Jan. 13, 1963, April 30, 1985, May 1, 1985, May 1, 2004, and Sept. 16, 2011. These are all dates on the calendar to the average person, but for retired Lt. Col. David E. William, they are of the utmost importance. Each one of these dates carries significance for Williams, who recently retired after providing more than 50 years of service to Fort Bragg’s Soldiers.
Williams’ journey began on Jan. 13, 1963, when the Greenville, N.C. native joined the U.S. Army as a means to help provide for his Family, which had just lost their home to an accidental fire. Williams enlisted as an Army medic and was immediately sent back to Fort Bragg, which allowed him to assist his mother take care of the Family. Williams said he received a draft deferment because he was a college student. But said his plan was to enlist in the Army and establish a foundation for a career in the Army’s medical field. His performance as a medic and his college education earned him an opportunity for the Army’s Officer Candidate School.
He became a ward master as a medic, but once he completed OCS, he was commissioned into the field artillery branch in 1965.
“In enjoyed (being a medic), but I wanted more within my capabilities, so I went on to OCS and I haven’t regretted it,” Williams said. He said being a member of the Army’s elite airborne is something he had always desired.
“I wanted to be airborne, so I first came here in the mid 60s, about 1965, then right after I went to Vietnam, I came back in ’68 and deployed with the 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division in Vietnam. Then I stayed with the 3rd Battalion, 320th Artillery Regiment.”
Williams said he went to career school from there, then Germany and back to Fort Bragg in 1978 and he finished his career between the 1st Reserve Officer Training Corps Region and the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.
At JFKSWCS, Williams worked at the African desk, which involved mobile training teams to African countries.
“My final assignment was as the allied liaison officer, who was responsible for receiving all foreign officers that came to JFK to train in psychological operations and Special Forces,” he explained.
Williams said the most rewarding thing about being a Soldier was seeing the humanitarian assistance that the U.S. Army was giving overseas in countries that needed it.
“I enjoyed that more than the garrison-type living back here at Fort Bragg,” he said. “Although, the trade-off was that I was able to see and spend time with my Family. But for me, personally, when I went to bed at night and woke up, I felt that we were doing more good in places like Africa or with the Asian countries that we assisted.”
Williams said he has no regrets with his military career because he always gave 100 percent in everything he was asked to do.
“I think I did my best at all of them,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of regrets. I gave all I had when I was a private, E-4, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, all the way to lieutenant colonel. I don’t think I was ever called lazy. I would give 110 percent, so I have no regrets from what I gave the Army and what the Army gave to me.
“I think that if I had to do it all again, I would try to spend more time with my Family, while my kids were small, but back then, the mentality was, ‘if the Army wanted you to have a Family, it would’ve issued you one,’ so you couldn’t come up and tell your superiors that my wife is going in tomorrow for a consult with the doctor and I would like to go. Back then, she and the kids would have to go by themselves.
Williams did manage to see the birth of his daughter at Fort Sill, Okla. in 1970, but his son, who is the older of the two, was born on April 22, 1967, when Williams was deployed to Vietnam.
“There was no talk of me coming home for his birth, we didn’t have the beauty of Skype, YouTube and the other social media networks that we now have,” Williams said. “With the technology that we have now, I probably would do things differently, but with the situation back then, even without cell phones, I’m not sure I had the nerves to ask for what appeared to be special favors.”
He said he took into consideration that his peers were going through the same situations as his own and it would not have been fair to them either
Williams remembers the birth date of his son because he was wounded in combat four days later.
“We were in a place called An Lao Valley,” Williams said. “I think I had spoken via Military Auxiliary Radio System radio to my wife while she was in the hospital. We were all rejoicing and in fact, we were looking at photographs. As a second lieutenant, field artillery forward observer, you have a private who carries the radio. My radio-telephone operator was Pfc. John Broadbeck, from California. The infantry company that we supported was Company A, 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment (Garry Owens), 1st Cavalry Division. Along with us were Captain Walter Lee Swain and his radio telephone operator, a specialist named Adams.
