CRESTVIEW — Given a life full of achievements, William Oneby has earned the right to sit on his Crestview porch and rest on his laurels.
But the spry 90-year-old refuses to do that.
Instead, he sings karaoke four nights a week and has been perfecting his speech-making skills as he works toward the local Toastmasters Club’s next level.
Oneby turned 90 on April 20, Adolf Hitler's birthday, "But I outlived him," he said. "I turned 22 in Germany on his 56th birthday. Eight days later he committed suicide."
Friends at the American Legion threw Oneby a karaoke party and gave him a polo shirt emblazoned "chick magnet" on the back.
Oneby hits one of his four favorite local karaoke nightspots, including the Legion post and AmVets, about four nights a week. There, he entertains from a repertoire of 600 songs and not quite as many jokes.
Memories of war
His memories of World War II in Germany, including the time his sergeant saved his life, are still vivid.
Oneby was relaxing in the back of the radio repair van soon after his unit arrived in Germany in 1944. German gunfire set alight the gasoline tank wagon his vehicle was pulling.
"The only exit was out the back through the gasoline flames," Oneby said. "It was a giant Bunson burner from top to bottom. I heard my sergeant's voice, 'Stay in there, Oneby! That's an order!'"
Tech. Sgt. Frank Gregorin unhitched the tank wagon, which threatened to explode at any moment, and pushed it over a hill just before it blew sky high.
"He would accept nothing from me except a haircut” in gratitude, Oneby said.
Another time, he and a fellow radio technician were sent into the German town of Kolmar to repair a broken radio truck. In the confusion of a snowy day, the soldiers drove right through the town — and into the middle of a raging battle.
Zigzagging their way back through the gunfire, they found a bunker occupied by Americans. Oneby and his friend tumbled into safety.
"And then the big guns opened up," Oneby said. "I was a kid from Milwaukee. It looked like the Fourth of July. I was enjoying the show until somebody grabbed me and said, 'Get your head down, you idiot!'"