Late last month, I attended a brief ceremony at the Perrin Air Force Base Museum honoring a veteran of World War II who at the age of 95 still volunteers two days a week at the museum.
This gentleman is Maj. David W. Williams. His remarkable memory was an inspiration to me and others who attended the ceremony. The stories he can tell are enough for a crowd of people to want to sit and listen to him as he tells them over and over while to him he almost feels like they were just yesterday.
Two Denison women, Inez Scott and Cheryl McKee, have been interviewing veterans for several years through the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center. These histories of America’s war veterans and those who served in support of them as well as photographs and manuscripts go into the permanent collection of the Library of Congress as a record of American veterans’ wartime experiences and as a scholarly and educational resource for Congress and the general public.
It was these two women with the backing of the Martha Jefferson Randolph N.S. Daughters of the American Revolution who arranged with the museum for Maj. Williams to be saluted with the presentation of a quilt made especially for him by Denise Green, a member of the DAR.
In 1941 as a young recruit this young soldier entered the U.S. Army Air Force at age 19. He was quick to say he wasn’t a PFC because he didn’t have any rank at all. Twenty-two years later he retired as a major. His first service was at Chanute AFB in Illinois.
Born in Philadelphia, an only child of his parents, his mother died when he was eight years old and he went to Washington, D.C. to live with an aunt, Edith Bergmann and his uncle. He said he had many great memories in both places. In 1941 he graduated from high school in Washington and soon after enlisted in the Air Force. The major asked Mrs. Scott and Mrs. McKee to call him Dave so for this piece I will do the same.
Dave said he had always been a “aviation nut,” so he decided this is what he wanted to prepare for and was sent to the Aviation Academy in Arizona and received training there and in California.
It was on one of these trips back to California after visiting in Philadelphia that he met his wife, Dorothy Rutan and they were married soon after. They had two children, Mary Heard, who now teaches school in Arizona and came back for the occasion, and his son, David Williams who lives in Texas. His daughter was born in Japan two weeks before the Williams returned to the states where Dave was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in D.C. before he came to Perrin. In addition to his daughter and son, Dave also is grandfather to three youngsters, Jimmy, Maggie and Scott.
His Air Force career took him to some pretty interesting places during the two wars in which he served, including a stint at our own Perrin Air Force Base in 1956 where he taught young pilots to fly the F-86D. He also flew the T-33s in Oklahoma. This turned out to be during the same period that this writer worked at Perrin as secretary to Maj. Harold Snow, a friend of Dave’s at the same time that he was at Perrin. I didn’t know this until we chatted at the Perrin Museum.
He once sailed on a very fast trip on the Queen Mary from New York City to England. There were so many soldiers being transported to England that one half of them slept on the promenade deck and the other half slept below in bunks.
He flew 77 “sorties” escorting allied bombers going in and out of Germany and received three Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In 1961 while at Perrin he planned and coordinated the procession from Perrin to Bonham for the funeral of Sam Rayburn. Among those in the motorcade were John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Price Daniel, John Connally and Carl Hayden.
After 22 years of military service, Dave retired and came back to live in Sherman and Denison and earn an Education degree from Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Oklahoma. Then he taught history in the Sherman Independent School District for 20 years.
While Dave retired from military service and his teaching career, his love of flying remained strong and he began volunteering at the Perrin Museum, where at age 95 he still spends two days every week helping out and talking to guests who stop by the museum.
Dave was described by Mrs. Scott as a “man of uncommon service and valor” as she saluted noting his life lesson being “Respect Others.”
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.