“We were sitting around looking at his wife’s photos. We all were so close that we would pass around photos and letters. As we were doing that, an incoming round landed near our position. The only thing that saved me was that I was in the foxhole with my steel pot (helmet) on and I was at ground level. The round fell within my reach and shrapnel struck me below my helmet, in my eyes,” Williams said.
“The other three were sitting above ground with their helmets off and it took them out. They died instantly. No suffering or anything.”
He said after that, his toughest job was trying to help identify their remains, especially with injuries to his eyes.
“Afterwards, I had about three operations in Vietnam and ended up in Yokohama Naval Hospital in Japan. I recuperated for about six to eight months, then they re-routed me back to Vietnam.
Williams served two tours in Vietnam, including one that was only six months long.
During his time in division, he served with Headquarters, 82nd Abn. Div. and as commander of Battery A, 3rd Bn., 320th Field Artillery, in addition to his time with the 1st Cavalry Division.
On Apr. 30, 1985, Williams retired from active duty and began a job as director of Fayetteville State University center on Fort Bragg. He would serve in this capacity until retiring May 1, 2004. He then served as a test proctor for Central Texas College at Fort Bragg.
Williams said working with Soldiers every day has brought him gratification.
“It was great working with them,” he said. “I’ve always said that my sanity and the sanity of those who were stressed during the Vietnam War, for whatever reason, were probably saved when compared to others who came back and got out of the military,” he said.
“We were saved because we were still around the environment and camaraderie of people who understood who we were, where we were coming from and we all had similar situations that were still developing with some,” Williams added.
He added that he genuinely enjoys working with adults and the Fayetteville State job was an option that was available to him, following his work in the high schools as an ROTC instructor.
“I prefer working with adults instead of younger children,” Williams said. Fortunately for me, that’s the way it worked out. Even though FSU is a state-regulated university, we’re still committed to helping Soldiers.”
Williams said helping Soldiers has been the most rewarding aspect of his more than 50 years of service, whether it was in the military of as a state government employee, he still got the opportunity to assist America’s finest men and women.
“There’s not a day of place, whether it’s the commissary, the (Veterans Administration) hospital or Wal-Mart, that I don’t meet somebody who says to me, ‘hey Mr. Williams are you still in the education center?’ I normally say yes, until I retired, because I’m still educating and training and testing Soldiers. Then I also try to narrow it down to understand where we crossed paths. Almost always, it was during those 20 years I was at Fayetteville State and they tell me how I helped them with one of their issues,” Williams said.
A consistent theme among all of those people, including some of his former co-workers was various descriptions of how Williams helped them to achieve their goals.
Despite the services that he provided to so many, Williams explained that his career was not always filled with pleasantries. He is currently writing a book and in it he expands on that subject.
“It wasn’t a bed of roses as a black officer during that time,” he explained. “The common theme in the minds of a lot of white officers during that time was that the black folks were wrong. They saw themselves as a conservative group of people in a bigger group of people, which made up the Army.
Williams said he encountered officers who proclaim that they would fight integration until their death.
“Well it wasn’t about integration, it was about eating at a restaurant,” Williams said. “When I though I could do some good, I tried to explain our position, which was in my heart, what we were trying to get to.
“Many of them were from the South,” he added. “The knew the pain that had been inflicted on blacks, such as coming through the back door to eat at establishments. They knew it. So that didn’t require a lot of explanation, but unfortunately, that uniform didn’t change those guys a damn bit and they held on to those beliefs.”
Despite those challenges that Williams had to overcome, he still said he gave his all in service to his country and the Soldiers with whom he served and provided service.
Williams retired from his job as a test proctor with Central Texas College on Sept. 16, 2011 and continues to reside near Sanford, N.C., where he can remain close to the people he still calls important — Soldiers.