Category: Military Remembrances

James “Willie” Williams: The Most Decorated Enlisted Sailor in Naval History

I discovered this story about James Elliott “Willy” Williams in the Navy Times November 8, 2018 Edition. It was written by Doug Sterner. It is really quite a story and the man is most certainly an American hero! You can read the story here, or click here to read this on the Navy Times website

Willy Williams, the most decorated enlisted sailor in Navy history

By: Doug Sterner   November 8, 2018

In the history of the U.S. Navy only seven men have earned all of the “Big Three” valor awards: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross and Silver Star Medal. Six were World War II officers, including one aviator and four submarine commanders. The seventh was enlisted sailor James Elliott “Willy” Williams in Vietnam.

In 1947, Williams, a 16-year-old from Fort Mill, South Carolina, enlisted in the Navy with a fraudulent birth certificate. His first 19 years in the Navy included service aboard the destroyer USS Douglas H. Fox during the Korean War and tours on a variety of naval vessels from 1953 to 1965.

In May 1966 Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Williams was assigned to River Squadron 5 in South Vietnam to command Patrol Boat, River 105. The approximately 30-foot fiberglass boat usually carried a four-man crew who patrolled inland waterways to prevent the Viet Cong from using them to transport troops and supplies.

On July 1 Williams led a patrol that came under fire from a Viet Cong sampan. His deft maneuvers and accurate fire killed five VC and resulted in capture of the enemy boat, earning Williams a Bronze Star Medal with a “V” for valor. Twenty-two days later the capture of another sampan brought Williams a second Bronze Star for valor. Less than a month later, he received a Silver Star and his first Purple Heart.

On Halloween, Oct. 31, 1966, Williams was commanding a two-boat patrol on the Mekong River when he was fired on by two sampans. He and his crew killed the occupants of one and then went after the other. That pursuit put the Navy boats into a VC staging area containing two junks and eight sampans, supported by machine guns on the river banks. Williams called for helicopter gunship support while holding the enemy at bay. During this movement he discovered an even larger force. Not waiting for the armed helicopters, Williams attacked. Maneuvering through devastating fire from enemy boats and the shore, his two-boat patrol fought a three-hour battle that destroyed or damaged 65 VC boats and eliminated some 1,200 Communist troops. For his actions, Williams was nominated for the Medal of Honor.

On Jan. 9, 1967, the Navy dredge Jamaica Bay was blown up by mines in the Mekong Delta, and PBR-105 arrived to pick up seven of the survivors. Another man was trapped in the rapidly sinking dredge. Williams dove into the water and, with a rope attached to a nearby tug, pulled clear an obstruction, then swam through a hatch to recover the sailor.

Six days later Williams was wounded while leading a three-boat patrol that interdicted a crossing attempt by three VC heavy-weapons companies of 400 fighters. He and his boats accounted for 16 VC killed, 20 wounded and the destruction of nine sampans and junks. Williams was awarded the Navy Cross.

When Williams returned home in spring 1967, he had a list of awards unmatched by any enlisted man in Navy history. He retired after 20 years of service and began a career in the U.S. Marshals Service.

willy williams

On May 14, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Williams with the Medal of Honor. For his lifesaving actions at the sinking Jamaica Bay, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, often called “the noncombat medal of honor.”

During his last seven months in the Navy, Williams received every sea-service award for heroism including the Legion of Merit with “V,” two Navy Commendation Medals for valor and three Purple Hearts.

Williams died on Oct. 13, 1999, and in 2003 his widow, Elaine, watched the launching of the Arleigh Burke class destroyer, USS James E. Williams.

Doug Sterner, an Army veteran who served two tours in Vietnam, is curator of the world’s largest database of U.S. military valor awards.

This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Vietnam Magazine, a Military Times sister publication. For more information on Vietnam Magazine and all of the HistoryNet publications, visit historynet.com.

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Be on the watch for my new thriller, Montagnard, coming out this summer, and check out the original JD Cordell military action thriller available on Amazon.com.

Etchings in Stone, Moving Beyond Belief …

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also referred to as The Wall, in Washington DC, is a late but wonderful first step in welcoming home Vietnam Veterans. Etchings in Stone is an unbelievably moving play written by Ron Harris about The Wall from a very unique perspective.

