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At the Elders' Feet: Conversations Across the Generations

Diversity for Equity Grant through Fairmont State University

In Their Own Words: Dr. Ellis Ray Williams, Sr. of Welch, WV


“I started here with a wheelbarrow and a dirt shovel. Scooped this place out.  There was nothing on this lot, just the mountain side. I was pretty adept in hand work. I had had a bit of training in it. They were building brand new houses out there in Brown’s Creek but they wouldn’t sell me a lot because of racism and segregation, you know.”

“I really gathered up enough knowledge about building to build a house piece meal like. So, all I needed was that push, that courage, that I got in my home growing up, from my parents. You don’t give up. You might run into some rough places. Yeah. you get knocked down - you get back up, if you have to pull up one step at a time - come on back up and get back to work. That’s what I did in building this house.”


Story #1 - Ellis Ray Williams Summer Work – RED CAP ERW and his Father in the Mines

ERW: Every summer I would go back and work [at the Gary mine]. The last two years, I worked inside the mine, and I loaded coal. My father was also a minister, and uh, he was a coal mining preacher. And I remember I told him that I… if I could go inside the mine I could make more money. He didn’t want me to go inside the mine, but I kept worrying him. And he was of retirement age at the time, and he told me, he said, “Well if you just insist on going, I won’t retire; I will take you in.” And he did. He took me in. I was a Red Cap –you know, had to wear a red cap.

I: That means you are new, right?

ERW:  A Red Cap means you’re new. They have to take care of you, yes. I was so glad that he did that because I learned more about my father in that mine and in that just one summer that he worked in there with me. My father… he wasn’t a mean man, but he was a strict disciplinarian. When he told us kids, there were just two of us, but when he told us to do something, that’s what he meant.

I got a chance to really sit down and talk with him. I remember one time we were loading on a…there were terms for things. This was called a “monkey butt.” The coal had worked out, just about, and the top was pressing down on this stump that was in there. And, we were loading coal, you didn’t have to shoot the coal in that place... just load. We had just about finished the shift.

And my car was over half loaded, and the top started working. And my father told me, “Get out son, get out! Move on. Move on out - Move on!” And he started out behind me.  And I thought he said, “Just a second.” He turned around to knock the brake off the car to drift it down and out. And when he did that, a piece of slate fell out and hit him (in the) back of his head and knocked him down the track almost where I was. And it scared me to death cuz I thought that he had gotten killed trying to save a penny or two for me - to go back to school. And it scared me to death! But in about three minutes he woke up. Got up. And we got out of the mine. It didn’t leave a scar on him anywhere. Taught me a lesson.

Story #2

Junior High School Principal – Bullies

They were having a lot of trouble out at a school in Elkhorn.  In fact, they tried three other men there, at that school. They tried Butch Moore, and I forget the other two at that school. They were having some sort of function up there, a basketball game, and the students were all getting on the bus.  The school bus was loading to take the children back home after the game and these thugs got on there. The bus driver tried to put them off. They put the bus driver off, and they [those rascals] got on the school bus and were raising cane and everything. The principal went out there, and he tried to get them off the bus, and they wouldn’t get off the bus, and those thugs literally threw him [the principal] off the bus. And then the principal went up to the office to call the police. They followed him, took the telephone speaker from him, and beat him across the head with it. So, they couldn’t get anybody to go up there [and take over that school]. It was so rough up there.

So, I was teaching at Gary High School at the time, and my principal was Charlie Dean. There the principal put me in charge of summer school, and I liked that. And when they couldn’t keep a principal up there, Charlie Dean told them, “I got a man. You send him up there, and they won’t run him off.” I don’t know why he thought that. There were some thugs… I had some pretty good training by that time. I spent four years in the army and a year in combat.

