Lakeland family seeking military honors for WWII vet learns he is a combat war hero

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – As a 17 year old William Frederick Bateman joined the Marines in 1943. He had to get permission from his family to join the service at that age, but like millions of others at the time, he wanted to serve his country.

“He’s real reserved, modest, so kind you wouldn’t believe,” Bateman’s son-in-law, Mike Kell said.

After his service in the military, Bateman worked as a Teamster, but eventually moved to Florida with his family and opened a McDonald’s franchise in Lakeland and then others in Bartow.

“He turned that into quite a thing,” said Kell.

Bateman passed away on Sept. 6 at the age of 96 and his family hoped to honor his military service at his funeral.

“We wanted him to have full honors because he deserved it,” Bateman’s stepdaughter Sheri Kell said.

However, the family ran into some problems. The funeral home requested a DD-214 to prove Bateman’s military service. However, the DD-214 is a federal form that did not exist when Bateman was in the military.

The family didn’t know what to do, so they turned to 8 On Your Side for help.

After some work, Mr. Bateman’s service documents were located, along with a citation for a Bronze Star, the family didn’t know about.

“He just kind of kept that under his hat. He’d look at that, well, that was my duty,” said Mike Kell.

The Bronze Star Citation notes Bateman’s heroic actions during combat on the Pacific island of Peleliu.

The citation was even issued by Lt. General H.M. Smith, who is also known as “Howling Mad Smith”, a larger-than-life figure who is considered to be the father of modern, amphibious warfare.

The family was contacted by a representative of the U.S. Marine Corps who says they will be at the funeral and present Bateman with the full military honors he deserves.

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