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William Sheehan; doused fires, fueled laughs

William E. Sheehan had a penchant for slapstick humor. Whenever he drove his children to Nahant Beach, he always told the same joke about his "second job" at Slade's pepper factory.

"I pick flies out of the pepper with boxing gloves," Mr. Sheehan would say with a sly grin, one of his daughters recalled.

A retired Cambridge firefighter and a decorated veteran of World War II, Mr. Sheehan died Sunday from complications following hip surgery. He was 87.

"He had a great sense of humor and loved practical jokes," Kathy Dingee Sheehan, of Bellingham, Wash., said yesterday. "He had this picture of The Last Supper hanging in the family room. He cut out his head from another photo and glued it onto the picture to make it look like he was the 13th Apostle."

A 1934 graduate of Rindge Technical High School in Cambridge, Mr. Sheehan worked as a machinist at the Charlestown Navy Yard for five years before enlisting in the Army.

During World War II, he served in Europe, participating in the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. He was awarded a Bronze Star.

He served the Cambridge Fire Department at the Porter Square, Sherman Street, and Central Square stations from 1947 until his retirement in 1977.

"He was a firefighter during the busiest fire years Cambridge has ever seen, with the antiwar protests and the Harvard riots. He was part of an extremely busy engine and he saw a lot of fire duty," John O'Donoghue, Cambridge Fire Department chief of operations, said yesterday.

Mr. Sheehan also worked part time as a landscaper and a plumber's assistant.

He was an avid reader of newspaper obituaries, which he called the "Irish Sports Page," and he loved making Sunday night dinner with biscuits that "were as hard as hockey pucks," Kathy said.

Mr. Sheehan, who spent his summers in West Yarmouth, lived in North Cambridge for more than 40 years, and moved to West Medford in 2002.

In his retirement, he enjoyed watching the Red Sox and professional golf, traveling to Florida, and visiting with his children and grandchildren.

His wife, Alma, and a daughter, Joan, predeceased him.

In addition to his daughter Kathy, Mr. Sheehan leaves another daughter, Patricia Mahoney of Medford; three sons, John H. and Bill Jr. both of Medford, and Robert of Cambridge; and 11 grandchildren.

A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. tomorrow in St. John the Evangelist Church in Cambridge. Burial will be in Cambridge Cemetery.

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