Well, when we were opening school, the first year I was up there, took them over to the gym - the auditorium part - to organize the classes. One of the chief thugs started acting up - up in the bleachers. So, I just stopped everything and pointed out who it was. I went up there. I called him out, and he wouldn’t come out. So, I went up there, and I gave him the assistance that he needed to come out. And, I dragged him all the way down those steps. And I said, “I’ll drag you all the way to the office if that’s what I have to do. I’ll let you walk up there. I don’t want to embarrass you anymore.” And he walked on up there. I told him, “You’re gonna have to get your parents here.” Well, His father had died, and his mother was trying to rear him. I had her come up there.  Tears were in her eyes. She said, “Mr. Williams, this boy has given me so much trouble.” I said, “If you will cooperate with me, he won’t give you any more trouble.” So, she did, and she thanked me for that until the last time; the last time I saw her, she was still thanking me...for helping her with those kids. Because she had six or seven of those kids there at home. No help with them, and this boy was giving her a fit. Well, that sort of set…set the tone for the whole place for rest of the school year.

I went up there, and for 21 years it was one of the nicest places, because we finally developed to a really good school.

Story #3

Just a Little Boy

When we first left South Carolina and moved to Virginia, I was just a toddler, and my people joined the church there in Wilder, Virginia. The mines worked out there in Wilder. Once we moved to Gary, WV, I got into a lot of trouble in school. When I got to the 3rd grade where she was - Mrs. Memphis Tennessee Garrison. She went to the principal, and she told him, “I know what’s wrong. You need to pass him on because he’s bored in there with the rest of the students.” I made two grades that year. Well, that put me in the grade that I should have been in the first place because I started school there in Virginia. And my parents moved to Gary in midterm.  My father’s friends had moved to Gary a couple of years earlier than we moved - telling me and my brother that the schools in McDowell County were so much harder than those that were here in Virginia. Yeah, I should go back. So, Mrs. Garrison just really put me on the level that I should have been.  But it kept me out of trouble. Mrs. Garrison saved my life.

I remember when I was just a little boy my mother told me, “Your father is the head of the house. And he’s one of the best men you’ll ever find. Whatever he tells you to do - you do that. And don’t ever make him angry.” And that stuck with me. I don’t ever remember my father whipping me. I know one time he was going to whip me, but I started to run off. I ran from him. And my brother was scrubbing the porch. It was on a Saturday, and he had soap all over that porch. And I started out that screen door, and my feet hit that soapy floor, and I hit the banister and it knocked me out. And when I came to, my father was over me with tears in his eyes. He hadn’t touched me. I thought he’d whipped me, but… I was afraid...and he could have, but he didn’t. Yeah, I respected him so. And he used to keep me with him. Wherever he’d go preaching, I’d go with him. Laughing…. Well, you know, when you’re a preacher’s son, you got to meet a lot of pretty girls.

And another student had punched me, and she looked around and Mrs. Garrison said, “What are you doing? I’m going to set you out there in the hall.” And uh, they had people that took care of things around the schools had come in to change the chalkboards out and they had one leaning against the wall. And I was out there in the hall and looked out the window and my father [was] coming over there to pray for a program. Ministers were invited to come each week to have prayer for the assemblies. So, it was my father’s turn to come to my school.

They had this chalkboard leaning against the wall, and when I saw my father coming, I knew I was in trouble. I crawled up behind the chalkboard trying to hide from him, and my feet were sticking out. He saw my feet and recognized the shoes. Saw those shoes, and he said, “Boy, what are you doing?” And I started crying.  Mrs. Garrison turned around and saw that I was cornered and in trouble, and she came out, and she said, “Reverend, Reverend, he wasn’t doing anything. He wasn’t doing anything. I just moved him out there.”  She got me out of that trouble with him cuz he, uh, I knew what I was going to get when I got home.

Story #4

Building the house on 100 Beech St. Welch, WV  - Started 1956 – finished about 1958

When I was a kid in Wilder, about five or six years old something like that - five years old - the man’s name was Evans. He gave me a carpentry set, and I learned to use those tools and everything. I was pretty adept in hand work. I had had a bit of training in it, took courses when I could in industrial arts.

