There are some people who simply do not retreat in the face of danger. (PO1c) Boatswain’s Mate James E Williams was one of those. With the fervor of someone like Patton or Chesty Puller, Williams led his men INTO an enemy stronghold instead of away from it. As a result, an overwhelming force against them was decimated, and a Medal of Honor was bestowed.
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James E Williams joined the Navy in 1947 at 16 years old on an altered birth certificate. It was a lie that ultimately saved lives. Just three years into his Navy enlistment, the Korean War erupted. He served aboard the USS Douglas Fox during that conflict, leading several small boat raiding parties. But instead of going home after the war was over, he continued his enlistment into the Vietnam War. It was fortuitous for his men.
October 31, 1966, Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Williams was the Petty Officer in charge of overseeing patrols in the Mekong Delta as the Vietnam War was heating up in 1966 and 1967. At the time in his career when other NCOs would be seeking a quiet place to end their enlistment, Williams was tossing ammunition over his shoulder and telling junior sailors everything was going to be okay – and it was, because Williams was going to see to that.
That’s what happened on Oct. 31, 1966, when Williams’ two boat patrol was ambushed by two enemy boats on the river. He collected his “19-year-old and scared to death” gunners, and directed a return fire that destroyed one boat and sent the other running away for dear life. It wouldn’t get away, as the sailors chased the damaged enemy boat right into…An enemy stronghold.
Suddenly, they were outnumbered 65-to-1. The VC opened up on the Americans with withering AK-47 and RPG fire. You can probably guess what happened next.Blake Stilwell at WeAreTheMighty
Williams and his crew literally laid waste to the VC shipping hub in the midst of “withering fire.” Then he called in air support. For three hours, they took out 65 VC boats, killed 1,000 VC, and decimated enemy shipping lines for the entire region.
His Medal of Honor Citation reads, in part:
Williams was serving as boat captain and patrol officer aboard River Patrol Boat (PBR) 105 accompanied by another patrol boat when the patrol was suddenly taken under fire by two enemy sampans. PO1c. Williams immediately ordered the fire returned, killing the crew of one enemy boat and causing the other sampan to take refuge in a nearby river inlet. Pursuing the fleeing sampan, the U.S. patrol encountered a heavy volume of small-arms fire from enemy forces, at close-range, occupying well-concealed positions along the river bank. Maneuvering through this fire, the patrol confronted a numerically superior enemy force aboard two enemy junks and eight sampans augmented by heavy automatic-weapons fire from ashore.
In the savage battle that ensued, PO1c. Williams, with utter disregard for his safety, exposed himself to the withering hail of enemy fire to direct counterfire and inspire the actions of his patrol. Recognizing the overwhelming strength of the enemy force, PO1c. Williams deployed his patrol to await the arrival of armed helicopters. In the course of his movement he discovered an even larger concentration of enemy boats. Not waiting for the arrival of the armed helicopters, he displayed great initiative and boldly led the patrol through the intense enemy fire and damaged or destroyed 50 enemy sampans and seven junks. This phase of the action completed, and with the arrival of the armed helicopters, PO1c. Williams directed the attack on the remaining enemy force.
Now virtually dark, and although PO1c. Williams was aware that his boats would become even better targets, he ordered the patrol boats’ search lights turned on to better illuminate the area and moved the patrol perilously close to shore to press the attack. Despite a waning supply of ammunition, the patrol successfully engaged the enemy ashore and completed the rout of the enemy force. Under the leadership of PO1c. Williams who demonstrated unusual professional skill and indomitable courage throughout the three-hour battle, the patrol accounted for the destruction or loss of 65 enemy boats and inflicted numerous casualties on the enemy personnel. His extraordinary heroism and exemplary fighting spirit in the face of grave risks inspired the efforts of his men to defeat a larger enemy force and are in keeping with the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.MOH Citation
PO1c James E Williams was also the recipient of the “Navy Cross, the Silver Star with gold star, the Legion of Merit with combat V, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal with gold star, the Bronze Star with combat V and two gold stars, the Purple Heart with two gold stars and a ton of other unit commendations and service medals,” according to Blake Stilwell.
Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon B Johnson on May 14,1968. He was promoted to Boatswain’s Mate First Class when he retired, but was made an honorary Chief in 1977. He passed away in 1999.
”It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Mark Twain
Featured photos: Boatswain’s Mate James E Williams, US Navy photo
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