WWII veteran, volunteer honored at Patriots Point

Bill Watkinson, 95, sits on the bench dedicated to him Thursday aboard the USS Yorktown (Source: Live 5)
Bill Watkinson, 95, sits on the bench dedicated to him Thursday aboard the USS Yorktown (Source: Live 5)

MT. PLEASANT, SC (WCSC) - A special surprise was unveiled Thursday for a WWII veteran who volunteers aboard the USS Yorktown at Patriots Point.

Bill Watkinson, 95, had a bench named in his honor for his service to the museum and our country.

"You sure surprised the devil out of me!" Watkinson said.

Smiling from ear to ear as he entered the hangar of the Yorktown, the longtime volunteer at Patriots Point had no idea staff planned this surprise for him. He was humbled.

"I gave such a little piece of myself to the country," Watkinson said. "Just a little tiny bit, it doesn't deserve this."

"That's Bill [for you]," said Patriots Point Executive Director Mac Burdette. "That's actually most of the veterans, they don't want to be the center of attention. We put them in that role because they are heroes of ours."

Watkinson can be found sitting on his bench for nearly two hours, several days a week.

The bench is right in front of a model F6F Hellcat fighter plane he flew in WWII, which landed on the USS Yorktown.

"He loves to talk to the kids about WWII, about flying, about the planes here," Burdette said. "There's nothing that he doesn't know about them. He flew just about every plane that we've got in this hangar."

"It's cool because in school I learned about WWII and WWI," said London Lammers, of Ohio. "So I thought it was exciting that I actually got to meet somebody."

While sitting on the bench, now named "Bill's Bench", Watkinson talks to the thousands of visitors at Patriots Point

"He talked about his experience and how long he had been on the ship and kind of what he did," said Danielle Lammers, of Ohio. "He shared some stories about the war."

Those stories range from flying over the USS Missouri while the peace treaty was signed between Japan and the United States, marking Japan's surrender in WWII, to the time where his plane was attacked over Okinawa leaving a huge hole which can be seen in pictures.

"The tin was tearing off the airplane, so I knew I didn't want that to happen," Watkinson said. "So I slowed up, dropped my bombs and came back to the ship."

It wasn't until after he landed he realized they had blown off his left landing wheel!

"You'd be surprised how good you can be when you're scared," Watkinson said.

While those stories are in the past, Watkinson said he's looking forward to the number of people coming aboard the USS Yorktown in the future.

"We're so fortunate to have him," Burdette said. "We had a birthday party for him not long ago, he turned 95. He's still in great shape."

Depending on the time of year, Watkinson can be found aboard the ship around lunch time several days out of the week.

He is one of two WWII volunteers at Patriots Point who served on the historic ship.

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