- Featured Stories
- Douglas County
- City of Ava
- General Interest
By Mindy Crandall
Just a few months ago, the words “School is out!” rang through the halls of the Ava schools. Students and teachers were relieved and breathed a quiet, but an enthusiastic sigh of relief as another hectic school year was over – history! Those same children could now think more about their favorite watering holes and hang out spots then commitment to homework and tests.
The scene wasn’t much different in 1962 except for the obvious update in technology and the demand on kids to help out on the family farm. Their minds still raced over the smallest of things, which memories to create and their next big step in life. For Tom Williams, this was no different. It was the summer after his senior year, and choices had to be made on what to do next. The only thing that stood in Tom’s way of summer fun was the pondering of career choices and the painting of the barn down on Campbell Farm between Rome and Brown Branch. I would like to say he preserved and committed himself to painting the whole thing, however, it was mentioned that one could probably still see the two strips of paint that were done that summer at what is now the David Day property. The paint brush was put to rest and Tom made the biggest career choice of his life and this to get out of painting.
Up until this point, Williams hadn’t really given much thought to his future. It wasn’t until long time friend, Larry Owens, mentioned he was going to Springfield to talk to a recruiting officer to join the Navy that Tom began to think. Tom with nothing to do, but paint, decided to make the trip with him. It wasn’t anytime until Tom took the dive and through the so-called Buddy System enlisted into the Navy right along side friend, Owens. Both boys were first sent to St. Louis then later did boot camp in San Diego. At that time, both Owens and Williams were separated into two different companies and no mention of the buddy system was ever made past that point.
After leaving San Diego, Tom began the first phase of A school in the Great Lakes. The second phase of schooling was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. During 1963-1966 he was assigned to the aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Oriskany. The Vietnam War was just breaking out and he spent time on the gun line, flying sortees. In 1964 while still on Oriskany, Tom was sent to Seattle, Washington to work in the yards for a year, making repairs. He was later deployed to the orient, Vietnam for a year. Once returning, Tom re-enlisted and received orders to a naval air station, Whidbey Island, Washington, where he worked in an AUW shop, Advanced Underwater Weapon shop.
Since joining the Navy, Tom always held the hopes of being a frogman. A frogman is an underwater swimmer or diver, but it took time to get into a place where opportunity was available. In no time, Williams secured orders to attend underwater swimming school in Key West, Florida. Originally the exercise was supposed to last eight weeks, but turned out he was there for ten weeks. This was during the time that the U.S.S. Pueblo was captured and they thought that more training was needed. Over 70 recruits started this class with only 23 finishing. The physical aspect of training is what kept most from completion. Tom mentioned the grueling task of running and the difficulty in surface and underwater swims, being dumped out at sea and the drive needed to swim to shore.
With the completion of this portion of schooling, Tom and others who were qualified landed in Anniston, Alabama for yet more training. While there he and others were instructed in how to deal and dispose of chemicals. Once completed, the next phase or mission was in Indian Head, Maryland, where explosive ordinance training was given. This exercise taught sailors how to dispose of ordinances on land or sea and the dealing with chemicals and nuclear weapons such as torpedoes and mines found in the waters and inland. The Navy at the time was the only unit that had underwater training.
After training, Tom flew to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and was deployed to all points west – Vietnam, Guam and Philippines. The year was 1968 and Vietnam was in full swing. Tom received his first assignment aboard an ammunition ship. His job was to go along the coastal waters of Vietnam and resupply ships with bombs and shells for their guns.
Tom returned to Hawaii for three weeks only to be deployed back to Vietnam with an American team. He was down in the Delta working with the brown water Navy, riding small boats such as PBR’s and tangos. They were operating with the Army. If any ammunition cash was found, it was their job to take care of it. Tom was aboard U.S.S. Benewah, a barrack ship, housing PBR’s and ATC’s, armored troop carriers. Army Special Forces also assisted with operations.
Tom’s next order was in Nightrain, Vietnam. It is a coastal port with a lot of shipping during the night. They did inspections of the ships and operated with inland forces.
Tom’s next stop was Kiengiang, Vietnam. He performed the same duties while there.
Tom came back to Hawaii only to be transferred to Guam. He did a lot of island work and took care of World War II ordinances. While there, the last survivor of the Japanese War was found, Sergeant Yukoy. Tom and a teammate were the first two Americans in the cave where he was hiding out . They took some of his hand grenades and made the cave safe. While in Guam Tom helped assist in World War II clean-up.
Williams was finally able to return to the states and perform some of the same duties as well as become an instructor and attend first and second class diving school.
Tom was one of five EOD, Explosive Ordinance Disposal, members who were chosen to go to school for a special project coming up and was qualified in deep sea diving and could mix chemicals. He went through the 17-week class and was one of the last polar bear classes to go through Washington, D.C. Salvaged projects were done and hard training was given in the old diving suits. The project they were training for was cancelled and habitat training never materialized. The habitat training was schooling in how to survive in an underwater habitat.
Tom Williams made Warrant Officer and spent time in China Lake dealing with the new weapon systems available for aircrafts. This was probably his most exciting time serving in the Navy. He has seen a lot of advancement over the years and continues to marvel at the Navy’s capabilities.
Williams retired as a CWO4 – Mustang. He was advanced through the ranks as far as possible and was very pleased with his success as a Warrant Officer.
For years I have attended the same church as Tom Williams, but never did I imagine what all he did in his Navy career. There is definitely more to his witty smile and Navy tattoos. He is man worth respecting.
History was one of my favorite classes in school and I must say, I learned a lot in World History with Pat Henry and Missouri History with Ann Hunt, but what I learned Sunday night in my two-hour interview with Tom was priceless. I could now put a face to the things we constantly were reading about. Tom is a big part of history! He has literally viewed the world from top to bottom.
So, as students return to school and sit in class, turning the pages in history books, please, think about the people which it was written. History and Commitment go hand and hand.
To the poor young boy who didn’t want to paint, I think you made a great career choice, thanks for sharing!