Ron Harris, Playwright and Vietnam Veteran

etchings

I met Ron Harris, a North Carolina Vietnam Veteran, at the Raleigh Museum of History during a Vietnam Veteran’s Day event. This event featured the mobile “Wall” exhibit, a Huey (bringing back my own fond memories of my time with the 101st Air Assault Division), and other Vietnam War memorabilia collected and displayed by the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Chu Chi Tunnels and a conversation 

While looking at a great 3-D diorama of the Chu Chi Tunnels of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), a man came up and asked if I had any questions about the diorama. We began to talk about the Chu Chi Tunnels and other dioramas he had built and that were on display.  During the conversation, I disclosed that I had written a novel that begins with the story of my main character’s father fighting in Vietnam, titled Serpents Underfoot

Ron then told me that he’d written a play called Etchings in Stone about The Wall, and  that it was showing every hour in the museum auditorium. I decided I needed to see this play. We talked a bit more before I headed toward the auditorium to see Etching in Stone. I was not entirely prepared for what I was about to experience.

Twenty-one Etchings

The play features about twenty-one segments, or stories, about visitors to The Wall.  Ron took the unique and extremely moving perspective of placing the audience inside The Wall, and giving them the ability to hear what the visitors were saying as well as their unspoken thoughts. The effect was moving beyond belief.  

etchings

Each visitor approaches The Wall looking for a name … a father, a husband, a brother, an uncle, or a fellow soldier, sailor, marine, or airman. You hear their words as well as their thoughts. One emotional soldier thanks a medic for saving his life. Then there’s the widow who misses her husband dearly. And, the father or mother missing their son. We meet a  woman missing her older brother. There’s even a soldier apologizing for accidentally shooting his buddy because his buddy had not given the countersign when challenged upon entering the defensive perimeter. The anguish was very real! It was palpable!

You are all my father …

The last segment blew me completely away. It featured a young Amerasian woman, who I later learned she was played by Ron Harris’s adopted daughter. The young woman approaches The Wall. We learn that she is the daughter of the an American soldier and a Vietnamese woman. The soldier planned to marry her mother, but is killed in action before that could occur. The mother, with little chance of making a life for her daughter, puts the baby up for adoption. The baby is adopted and raised by a wonderful American couple. While the young woman loves her adoptive parents very much, she wants to know who her real father was.

She seeks help from the U.S. military but they have no records of who he father might have been. She contacts other Vietnam Vets, but they are unable to help her either. The young woman then returns to Vietnam and locates an aunt who tells her that her mother died and never talked much about her American fiance. He aunt is very sorry, but she cannot help her.

The young woman finally comes to The Wall to pick a name … a name to be her father.  But, when she sees the number of of names on The Wall, she is completely overwhelmed. How can she choose only one? The woman decides to choose them all … they will all be her father. And that way, in the future, if anyone should ever asks if her father’s name is on The Wall, she can answer truthfully … yes.

Moments of respite …

I do not know if it was intended this way, but between segments of Etchings in Stone there are power point slides that include interesting facts about the Vietnam War and The Wall. There is also music from the era, video, and still photos of the Vietnam War. There are interviews with veterans and songs about The Wall. The play is entertaining, extremely moving, and very educational.

A shift in America’s conscience.

This country always welcomed  its Veterans home with open arms. That is until the Korean War. Korean War veterans came home to simple indifference. However, when Vietnam War ended, that indifference became outright disrespect and even hatred. Far too many Americans spit on these veterans, or called them baby killer and other names.  These men and women only did the job their government had sent them to do. Therefore, in addition to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) some suffered due to the effects of combat, many suffered an additional layer of PTSD caused by this treatment. This treatment of these American veterans was a national disgrace. 

While the Vietnam War certainly affected the men and women who fought it, it also had a profound effect on those who stayed home. The mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, wives and children, girlfriends, friends and strangers were all touched by the war. This play, Etchings in Stone, addresses the issues that affected all these people, veterans, family and friends. It is Ron’s hope that through this play, Vietnam veterans will come to realize that they are not alone in their feelings.

D.C. Gilbert