Reporter: David Tate
Roanoke, VA - It's 1944. D-Day on Omaha Beach. Many stories from this battle have been told before, but not one quite like this.
The story of a Roanoke man not only helps break the perception of who fought on the beaches at Normandy, but also reveals the secret he kept from his family for more than 60 years.
"They were being cut down as fast as they moved in," veteran Bill Dabney recalled. "There was fire coming from both sides."
The images of D-Day are in black and white. However depictions of that terrible battle, whether in the movies or in books, are almost always in white alone. William Dabney is one of just 2,000 African-American men who added black to the picture.
"It makes me feel pretty proud about that," he said.
Originally from Altavista, Dabney moved to Roanoke before entering the service at the age of 17.
"I guess being young... you don't really understand the danger you're in."
Before long Dabney was on his way to Europe to participate in the greatest invasion the world has ever known. Dabney's job was to hit the beaches with a bomb-laden anti-aircraft blimp tethered to his waist and secure it there to help keep planes from attacking the men as they hit the beaches.
"By the time I hit the beach I was missing my balloon. I don't know whether an airplane struck it or one of the big guns cut it down," Dabney said.
Dabney says he received shrapnel to his back and legs but never turned the wounds in and never accepted recognition for his sacrifice, even after the war.
"I forgot about the Army then."
Dabney became a successful businessman, and he never talked about D-Day.
"After a while, I got married and all that... had a family."
One day in 2005, Dabney's son, Vinnie, received an email from the son of one of his father's wartime buddies.
"I was flabbergasted to know he had such an active part in one of the biggest battles in history," his son explained.
After 61-years, his family finally heard his story. Four years after that, the rest of the world did too when the French government gave Dabney the Legion of Honor for his service.
"Youngsters will know that we were fighting out there with our white comrades. That's the biggest thing I want people to remember," Dabney said.
According to Dabney's family, William kept his secret inadvertently. Dabney's son- a psychologist- believes that his father didn't talk about it because he was too busy overcoming racial prejudice, back in the states once out of the army.
To share your hero's story with us, visit our Heroes from the Heart of Virginia page.