Profiles of Courage Sponsored by Rahal-Miller
If you fly over the Mariannas Islands, far out in the Pacific Ocean, today you will look down on bits of land made up of the tops of submerged volcanoes, lush and green, with peaceful towns and villages spotted around and about. Down at the southern extremity of the arc formed by them is Guam, the largest, and then Rota, and Tinian, and, farther north, Saipan. The appellation Tropical Paradise comes to mind as you approach the modern airports that are available to the present day visitors.
The view afforded Tommie E. Williams, U. S. Marine, in 1944 was different. Williams saw the islands from the deck of a ship and then from a landing craft, coming in under the fire of a fanatical enemy who had occupied the land since early in 1942 and was determined to turn back the American troops or die in the effort.
And many of the Japanese died, some killing themselves, and taking with them civilians who had been persuaded to commit suicide rather than to face the "evil" American fighting men.
Tommie Williams was part of Operation Forager, and served with the 3rd Battalion, 20th Regiment, 4th Marines. The Marines, with Williams in the midst, landed on Saipan and Tinian. On Saipan Americans fought the Japanese almost to extinction, and watched in horror as civilians jumped from the high cliffs into the blue Pacific waters, choosing this way out of life.
Marine Williams and his compatriots were to protect the Seabees, the Navy's famous construction battalions that went in early to build breakwaters and piers and, especially, on Tinian, an airfield big enough and strong enough to handle the mighty B 29 bombers, the Superfortresses that were carrying war to the home islands of Japan, dropping bombs on Tokyo and on the industrial cities that gave succor to the aggressors.
And it was from the airfield on Tinian that the Enola Gay, the B 29 named for Pilot Paul Tibbets' mother, departed, laden with the first atomic bomb to be used in war. The history of World War II was moving rapidly into the final days. The Enola Gay released its bomb load over Hiroshima and, a few days later another B 29 dropped a companion bomb on Nagasaki, and the war was over.
U. S. Marine Tommie Williams, after taking part in three major battles on the strung out islands of the far Pacific Ocean, came home to Jackson County. He came home to a rural life, one where he could farm, as he always liked to do. He came home to the place from whence he had departed as a young man, first to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the magnificent sequoia forests in Yosemite National Forest and then to be trained as a fighting man.
Williams, by now hung with the nickname "Preacher", found work on the railroads, and in construction of Jim Woodruff Dam in the 1940s and 1950s. But his nature was to be a farmer and that he was. And all during this time he would return often to meet in reunion with his fellow Marines, probably to laugh some, but to recall those days on those remote islands so far from Jackson County, and to speak of those who did not return.
A few days ago "Preacher", at the age of ninety one, was laid to rest in Dykes Cemetery. The service had begun at the Salem Wesleyan Church with scripture readings, and a sermon and some words spoken in remembrance of his life and his family. At the graveside the scripture, about the assurance of life after death, was read, and then the flag of the United States, draped his coffin, was lifted and carefully folded and presented to his family. The rifle salute rang out, a salute from a weapon of war that now signified peace. The bugler sounded Taps, and the ceremony was over.
"Preacher" Williams, United States Marine, was at rest.
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