After I did my master’s degree work there at WVU, there was a job for principal of the school over in Wyoming County.  Karl Hazzard wanted somebody to teach industrial arts. And he asked me if I could qualify to teach industrial arts. I’d taken a lot of industrial arts at West Virginia U. So, I told him yes, I thought I could. And I set up shop there in Wyoming County. Taught over there about 4 years.

So, I really gathered up enough knowledge about building to build a house piecemeal like. So, all I needed was that push, that courage, that I got in my home growing up, from my parents. You don’t give up. You might run into some rough places, like Mrs. Garrison and those. Yeah. you get knocked down - you - you get back up if you have to pull up one step at a time - come on back up and get back to work. That’s what I did in building this house.

They were building brand new houses out there in Brown’s Creek. But they wouldn’t sell me a lot because of racism and segregation, you know.  When I came home from classes at WVU, my wife had rented that parsonage, but it wasn’t a permanent thing. We had three children by then. They had two factions in the church arguing with each other about the pastor.  They wanted the pastor to give up his job - he was working on the railroad in Mercer County - and move down here, in the parsonage. That would have put us out. I had to take them to court 5 times. But I had a lawyer friend, here, who lived down the street. Abe Berschback Cunningham. I got free law services. He did me a lot of favors. And each time we won the case, we got to stay in this parsonage until I finished this house. He didn’t charge me a penny!

I went to the banks to try get money to build the house. I had a good down payment. But no one would give me the loan even with the GI Bill. Here I fought for four years in combat for this country. I was sure my credit was good enough for any bank. Then one man, a banker who had been in the war, talked to me. He said that no one would give me the money for the house. I told him my story, and he had tears come to his eyes. He said that if I could get a lot that he would make sure that I got the materials I needed to build it. And he kept his word. We found this man who was retiring and wanted to go to Cleveland, or somewhere in Ohio, and, he sold us this lot.

There was nothing here when I built this house. It was just the mountain side, and this was the only lot that I could get in this town. There were no lots that weren’t taken. No. Everything was filled up. Of course, I was talking about trying to build a garage or something. But my wife said, “No, I’m not going to live in a garage.”

While I was out there with a dirt shovel and a wheelbarrow, scooped this place out. Yeah, had to dig back in here because the mountain went all the way down to the street. And a man right next door to me where we were living in the parsonage,  came by out here while I was digging with a wheelbarrow and a pickaxe and a dirt shovel. He said, “Boy, it will take you a hundred years to clear this out.” He said, “I’m going to come out here and help you,” and sure enough, he did.  That old man trying to help me. And he started talking around in the community and he had three or four other fellas come out here and start. One of ‘em had a pick-up truck; his name was Smith, and he had a truck to haul the dirt off.  Another guy was here, Wicker, Ralph Wicker was his name, that had a dump truck.  So, he told me he’d charge me $25 a load. I believe it was something like that he charged me to haul the dirt off. I had to pay the fellas that Mr. Franklin had gotten to help load the truck up. (Laugh.) But now, I had moved from Wyoming County to this county. I hauled the stone for this house, a lot of it in the back of my car from Wyoming County. I took my time. And enjoyed it, too. Well, most of the work I did myself. But in late years, what I couldn’t do, I had to get somebody to do it. That last roof that was put on, that metal roof, was put on by somebody else. But otherwise, I did the whole thing.

We had our first Thanksgiving dinner here in the frame house – right there on the sawhorses.

Ellis Ray Williams by Zettie Bowling

Ellis Ray Williams by Brennah Staunton

By Brennah Staunton

Ellis Ray Williams:

The faceless story of Ellis Williams captures determination, passion, and innovation. One of Williams greatest masterpieces and accomplishments is his house he built from the foundation up. Because the house captured various amounts of unique beauty and craftsmanship, only a small area of its interior is captured in this visual. The books represent the passion Williams had for education and learning and the flowers symbolize his companionship and loyalty to his wife and children.

