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1916:    born in Santa Rita, New Mexico (USA)

1939:    marriage to Shirley L. Fletcher, two children

Aug. 1943:    completion of military pilot training in Albany, Georgia (USA)

Aug.-Dec. 1944:    deployment as P-47 fighter-bomber pilot in Western Europe

23-27 Dec.1944:    numerous air missions in support of the American troops trapped in Bastogne (Battle of the Bulge)

27 Dec. 1944:   death in the crash of his fighter-bomber near Nothum (L)

Feb. 1945:    burial at Henri-Chapelle military cemetery (B)

Gravestone of William Nellis, Henri-Chapelle Military Cemetery

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To The Memory Of LT. WILLIAM H. NELLIS Born 1916-Killed in Action 1944. 

With courage and daring he brought the fight to the enemy defending his country without regard for his personal safety or welfare
Inscription on memorial plaque

William Harrel Nellis entered active military service with the US Army on 2 March 1943. In July 1944 he joined his combat unit in Europe, the 406th Fighter Group 513th Squadron.
Between August and November 1944, Nellis flew a total of 69 missions with his P-47 fighter-bomber. These were mainly air-to-ground support operations in connection with the rapid advance of General Patton’s Third Army through France. Deteriorating weather in early December 1944 meant that his unit flew very few missions at this time.
On 16 December 1944, to the complete surprise of the Americans, the German launched their offensive in the Ardennes, the Battle of the Bulge. From 20 December 1944, thousands of American soldiers were encircled in the Belgian town of Bastogne. When the weather finally improved on 23 December 1944, Nellis flew up to five air missions a day to support the encircled units.
On the evening of 27 December 1944, his fighter-bomber crashed in flames during a low-level attack on German positions in a wooded area northeast of the village of Nothum. It was here, not far from the strategic “Schumannseck” crossroads, that the bloodiest battles of the Battle of the Bulge in Luxembourg would take place over the next few weeks, costing the lives of thousands of soldiers on both sides. Nellis’ body was not recovered until early February 1945. On 30 April 1950, one of the largest US Air Force bases near Las Vegas was renamed “Nellis Air Force Base” in his honour.

Fingerprints were not taken as both hands are missing. Photographs and toothchart also not taken as head is missing. All that is left is about 45 lbs of remains. This includes a right leg fractured above and below knee (with the sole of the foot burned away ) attached to a flattened pelvis and abdomen. The spinal column is exposed in the chest region. The upper area appears to have been burned severely. Right leg when straightened out is about 29” to 30”. No scars or markings are to be found.

Salvage report on the condition of the body, 1 Feb. 1945

Parts of the aircraft, equipment and private belongings of William Nellis found at the crash site

From left to right: piece of headphones, cover of the on-board camera (marked Eastman Kodak) and probably Nellis’ private cigarette case

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