WWII veteran Bill Bastian will be Patriot Day speaker

Sierra Tel has announced Oakhurst WWII veteran Bill Bastian, 92, will be the keynote speaker for the 2014 Patriot Day, 9 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 11. at Oakhurst Community Park.

This is the first time the event, sponsored by Sierra Tel, has been held in the park, after being held for 12 years at the Sierra Tel headquarters on Crane Valley Road (426).

“We have moved this event from Sierra Tel headquarters to the Oakhurst Community Park to make it truly a community-wide event and to encourage additional participation from Mountain Area residents,” said Rima Runtzel, event coordinator.

The event, sponsored by Sierra Telephone, is held annually in memory of those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, in the attack on World Trade Center in New York, and to show appreciation and gratitude to all veterans, active duty military and emergency service personnel for their dedication to our country and mountain communities.

Included in the event will be a special flag-raising ceremony and pledge of allegiance, patriotic music performances, 21 gun salute and Taps. Veterans, active duty military and emergency services personnel will be presented with recognition gifts. Immediately following the event, the Sierra Tel Safety Awareness Committee will serve all-American apple pie and ice cream.

Bastian studied engineering at UC Berkeley before joining the U.S. Army in 1942 when he was 20 years old and newly married. He served with the same Combat Engineer Battalion unit until the end of the war as a Company Commander, Assistant Operations Officer, Battalion Motor Officer and Battalion Liaison Officer.

After six months in England, the Army engineer landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, where he spent months helping with the transportation of military equipment. His next stop was Belgium for Christmas in front of the Bulge. He then flew back to the United States for reassignment, and arrived in San Francisco on the day the bomb was dropped on Japan. This event resulted in his two week leave being extended to transfer him from active duty to active reserve in 1945.

He still has a framed silk map of France given to him while while serving there. He wrote a note to his wife on the back of the map and sent it home, where it now hangs in his living room.

Bastian returned to Normandy as color commentator for a “Normandy Revisited Tour” in the 1990s, and has appeared on the Ray Appleton and Paul Loeffler KMJ radio shows to share his wartime experiences.

The events of 9-11 were far different than his WWII experiences.

“In Normandy, my only news was a razor blade crystal set and earphones tuned to the BBC news,” Bastian said. “In 2001, I happened to be watching TV and saw the second plane crash into the World Trade Center in real time.”

A Cal Trans promotion brought Bastian to Fresno in 1955 and he soon was building a second home at Bass Lake. In 1975, finding Bass Lake getting crowded, he built his present retirement home in Ahwahnee and left the state service in 1978. He had a 30 year career with Cal Trans, retiring as District 6 Chief of Maintenance Operations. His loving wife of 63 years, Melba, passed away in 2004.

While living in Fresno, Bastian, on his own, built a small summer home at Bass Lake in 1956. It took him three years to build his year-round home in Oakhurst, finishing in 1978, after a His wife Melba, passed away 10 years ago, after 63 years of marriage.

Each year following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Sierra Tel has made a visible statement of patriotism by affixing flags to each of its company vehicles. The flags are flown from Patriot Day through Veteran’s Day.

Details: Rima Runtzel, Sierra Tel, (559) 642-0313,