"Building Resistance" from Traditions Magazine

Building Resilience: A Conversation with Ellis Ray Williams

By Ilene Evans

 Mr. Ellis Ray Williams is a true renaissance man. At 99 years young, Mr. Williams still reads widely and recites poetry and the Bible, a practice started in his youth. His engaging and unique speaking style still brings people to their feet. Mr. Williams has witnessed the growth and decline of the economic boom and bust that brought the “Great Migration,” the movement of Blacks from the deep South to the Appalachian coal fields, to the heart of McDowell County, West Virginia. He has been at the forefront of civil rights through his work with the NAACP. A long-time teacher, principal and school board member, Mr. Williams received an honorary doctorate by West Virginia University.

Ellis grew up understanding the importance of education to lift his people out of the abusive and subservient positions they were so often limited access to in work and employment. A graduate of Bluefield State College, he had the best of academic and industrial instruction. His leadership skills were recognized and rewarded, when he became the president of his fraternity (Kappa Alpha Psi), and later as a principal of Welch Middle School for 21 years. In the 1940’s, his education was interrupted by volunteering for the Signal Corps in World War II.

He shared a story that illustrates the strong sense of industry and entrepreneurship instilled in him by his parents. “When I was in the Army and I couldn’t advance like the whites did, I set up my own program to advance. So, I got me a GI brush and GI soap and at first, I had a wash board and that sort of thing. And I kept it with my equipment at all times.  So, I would wash socks and underwear and stuff like that for soldiers, and I got paid for it. I used to duplicate those German (playing) cards and sell them to soldiers. I used to sell a lot of those. Well, they gambled overseas too. Every time they got a chance, that’s what they (the soldiers) would do. And when they’d lose, they’d come to me – borrow money. Money didn’t mean anything to them. They looked at dying in the Army. I looked at coming back. Because, I remember my experience with my father; he told me to come home. He put this thing around my neck and then - nothing would happen. He said, ‘You’ll come back just like you went over.’  And I believed that.” Ellis’s creative skills and willingness to do what others would not have created a legacy for the young people in his charge to follow. 

Dr. Ellis Ray Williams demonstrates his resilience through the use of his mind, his memory and his ability to use language as well as his hands. Though his undergraduate degree was in English and sociology, Mr. Williams kept seeking out instruction in other fields, such as carpentry, welding, and plumbing. Master carpenters and plumbers took him under their wings and enriched his skills of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. One example of this mastery is the three-stone home he built overlooking the town of Welch. “I started here with a wheel barrow and a dirt shovel. Scooped this place out.  There was nothing on this lot, just the mountain side. I was pretty adept in hand work. I had had a bit of training in it. They were building brand new houses out there in Brown’s Creek but they wouldn’t sell me a lot because of racism and segregation, you know.”

Even with good credit, the GI Bill, and a big cash down payment, he was unable to get a loan to build the house. It was another veteran who decided to help him when the banks were stonewalling black veterans.  He was able to get a lot and start all the building from scratch. He said, “I really gathered up enough knowledge about building to build a house piece meal like. So, all I needed was that push, that courage, that I got in my home growing up, from my parents. You don’t give up. You might run into some rough places, Yeah. you get knocked down - you get back up, if you have to pull up one step at a time - come on back up and get back to work. That’s what I did in building this house.” The challenges of war, racism, discrimination, and greed have strengthened his sense of justice and fair play.

The Williams home, the one Ellis still lives in with his daughter Patricia, is more than a place to live. It represents Ellis’s 72 years of marriage and 9 children with his beloved wife, Christine who has passed away. It has created a lasting sense of identity for the Williams family as well as a legacy and connection to wealth. All the Williams’ children have graduated from college with successful careers. The Williams home represents resilience and the importance of building that resilience for future generations.

Making Home - Photo Journal of Ellis Ray Williams Visit Brennah Staunton




If - by Rudyard Kipling - A Favorite Recitation of Mr. Williams


If you can keep your head when all about you 

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, 

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too; 

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; 

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; 

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same; 

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone, 

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, 

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, 

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!



by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,

      Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

      Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.

