William Keena of Roseville, who fought in the largest D-Day assault landing area, Omaha Beach, died Friday, the 70th anniversary of the invasion. He was 90.
Born in Chicago in 1923, Mr. Keena enlisted in the military during his sophomore year of high school because he wanted to prove to his classmates and family that he was not a slacker, said Mr. Keena’s youngest son, Michael.
“My dad was a beautiful mixture of duty and love,” Michael Keena said. “He raised us to be Yankee Doodle kids. The war was a small part of who he was.”
Mr. Keena’s military service spanned a decade. He fought throughout Europe including in the Battle of the Bulge, the major German offensive attack on the western front toward the end of the Second World War. He also fought in Belgium, Holland and Czechoslovakia. He was remembered as a soldier who was willing to sacrifice his life for others, his son said.
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“His body took a beating” during his time in the military, his son said .
Captured by the Germans, Mr. Keena later escaped and rejoined his operation to help liberate the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
“He was part of that generation of farm boys and city boys trying to save the country from what was evil,” said Christopher, Keena’s eldest son. “He was a great father who was very much involved in community and the church. Everybody would come up to him because he was the life of the party.”
While stationed in France, Mr. Keena met Wilma Elizabeth, the woman who would become his lifelong partner. The pair married in 1965.
Mr. Keena and his wife settled in Southern California and had two kids. Over the years, Mr. Keena worked delivery and retail jobs before moving his family to the Sacramento area in 2002.
“My dad was an unsung hero; he never drew attention to himself,” Michael Keena said. “Everywhere he went, people loved him.”
His personality earned him a volunteer assignment as an unofficial greeter at Adventure Christian Church in Roseville, said the Rev. Wayne Bigelow, who met Mr. Keena when he became a member of the church in 2002.
“He was so funny and spontaneous,” Bigelow recalls. “He had a way of greeting people and making friends; the kind of man that was always giving a helping hand.”
In addition to his wife and sons, Mr. Keena is survived by nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. at Adventure Christian Church. The burial will be at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon.