Williams, Billy Joe (P2, C4, L32)
Major Billy Joe Williams, 40, of Marion, Crittenden County, Kentucky, died from enemy fire in the line of duty on 6 May 1970 in Vietnam. He began his tour in Vietnam on 5 August 1969 with Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) Advance Team 3.
His name is on the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the U. S. Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Williams had a long and varied military career beginning in the U. S. Navy from April 1946 to February 1948 as a Fireman Second Class. Williams attended Washington University in St. Louis and was a member of Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) from September 1948 to May 1949. Williams left college after his first year and lived with family in Ashland where he enlisted in Company G of the 149th Infantry in August 1949 and served until July 1950 when he left the unit due to a change in residence to Detroit. When he enlisted he listed his civilian occupation as railroad switchman.
At some point Williams moved to Marion and served the United States Marine Corps Reserve as a Truck Master from March 1951 to May 1952. He was promoted to Sergeant and served with D Company, 7th Engineer Battalion at Camp Pendleton, California. Williams returned to the Kentucky Guard enlisting in Battery C, 640th Field Artillery Observation Battalion in Marion from June 1955 to November 1956 serving as a Radar Chief when he accepted a commission as a Second Lieutenant. During this time Williams founded and operated Williams Department Store in Marion. First Lieutenant Williams was ordered to active duty with his unit, Marion’s D Company, 3rd Medium Tank Battalion (Patton), 123rd Armor on 1 October 1961 during the Berlin Crisis serving at Fort Knox. Williams decided to remain on active duty at the end of the tour in August 1962 and was assigned to a slot in the state headquarters of the Kentucky Guard while he was on active duty. Williams was promoted to Captain in November 1963 and Major in November 1968 while on extended active duty.
Billy Joe Williams Killed in Vietnam
The Crittenden Press May 14, 1970
Word was received here Friday of the death of Major Billy Joe Williams, who was killed while serving with the U. S. Army in Vietnam.
A former resident of Marion, Williams is survived by his wife and three children who live in Killeen, Texas.
Funeral arrangements are still incomplete pending the arrival of the body. Complete details will be reported next week.
Son Pays Tribute to Father: “fighting for something of value”
The Crittenden Press May 21, 1970
By Bill Williams
He was a soldier, a professional in every sense of the word. He was a paradox, somehow, a strange mixture of backwoods and big city. Major Billy Joe Williams was an officer and a gentleman in the United States Army, but to him the woods and hills of Kentucky were always home.
There was Marine blood in him, the result of a two year stint in the Corps. The military stayed with him even after he mustered out and returned to Marion, where he served in the National Guard. Although he was to become an armor officer, he spent the late 1950’s attending U.S. Army Training schools to receive a thorough background in artillery.
An executive officer of Marion’s Company D, 3rd Medium Tank Battalion, 123rd Armory, Billy Joe went with his friends and fellow soldiers to Fort Knox, Kentucky, in the fall of 1961. This was the turning point, the time he decided to go career. The Guard left Bill Joe behind when they returned to Marion.
Fort Holabird, Maryland was the first stop, and a frustrating school of training as a photo interpreter. It didn't last long however, and shortly after the plane touched down in Frankfurt in 1963 for a three year tour in Germany, he found himself immersed in the maintenance business.
Serving with Headquarters 7th Army, Major Williams labored as a Pre-Positioned Equipment officer, G-4 Section. His final year in Germany was spent as a member of the Command Supply Maintenance Inspection Team, a closely knit group of men dubbed “the Rat Pack”.
He made his first tour of duty in Southeast Asia as an armor advisor to an outfit in Phitsanuloke, Thailand, from May 1966 to June 1967. Come back to the states, Major Williams found himself sweltering in the heat again, this time at Ft. Hood, Texas. His field was maintenance and Hood was where he proved himself unquestionably.
In August, 1969, Major Williams took up the task as serving as an advisor to the 7th Vietnamese Armored Cavalry Regiment, a post he eventually left to serve as G-3 advisor to the 1st ARVN division. Operating in the I Corps area just south of the DMZ, Major Williams participated in sweeps along the “Street without Joy” and near the border. His second assignment in Vietnam required that he spend the majority of his time in a helicopter and in January, 1970, he received a Purple Heart after being wounded by ground fire.
With just three months of combat to go, Major Billy Joe Williams stepped from a helicopter the morning of May 6th and was killed by enemy mortar fire. Returning home to the Kentucky hills he loved so well, he was laid to rest the afternoon of May 14th with full military honors.
Oh his chest rested the ribbons given by two grateful nations, the United States and the Republic of Vietnam; the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with “V” device, the Meritorious Service Medal, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, National Defense Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Vietnamese Campaign Medal with 60 device, and the Vietnamese Service Medal.
Major Williams often spoke of how he believed that what he was doing was right. He believed he was fighting for something of value. As a soldier and a man, he made the Supreme Sacrifice.
Services were held Thursday, May 14 at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church with Chaplain Jack R. Mulligan of Fort Hood, Texas Officiating. Graveside services were held in Mapleview Cemetery with Military Rites conducted by Company A, First Battalion, 123d Armored Division, Kentucky National Guard.
Major Williams is survived by his wife, Louis of Killeen, Texas; three sons, Aubrey Roe, Robert Rawles and Stephen Glenn, all at home; his mother Mrs. Virginia Roe Gafford of Louisville.