted the donation, adding it to the collection of Billman memorabilia, which includes his Bronze Star. The couple met with Mandy Altimus Stahl, a museum archivist, for about an hour.
“I cried when I got the (initial) phone call from the Carsons,” said Stahl. “We research people important to Massillon. It was nice to see his Purple Heart and photos, so we can put a face to a name we’re trying to preserve.”
Other military contents
Inside the wooden trunk were a half-dozen old photos from Billman’s past, some of which included his wife, Edna, as well as a 1952-dated British homage, which was published for U.S. troops honoring their contribution in World War II. A panoramic photo of Billman’s unit, the 551st Parachute Infantry Regiment, First Airborne Task Force, was part of the find.
Dog tags of other servicemembers also were discovered; however, Billman’s identification tags were not part of the stash.
Days after purchasing the contents on Aug. 9, Jessica Carson researched Billman online and found that the museum had received his Bronze Star about a year ago. The medal is awarded to military members for either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement or meritorious service in a combat zone.
“We were like, ‘Oh my god.’ We have a Purple Heart. We were really excited about it …,” she told The Independent. “We found out his Bronze Star was (at the museum), and figured the Purple Heart would be better off here, too, so he can be remembered and appreciated.”
In August 2018, Dr. Joseph M. Crews, of Texas, presented Billman’s Bronze Star to the museum’s permanent collection. He, too, discovered the Star after acquiring a box of military medals from an auction.
About Lewis Billman
Assigned to the U.S. Army’s 551st regiment, Billman, whose rank was technician grade 5, parachuted into southern France on the evening of Aug. 15, 1944, near the town of Le Muy. By Aug. 21, U.S. forces were marching east toward Italy from France, parallel to the French coast, to block attacks by German forces.
“He (Billman) was part of the group that helped squeeze the Germans out of France, helping to liberate the country,” said Stahl, noting that not much about Billman is known, including his date of birth.
Billman was part of Operation Dragoon, which is also referred to as the Champaign Campaign, according to museum records. Members of the 551st regiment often called themselves GOYAS or “Great Outstanding Young Americans.”
The museum is planning to display publicly a case of contents highlighting Billman’s military service on or about Veterans Day, Nov. 11, as a new addition to the facility, Stahl said.