William Louis Sandoval was born on September 16, 1923, in Lake Lillian, Minnesota, to Joseph G. Sandoval and Carmen Morales Sandoval, both from Mexico. The family moved to Silvis, Illinois, in 1925. William had seven brothers and three sisters. His father was a grinder at Moline Iron Works.1 His mother died on September 3, 1939, after giving birth to twin boys three days earlier. Both boys, Peter and John, died a few hours after birth.2
William enlisted in the Army February 16, 1943, in Peoria, Illinois.6 In late February, after induction, William was sent to Scott Field7 for basic training. He was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. On May 10, 1943, the 504th sailed for North Africa to begin training for the invasion of Sicily.8 On September 9, 1943, the 504th took part in the amphibious landings at Salerno, Italy, during Operation Avalanche. The 1st and 2nd battalions parachuted into the Salerno region to reinforce the Allied beachhead. When the regiment took the high ground at Altavilla, the Germans counterattacked with such fierceness that a general suggested the withdrawal of the unit. Col. Tucker adamantly replied, “Retreat, Hell! — Send me my other battalion!” The 3rd Battalion rejoined the 504th, drove back the German assault, and secured the Salerno Beachhead. A German officer called the 504th the “Devils in Baggy Pants,” a name the 504th carried with them proudly.
On September 17, 1944, the 504th returned to combat as part of Operation Market Garden. The plan was for a combined armor and airborne force to seize and hold key bridges and roads deep behind German lines in Holland. The goal was for the Allies to strike the heart of Germany with hopes of ending the war by Christmas. The 504th’s mission was to capture two strategic bridges near Nijmegen. To capture the bridges, they would have to cross a 400-yard river, completely exposed to German fire, in collapsible wood-and-canvas boats provided by the British.9 The 26 boats were folding boats, 19- feet long, with plywood bottoms, canvas sides, and wooden struts to hold up the sides. There were very few oars, and no time to learn how to use them.
The 3rd battalion was in the first wave and 1st battalion in the second wave, with the 2nd battalion providing cover fire during the crossing with rifle and heavy machine-gun and mortar fire. They suffered nearly fifty percent casualties in the crossing, but enough men made it across to seize the bridge from both ends simultaneously. Other Allied forces weren’t as successful, and Market Garden failed to open a direct line into Germany.
The 504th was relieved by the British 43rd Infantry Division on September 21 and marched back across the bridge toward Nijmegen. They boarded DUWKS, 6-wheel-drive amphibious trucks, and were taken to locations between Nijmegen and Groesbeek, Netherlands, to rest and recuperate for a short time.
On October 6, 1944, William’s unit was overrun while engaging the enemy in Zyfflich, Germany, and he was listed as missing in action. Zyfflich is a village near the Dutch city of Nijmegen.10 He was officially listed as killed in action on October 7, 1945. He was just 21. His body was never recovered.11 A memorial marker was placed at the Rock Island National Cemetery. William is also memorialized on the Sea Tablets of the Missing at Netherlands American Cemetery Margraten, Netherlands.12
The 504th was later taken off the line and sent back to France to reconsolidate. The 504th lost 24 men killed and 70 seriously wounded in the river crossing and the attack on both bridges.
William’s parents received a telegram informing them William was missing in action as of October 6 in Holland.13 He had been overseas for approximately 16 months.14 He had been involved in the largest air assault in history up to that point, the British-led Operation Market Garden. This battle was the basis for the movie, A Bridge Too Far.15 Nearly 42,000 airborne troops were engaged in this battle, among others. It would be another four months before the Allies crossed the Rhine.
William L. Sandoval earned the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, Good Conduct Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Purple Heart (posthumously), Arrowhead Campaign Netherlands, Orange Lanyard and Honorable Service Lapel Button, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign with three campaign stars.
There is an award-winning documentary, A Bridge too Far from Hero Street, that tells the story of William Sandoval’s journey from a boxcar in Silvis, Illinois, to a battle in a forest in Holland during WWII, produced by Emmy-award winning filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle of Fourth Wall Films.16
William is one of eight Mexican Americans from 2nd Street in Silvis who died serving their country in WWII and Korea.
To learn more about Hero Street U.S.A., visit: About Hero Street (herostreetusa.org).
To learn more about Hero Street Movies, visit https://www.herostreetmovie.com.