Fraternity Brothers

Coming Home to the Free State of McDowell

The Great Migration to the Free State of McDowell…1900-1930

By Ilene Evans 2020

They came from Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia,

They came from North Carolina, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia

They came with what they could carry and what they loved most – hope.

They risked everything and they kept coming…

They came to the coalfields of Southern West Virginia

To McDowell county to Mercer and Wyoming and Mingo County.

To Welch, to Gary, To Bluefield, to Beckley

They came from the farms and fields, from, mines and pits, through swamps and bogs

Because life was dear - too dear to waste.

They risked the unknown – they travelled North, and West, and East

across the country – however they could.

The migration started with courage, hope, and faith

Bags, sacks, carts, wagons, suitcases, haversacks

They kept coming… to the free state of McDowell

By foot

By train

By wagon

By automobile

By bus


With their families

Men and women and children

They kept coming

To the promise of work and

The promise of the vote

They kept coming

With the promise of education for their children

They kept coming with the promise of owning land

Teaching and preaching and pioneering

They came in numbers crossing rivers and swamp

Trains and more trains brought families

Crossing mountains and valleys

They kept coming

 Leaving family and friends for the promise of a better life

The coal called  - a treasure laid deep in the mountainside

The work was hard, but the work was steady

The work was dirty, but they got equal pay

The work was long, but it was honest…

And so, they kept coming

The work was long and underground

The work was dangerous, but they survived

Families grew strong and the children thrived

They played in the fields on the mountains

Baseball teams, football games, fishing in the rivers, hunting in the woods

Yes, they kept coming

They swam in the creeks and the pools carved out by the miners

Then to Storer College, West Virginia State Institute, and Bluefield State Institute

These migrants and migrants’ children became doctors and lawyers and ministers

Midwives, nurses, teachers, librarians, caterers, inventors, publishers,

Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, masons, chefs, editors, preachers

Politicians, leaders, principals, Girl Scout leaders, Boy Scout leaders.

Through the wars - one generation and then another and another

Through the good times and the lean times

They kept coming

Some are still here…

Meet Ellis Ray Williams


WWII - World War II Interview with Greg Jordan from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph

WWII veteran still remembers long, hard fight

By GREG JORDAN Bluefield Daily Telegraph

 Jun 3, 2019

Ellis Ray Williams Sr.

Ellis Ray Williams Sr., now a resident of Welch, estimated that he’s 97 years and six months old. In 1942, he joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps (ERC) while he was attending Bluefield State College.

Staff photo by Jessica Nuzzo


WELCH — When Ellis Ray Williams Sr. arrived in France not long after the D-Day, the June 6, 1944 invasion of Europe which marked the beginning of the end for the Third Reich, he quickly learned that despite the invasion’s success, the Allies had a long, hard fight ahead of them.

Williams, now a resident of Welch, estimated that he’s 97 years and six months old. In 1942, he joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps (ERC) while he was attending Bluefield State College. He and his fellow recruits stayed on campus for a while, but he was called to active duty in May 1943.

“We went to Camp Beale in California,” he recalled when asked where he was sent for basic training. He laughed when asked about what was demanded of him and other new recruits. “The whole ordeal was tough. After combat training, we went overseas in August of 1944.”

But first, Williams was granted a 15-day furlough that let him come home from California.

“It took me five days on the train to get home,” he said. “I told my girlfriend we were going to get married after college, but we got married while I was on furlough; took three days to get the blood test and everything.”

In the meantime, Williams learned about the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944 when he read the story in the newspaper Stars and Stripes. Like many Americans, he didn’t know about the plans and the build up prior to the invasion.

“That makes a lot of sense,” Williams said of the secrecy surrounding D-Day. “The enemies were listening, too.”

