From the beaches of Normandy to the Rhine River, one Ridgeland resident is keeping history alive with annual tours following the U.S. military’s moves in World War II.
Bill Lee, Ridgeland alderman for Ward 5, has always had an interest in history.
“I appreciate history,” Lee said. “I am by no means a professional historian, but I love to read biographies. I love to read up on political subjects. World War II is big with me. I lead tours in Europe to the World War II battlefields.”
Lee, a Winona native, will take his next tour group in April 2019.
“We follow the American army from Normandy to the Rhine River,” he said. “My father, who was an educator, was a very curious man. I think I inherited those genes from him. A curiosity about a lot of things. The thing that really jumped me off was Dr. Stephen Ambrose.”
Reading Ambrose’s books piqued much of Lee’s interest in the war.
“We got to be good friends,” Lee said.
Ambrose spoke at the National Guard officers’ convention in Jackson in the late ‘90s. When Ambrose said he was going to stop doing tours, Lee decided he might like to give it a shot.
“Along with some other friends, I got a group together in April 1999 and spent two weeks in Europe following the American army,” Lee said. “Dr. Ambrose got me into the touring business.”
Each year, he leads a group for two weeks in either April or May. Some are brief, one-week stays in Normandy.
The two-week tours make numerous stops along the way.
“We see a lot of World War II,” Lee said. “Let me just say, we run hard every day. During the day, we probably make anywhere from 12 to 14 stops.”
Lee attended Holmes Junior College, the University of Mississippi and Jackson School of Law. After school, he went to work at Stephen’s men’s store.
From there, I moved on to Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing.
“After a tour with 3M company, I got into the life insurance business for a short time,” he said. “I decided I wanted to stay in the insurance industry.”
He has worked with Gulf Guaranty for a little over 41 years and currently serves as senior vice president.
Lee joined the National Guard in ’65 when he decided not to go back to school that semester.
He spent 29 years in the military.
“I started out in the Mississippi National Guard as an enlisted man,” he said. “I was with the 114th field artillery. That was a part of the old Dixie division, which was a combination of Alabama and Mississippi.”
“From there, I did my six-year hitch and got out of the guard,” Lee said.
He went on to join the State Guard.
“The State Guard is a major command within the Mississippi military department,” he said.
Lee stayed in the state guard for 23 years and finished his career as commander of the state guard. He retired with the rank of Major General two stars.
Lee has called Mississippi his home his entire life. He bought a home in Ridgeland 38 years ago and decided to stay.
“It’s a lovely place to live,” he said.
Last year, he decided to act on his dream of public service and run for alderman.
“I had always entertained the idea of running for public office and being a public servant,” he said.
Lee says he is “still in his learning stage,” but he still feels that he has had some opportunities to make a difference.
“I want to be a part of making Ridgeland the most ideal community and municipality in the state of Mississippi, if not the whole nation,” he said. “We have a wonderful city.”
As a past president of the Jackson Touchdown club and former chairman of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, Lee said when he isn’t working or serving his community, he enjoys athletics and the comradery that sports bring.
He is also a member of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), which he said is an agency of the United States Department of Defense.
In his free time, he likes to get out in Ward 5 and drive around to visit with people and introduce himself.
“Sometimes I’ve helped people with some problems that we were able to solve,” he said. “When you’re a public servant, you get calls from citizens on issues. Some we can help them with and some we can’t. But we’re going to give them the best shot we can. I like to help people. It brings personal satisfaction when an issue is resolved to their benefit.”