‘He was doing what he thought was right’ in war
St. Mary’s man died after finding right fit with Kurdish cause online
William Savage fulfilled a dream of military service by serving in the war-torn Middle East, where he arrived early last year and died this month while helping other people get to safety.
Childhood medical issues denied Savage enlistment in the U.S. military services, a guardian and family member said this week, and a trip overseas two years ago to join the French Foreign Legion was unsuccessful.
But Savage found and researched online the struggle of Kurdish forces against the Islamic State in Syria, and joining that effort by all accounts was a good fit for the former student from Great Mills High School.
Savage, 27, maintained some contact with loved ones back in St. Mary’s through email, but even comments about coming home didn’t mean he’d stay in the United States.
“I’m pretty sure he would have gone back,”
said Brenna Savage, his 29-year-old sister who now lives outside Washington, D.C. “That was really what he wanted to do.”
William Savage wanted to get into military service since he was a young teenager, according to Mary Slade, who was a babysitter caring for him during his childhood, and became his financial guardian when his mother died in 2007. They continued to keep in touch after he became an adult, and she witnessed his persistent efforts to serve in uniform.
“As a child [in his toddler years], he had a history of seizures,” Slade said this week at her accounting business in Leonardtown. “Because it was in his medical history, ... the military wouldn’t take him. He did all the training. We could never get him into any branch of the service.”
After leaving high school, Savage earned a GED and also took courses at the College of Southern Maryland and St. Mary’s College of Maryland, while living at an apartment off Willows Road.
“He didn’t have a vehicle,” Slade said. “He rode his bike or walked to college ever y day.”
Savage studied toward working in the field of criminal justice or political science, as an alternative to his hoped-for career in the armed services.
“He was getting good grades. I just don’t think it satisfied what he was looking for,” Slade said. “We tried to find something else for him, [but] his passion was to go into the military. I wish the American military had taken him. He would have been a tremendous asset for them.”
Instead, Savage flew to France in December 2013 to join that country’s foreign legion, only to return six months later.
“They weren’t recruiting at that time,” Brenna Savage said.
Her brother worked at jobs including as a butcher at a grocery in St. Mary’s, she said, and also spent some time with his father in North Carolina, before again getting on a plane in the beginning of last year to join the Kurdish forces in Syria.
“He met people online and was able to find out about everything that was going on over there,” his sister said.
William Savage’s email communications with his family did not delve much into his day-to-day experiences, his sister said. “I think he didn’t want me to worry about him,” she said, but she learned that the highly structured command he was serving included a leave policy to visit Sweden and meet a woman who became a girlfriend.
The soldier’s initial enlistment was to end at the beginning of this year, and was extended to this month.
“In May,” his sister said, “our family dog passed away. I let him know. I sent him an email, and he sent me one back, ... [that] hopefully he would see us soon. That’s the last email I got from him.”
William Savage was wounded on Aug. 10 in Manbij, Syria, his sister said, and he died later that day.
“He was clearing a building, and he was getting people out of the building, and it was hit,” she said, adding that efforts to save her brother’s life immediately commenced at the scene. “They couldn’t save him.”
Macer Gifford, an American also fighting against ISIS in Syria, posted an account on Facebook of how William Savage, known there as Heval Amed, once reacted after obeying a commander’s order to cross a roadway during heavy enemy gunfire.
“I was surprised to see a big smile on his face,” Gifford wrote. “I was scared for him, but he didn’t seem to have a care in the world!”
Brenna Savage said that arrangements continue to bring her brother’s remains back to the United States for a memorial service.
“I was proud of my brother,” she said this week. “He was a hero. He was doing what he thought was right.”
William Savage found his chance to serve as a soldier early last year.