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Bill Blevins grew up in Avondale, a small town in Pennsylvania. As his father, uncle and other family members served in the Navy, it was only natural Bill would follow in their footsteps.
He joined the US Navy in 1962, serving four years as a third class petty officer and aircraft engine mechanic. While stationed on the USS Intrepid, Blevins and his helicopter squadron were the first to pick up the Gemini Series, recovering the craft and crew.
Blevins returned to Pennsylvania, married and eventually found himself back in the Norfolk area. He joined the Virginia Beach Police Department in 1969, retiring 30 years later as the Night Commander for the Drug and Vice squad.
Thanks to their good neighbors moving to Roanoke, Blevins and his wife followed suit, coming to the area after his retirement. Now in Roanoke for about nine years, Blevins is still happy with their decision to come to the Blue Ridge mountains.
“We really like the area,” Blevins says. “It’s cheaper to live here, quieter and traffic is much easier.”
While he loves rebuilding old 1967-68 Mustang fastbacks, they became expensive to repair. He substituted hobbies with going to Salem Red Sox baseball games and, as a race car fan, visiting the nearby race tracks. But he still thought something was missing.
“I need something to do,” he says, chuckling. “You can’t just retire and not do anything! I honestly think if you retire and sit down, you’re going to die. You just have to stay active.”
Blevins now stays quite active thanks to his volunteer work at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. He’d volunteered for a couple years at the USO at the Norfolk airport; after visiting the D-Day Memorial with a friend, he liked it so much he offered to volunteer. He’s now been there for over three years, meeting people from all walks of life.
“You meet people from all over the world, from all walks of life. I just turned 73 years old and had never met a glider pilot. About a year and a half ago, a woman brought her father here and turned out he was a WWII glider pilot, the only one I’ve ever met. I never would’ve had the opportunity if I weren’t volunteering here.”
In addition to meeting people (and not only tourists, but the occasional D-Day or WWII vet), Blevins learns a lot while giving tours or hearing from visitors’ personal experiences.
“So many of the stories are terrible but fascinating to hear. Folks from France recount their memories; last summer a lady from Holland recounted when she was 14 and the Nazi occupation came. It’s rare but on occasion you’ll have a WWII veteran open up for the first time about their wartime experiences. They feel safe enough to share their stories here.”
Blevins appreciates visitors who find a better appreciation for what happened during WWII, particular in regards to D-Day. Seeing the names of lives lost or those who fought for us, as well as the memorial interior, can have a deep impact on people who understand the symbolism. He also enjoys meeting students who visit for field trips, admitting that their knowledge sometimes surprises him. “It’s interesting what they know!”
When giving advice to other retirees, especially those who have served, Blevins encourages staying active and finding volunteer work.
“If you like it, do it. Don’t be a couch potato. Find some activity you enjoy and try to participate; be as good a citizen as you can.”