I first got to know Bill Detweiler in the mid-1990s when he became a member of the Board of Trustees of The National D-Day Museum, a time when many thought we would never get open (having missed several deadlines due to fundraising challenges). Bill’s remarkable service on the Board came during the decisive years from 1996 to 2002, and he was one of my stalwart champions when I became Chairman and CEO of the institution in 1998.
This was a remarkably challenging time as we brought the original National D-Day Museum to life, raised money, rebuilt the board, and dealt with countless internal and external issues to meet our goal of opening the Museum on June 6, 2000. Bill served as a leading member of the Grand Opening committee for 18 months, helping to deliver a remarkable three-day extravaganza of events, including a parade of more than 1,500 D-Day veterans.
He wanted to do what was right for the Museum. It’s always good to have a few people on the Board who will tell you honestly whether or not an idea is good. Once a decision was made to go forward, Bill was always at my side.
At the most challenging moments, Bill stepped up. I remember in 2002, for example, when Bill helped me organize a delegation to travel to Normandy and conclude a partnership between our Museum and the French National Memorial of Peace Museum in Caen. The day we landed in Paris, I learned that my dear friend Stephen Ambrose had passed away—and as I rushed to catch the next plane home, Bill volunteered to step in for me and represent the Museum at the ceremonies in France. This international partnership was something Stephen and I had dreamed about for a decade.
When Bill rotated off the Board, we contracted him as a consultant to serve as the Museum’s military affairs liaison, collaborating on events and programming. All of that was quite a lot of work. Bill had extraordinary contacts in the community, and used them.
Bill was vital to building relationships in the veteran community and beyond. He gave us far more of his time than he ever billed for. He was generous—a great man and great friend.
In Memoriam: Bill Detweiler, by President & CEO Stephen J. Watson.