Veterans in P-I family share military remembrances

P-I Staff Writer


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Bill Williams ('52) (left) and his father Bryant Williams ('32),
both former P-I publishers, look over Bryant Williams’
World War II service memorabilia at his home in Paris on Friday.

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Danny Allen, the P-I’s head pressman and a Vietnam veteran, inspects the quality of the paper during a press run Monday.


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The Post Intelligencer is fortunate to have three U.S. Army veterans on its current payroll, including two of its former publishers and the man in charge of its press.

At the age of 28, P-I editor emeritus Bryant Williams ('32) joined up in late 1942, taking a leave of absence from his job as the paper’s assistant editor to serve as a U.S. Army second lieutenant.

After crossing the Atlantic on the liner-turned-troopship Queen Elizabeth, he found himself waiting at an air base in southern England for the coming of D-Day.

Now 93, he remembers thinking something was up when he spied the Allies’ Supreme Commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, inspecting paraglider troops at his base the afternoon before the invasion.

“I saw him at a distance in a Cadillac limousine, with flags flying from each fender,” he said. “The men had blackened their faces — he inspected them, and wished them well. It was a privilege to witness that.”

Later, after midnight, he watched as wave after wave of aircraft roared overhead toward the French coast. It was, he said, the most moving sight of the war for him.

“The sky was absolutely full of red and green wingtip lights,” he said.

An anti-aircraft battery commander, he and his four-gun battery protected Gen. George S. Patton’s headquarters from being strafed by low-flying fighters — an event that never happened.

Williams saw the iconic general himself twice — once wearing his trademark pearl-handled revolvers while exercising his small dog and another time as Patton addressed a batch of fresh troops from the states.

A grimmer sight awaited him as he and his fellow solders came across a Nazi death camp.

“There was row on row of bodies stacked up six feet high — like cordwood, it was,” he recalled. “They had been separated by layers of quicklime. Naked bodies of men, women and children.”

After mustering out, he was awarded a Bronze Star for meritorious service.

Williams’ son, editor emeritus Bill Williams ('52), also served in the U.S. Army, although he jokes of having “one of the shortest military careers in Uncle Sam’s Army.

“My military career was almost hilarious,” he said. “I never did serve in a regular outfit, it was always some kind of Looney Tunes outfit.”

Commissioned a second lieutenant after completing his ROTC training at Murray State University in June 1956, Williams served when the Army had a surfeit of second lieutenants.

His six months on active duty were spent at Fort Sill, Okla., working out the feasibility of the then-experimental technique of carrying 105 mm howitzers and their crews by helicopter, loading the gun’s chassis on one copter, and the barrel and crew on the other.

The only problem was the HU-1 Huey helicopters they used were underpowered, and the hot, thin summer air of Oklahoma further reduced the aircraft’s lift.

“We had several instances where a helicopter couldn’t make it, and we’d have to cut the gun loose,” he said.

By Vietnam, more powerful helicopters were used to transport both guns and crews, Williams said.

Williams’ first assignment during his seven and a half months in the Army Reserve was in Tullahoma.
“There was a lot of retired military brass,” he said. “Majors, light colonels, bird colonels, but there weren’t any enlisted men. They were all chiefs and no Indians.”

Tasked with creating an Army Reserve unit from this personnel pool, the Army opted for a Civil Military Government outfit, which would handle running a country in the event it was taken over by the U.S military.

“I wound up teaching international finance to a group that included the local bank president,” he laughed.

He said that a year passed from the time of his slated automatic promotion to first lieutenant and when his silver bars finally arrived.

“I’ve always suspected that I was the Army’s senior second lieutenant,” he said. “The army wasn’t quite sure I existed.”

Danny Allen, the paper’s head pressman, had a similar feeling as an ammunition specialist in Vietnam, after being the 13th man drafted in the war’s largest draft in 1969.

“I was a hard person to get orders for,” he said.

Throughout his military career, both stateside and in Vietnam, Allen went months without mail or pay because his orders couldn’t be found.

Allen’s military occupation specialty (MOS) — 55 B20 and 55 A10 — meant his job was to reload helicopters and other vehicles.

“With that MOS, you can go anywhere,” Allen said ruefully.

The job was dangerous, especially when it came to loading rockets onto the copters, since only a spark of static electricity could set off the rocket.

“One of my sergeants told me he had a good friend that was rearming one, and he stood in front of the (rocket),” Allen said. “Just as soon as it hit and clicked, it went off and went clear through him, and hurt quite a few more guys.”

Throughout his year in Vietnam, he also guarded highly explosive fuel, performed a dangerous helicopter loading technique known as “red hatting,” and acted as a helicopter door gunner — a job he said had “a lifespan of about an hour.”

He especially recalls one mission where they were ordered to fire on a village known to be populated with North Vietnamese soldiers.

“Because the North was in there, we had orders to go in and fire up on them,” he said. “It wasn’t too much fun when you see those tracers coming right toward you.”

Allen said he was on his way to borrow money because his lost orders meant he wasn’t going to get paid when an unplanned bit of insubordination sent him home.

After explaining his refusal to salute a colonel, the officer learned about Allen’s lost orders, and demanded they be found. Once located, the documents showed his time was up, and he was on his way back to the States by the end of the day — driven to the airport by the colonel’s personal Jeep.

After returning home, he spent a year with McKenzie’s National Guard unit as a tank driver before parting company with the military for good.

Today, he has one piece of advice for anyone thinking of military service.

“If you ever join the Army, try not to have an MOS that’s a 55 B20 or 55 A10 ’cause they’ll ship you anywhere — it doesn’t matter if you have orders or not,” Allen said.


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Bryant  Williams
Grove  1932
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Bill  Williams
Grove  1952


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Reprinted  from
The Paris Post-Intelligencer
Paris, Tennessee
November 9, 2007  Edition ~ USED  BY  PERMISSION