James Elliot Williams
James Elliott Williams (13 November 1930 – 13 October 1999)
was born in Fort Mill, South Carolina and moved two months later with
his parents to Darlington, South Carolina where he spent his early
childhood and youth. He attended the local schools and graduated from
St. John's high school. He was a sailor of the United States Navy
during the 1950s and 1960s. He is, also, the most highly decorated
enlisted man in the history of the U.S. Navy.
In the Navy
In July 1947, at the age of 16, he entered the United States Navy where
he served for twenty years, retiring in April 1967. During those twenty
years he served in both the Korean and Vietnam War.
In Vietnam, the petty officer was assigned to the River Patrol Force
whose mission was to intercept Viet Cong arms shipments on the
waterways of South Vietnam's Mekong Delta. On 31 October 1966,
Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Williams, patrol commander for his boat,
River Patrol Boat 105, and another PBR was searching for Viet Cong
guerrillas operating in an isolated area of the Mekong Delta. Suddenly,
Communist guerrillas manning two sampans opened fire on the Americans.
When Williams and his men neutralized one boat crew, the other one
escaped into a nearby canal. The PBR sailors gave chase and soon found
themselves in a beehive of enemy activity as Viet Cong guerrillas
opened up with rocket propelled grenades and small arms against the
Americans from fortified river bank positions.
Against overwhelming odds, several times Williams led his PBRs against
concentrations of enemy junks and sampans. He also called for support
from the heavily armed UH-1B Huey helicopters of Navy Helicopter Attack
(Light) Squadron 3, the "Seawolves." When that help arrived, he kicked
off another attack in the failing light, cleverly turning on his boats'
searchlights to illuminate enemy forces and positions. As a result of
the three-hour battle, the American naval force killed numerous Viet
Cong guerrillas, destroyed over fifty vessels, and disrupted a major
enemy logistic operation. BM1 Williams not only displayed great courage
under fire, but a keen understanding of how his sailors, weapons, and
equipment could be used to achieve victory.
On 14 May 1968, President Lyndon Johnson, in the name of Congress,
presented Williams the Medal of Honor. His other awards include the
Navy Cross, Silver Star (with one gold award star), the Legion of Merit
(with Valor Device), the Navy and Marine Corps Medal with gold star,
Bronze Star Medal with two gold stars, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with
Gold Star and Palm, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps
Presidential Unit Citation with one service star, Purple Heart with two
gold stars, Vietnam Service Medal with bronze service star, Republic of
Vietnam Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal with bronze
service star, United Nations Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with
two bronze service stars, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, Korean War
Service Medal, and the Navy Good Conduct Medal with four bronze service
Chief Petty Officer Williams retired from active service in 1967 and
was employed with the Wackenhut Corporation. In 1969, he was appointed
U. S. Marshal for the District of South Carolina where he served until
May 1977. He was then transferred to Federal Law Enforcement Training
Center, Glynco, Georgia as an instructor and National Armorer. He was
called back to South Carolina in July 1979 under court appointment as
U. S. Marshal for South Carolina and served in that position until
April 1980. He was then transferred to U. S. Marshal service
Headquarters, Washington, D. C. as Programs Manager, Health and Safety
and In-District Training Officer where he served until his retirement
from the U. S. Marshals Service with the grade of GS-18.
He was married to the former Elaine Weaver. They had five children and
seven grandchildren. He is now buried at the Florence National Cemetery
in Florence, South Carolina.