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John Williams Army

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John Williams - 1603 Views
honored by Michael Ford

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Assigned: 1st Cavalry Division
Location of Service: Korea, Japan
Gender: male
Basic Training: Fort Knox, Kentucky
From City: Delphos
From State: Ohio
Current City: Delphos
Current State: Ohio
My War Stories
  1953 (Courtesy Michael Ford, Delphos Herald). In the early years of the Cold War, nothing may have been as icy as the conditions a local veteran faced just a few miles from Russia. Though winter temperatures could reach 35 degrees below zero, being apart from his wife just days after their wedding was the most frigid factor of all. John Williams, 76, was drafted in to the United States Army in 1953. After basic training in Kentucky, the St. John’s High School graduate used his few days of freedom to make a very important memory with his girlfriend, Earlene. “I got out of basic training in July and got seven days to come home, so we got married and I went to Fort Lewis, Washington, and they shipped me to Tokyo,” he said. Williams doesn’t recall their even being telephone lines to Asia. Unlike current soldiers who can make video-phone calls to loved ones and build MySpace pages, Williams had no more contact with Earlene than the post office could provide. “I didn’t talk to my wife even once in 19 months — we didn’t expect me to be over there that long, though,” Williams said. His stay in Tokyo was just long enough to board a train for the northern island of Hokkaido, across the Sea of Japan from Russia. The First Cavalry Division was there to monitor the Red Army and to be available if needed in Korea. “I was stationed up there for 14 months. The whole First Cavalry Division was up there right across from an island the Russians had taken after World War II and wouldn’t give back; they had their troops there,” he said. Every three weeks, Williams went in to the field on “alert duty” to keep an eye on the Russians. “Hokkaido was bad duty up there because it was so cold. We were up near the Russian border and that was miserable. It was so cold — 35 below zero. We were on alert duty most of the time. We would have somebody say they saw Russian planes come across on patrol. We had our tanks sitting their in their direction and for practice, we would shoot toward the Russian island just to aggravate them and they did the same thing,” he said. Soldiers made what barracks they could and used portable heaters to avoid frostbite. Because their vehicles could not work several feet deep in snow, Williams and others went everywhere on cross-country skis. He recalls one man committing suicide and a training accident or two, but the most danger presented was when an ammunition dump blew up. “They didn’t know how, but we had an ammo dump blow up. That thing went off for a week and stuff flew in every direction. They never did find any of the guys on guard duty. There was some danger there; we just had to ski around it about 10 miles,” he recalled. Williams said Hokkaido had no rice fields and very little population. He only remembers a few natives and some bears and monkeys, with which he never had a skirmish. Before a tunnel was dug to the mainland, those going between the islands traveled by ferry. There was a typhoon in 1954 that, Williams says, took the lives of 130 members of the “First Cav.” Willams had not yet been given orders to leave and was not on the boat. He knew two of those who perished and was called south to identify one of the bodies. “They finally pulled the whole division out and we scattered everywhere. I was stationed right by Mount Fujiyama for another four months before I got to come home. That was nice right there, it was warm,” he said of mainland Japan. When Williams came home in February 1954, he said the Army owed him 51 days of leave because there had been nowhere to go in order to take it. However, nothing mattered more than returning to his wife as his two-year stint ended. With nowhere to spend his money, Williams had saved his earnings. His wife had also saved hers. “I lived at home with my mom and dad and I had a job at St. Rita’s Hospital. While he was gone, I saved all of my money and when he came home, we had enough money between the two of us for a down payment on the house and we had the furniture paid for,” Earlene said. Both retired from Excello and own a motor home they use to spend their winters in Key West. They are involved with the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the Caribbean and in Delphos.