DENMARK, S.C. — He’s probably known more for his 1,275 tennis singles and doubles matches and his career 64 percent winning percentage.
But Bill Jolly says few people are aware that he drove a landing craft under enemy fire in both the European and the Pacific Theaters of World War II.
“I was a coach at one time; I coached all sports,” Jolly said. “More people know me statewide for tennis.”
Jolly began swinging a tennis racket at the age of 13. At age 86, he’s still playing the sport, with tennis being his lifelong passion. From 1980 to 2005, Jolly won 36 state competitions, including a record 32 straight; five southern championships and even a national competition. In 2005, Jolly became South Carolina’s oldest player to win a state championship.
But recently, Jolly’s “other life” became one of the stories told by veterans in the fifth episode of the Emmy-nominated series, A World War. The episode, “South Carolinians in World War II,” aired on SCETV.
On June 6, 1944, the Allied forces invaded Hitler’s “Fortress Europe” at beaches called Omaha, Utah, Juno and Sword. Jolly was in the Normandy invasion, serving as the driver of a Navy landing craft that brought in troops and vehicles.
His first three trips on and off the beach went without a hitch. But on the fourth trip, his craft attracted some unwanted attention from a German acoustic mine. The back half of his ship was blown off.
Once the LST-133 was ship-shape again, Jolly and his landing craft were ordered to the Pacific, where he would take part in the biggest operations of that theater.
“We were on the move all the time — Guam, Saipan,” he said. “We did two invasions, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.”
After the surrender of the Japanese, the South Carolinian said he found himself piloting the first LST into Tokyo Bay. Having seen the war’s three biggest invasions from the front row, Jolly said the most frightening event he experienced was a typhoon that struck Tokyo Bay during a supply trip.
Waves recorded at heights of up to 80 feet bore down on his convoy of four ships, Jolly said.
The Denmark resident and former tennis champion isn’t the only veteran interviewed in the ETV program. Veterans from around South Carolina were featured, including a bomber waist gunner who escaped a POW camp and an Army wife at Pearl Harbor who waved to the planes overhead “with the big orange stickers on them.”
One section of the program focused on Clemson University, which graduated more officers into the military than any other institution other than Texas A&M.
Jolly said he and the other veterans attended an early screening of “South Carolinians in World War II.”
“It’s good; it’s very good,” Jolly said. “It’s worth watching.”