TRACY (KPIX 5) — When the Camp Fire roared through Paradise, 94-year-old Bill Keller, a WWII veteran and combat photographer, lost everything.
On Wednesday, the California National Guard honored Sgt. Keller with the California Commendation Medal for his services.
Brigadier General Robert Spano and his staff came to visit Sgt. Keller.
“There was a discussion with senior leadership: ‘Well, we need to honor him for his WWII service, and give him an award that he can look at every day and remind him of his service to our country,’” Spano said.
Sgt. Keller received the award while sitting in a wheel chair in a room filled with family and friends.
Keller served in the pacific as an Army Combat Photographer. Along with the Maines, he was on Iwo Jima. Close family friend Mike Berritto says the Camp Fire may have been just as bad for Keller as Iwo Jima.
Berritto told KPIX 5 what happened to Keller after the fire.
“The fire took a lot out of him, you know after this fire…Yeah, that’s why we had to do this quickly,” he said.
“We wanted to give him something to keep him thinking, to keep his mind active,” said Ron Keller, Bill’s youngest son.
After this devastation so late in life, the family is working to keep Keller’s spirits up by taking photos and surrounding him with hugs. The California Army National Guard has nothing but admiration and praise for Sgt. Bill Keller.
“I’ve commanded all the way through the highest levels in the military, and so it’s great to get out of the office and come down to pay honor to such a true American Hero,” said Spano.