The great operation to liberate Europe was only getting started, and Williams soon found himself heading overseas to take part in it. By then, he was a soldier in the distinguished 777th Field Artillery Battalion, 9th Army. He assigned task was as a Tech 5, C Battery forward observer radio operator.

“We ended up first in Liverpool, England, and it took two to three weeks to get our equipment read to cross the English Channel to Cherbourg (France),” Williams said. “A part of our outfit was already in action, but they were truck drivers. They were sent to get equipment and a whole lot of other stuff while we were getting Cosmoline (a type of grease) off those big guns that we had.”

Williams and other soldiers in the 777th quickly realized that the Germans were not simply going to surrender. They could see the price that had been paid already while securing a beachhead in Normandy. Thousands of Allied paratroopers had been dropped behind enemy lines while the invasion fleet approached the French coast, and they had suffered causalities despite their success. Williams said many bodies had been retrieved, but that grim task was not finished by the time the 777th went into action.

Sometimes they saw the bodies of paratroopers dangling in the trees.

“They cleaned up a lot of soldiers, but every so often you’d see one that didn’t get all the way to the ground,” Williams recalled. “Some of them were dead because they were shot while they were in the air. And a lot of them drowned. The Germans were killing as many Americans as they could, and British, too.”

The 777th headed toward Belgium and came to a town that was almost on the border between France and Germany. This gave Williams a chance to see historic fortifications like the French Maginot line and the German Stigfried Line, and he soon had a chance to see German fortifications in use. Allied soldiers often used concrete pillboxes and other emplacements the retreating Germans had abandoned. Williams described some concrete bunkers that were two or three stories underground.

“The first taste of combat that we had, I was in one of those pillboxes, a German pillbox,” Williams said. “The shells were coming in, and those were German. It was very frightening, especially for some of those soldiers who were just scared to death. Some had to be sent back because they just couldn’t take it.”

And the pillbox was far from roomy and comfortable. Williams held up his hand about a foot.

“See, this pillbox, was just a little higher than the table. It was covered over, it was under the ground, and it was cramped. Everybody who could get in there got in there. There were several of them around, pillboxes like that,” he recalled. “It’s war, and General Sherman said ‘War is hell,’ and that’s what it was.”

“It was day after we got into our position. We hadn’t had a chance to dig in our guns. I was a forward observer. We’d go out in the morning about four o’clock before daylight to get into our observation post and we’d have a radio operator, a lieutenant and two (telephone) wire men. That’s because the radio wasn’t used until the wire was shot out. The enemy fire would come in and cut the wires.”

Then Williams would use the radio to relay his observations, but telephones were used initially so the Germans couldn’t hear transmissions and find their positions.

“Sometimes that fire would be coming in. It was awful, especially in those battles,” he said. “Of course, the infantry was the one who really had to get in that stuff.”

Williams eventually saw surrendered German troops, especially after the Battle of the Bulge. German were on both sides of the roads with their hands up. One prisoner of war camp housed 33,000 Germans, he estimated. Like Allied troops, they had suffered while fighting the war. “You had to feel sorry for them because they were human beings,” he said.

When the war in Europe ended, the 777th went south through Austria and at one point visited a place in the Bavarian Alps called Berchtesgaden, also sometimes called The Eagle’s Nest. It was Adolf Hitler’s vacation home.

Despite the victory over the Nazis, World War II wasn’t over for Williams and his fellow soldiers. Back in France, the 777th was broken up and the soldiers were assigned to different outfits. They were being prepared to sail all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Japan was still fighting and a major invasion of the Japanese home islands was being prepared. Williams was in route when he learned that he wasn’t heading to Japan after all.

“I don’t know how many ships had gone through the Panama Canal. The ship I was on was on the east side of the Panama Canal,” he said. “The ship was redirected to Hampton Roads (Va.). We got the word on the high seas that the war had ended.”

Williams was ill when he arrived back in the United States and stayed in a Hampton Roads hospital for about a week. There was nothing for him to do there but unload ships, so he asked the Army provost about getting discharged.

“He told me, ‘I don’t blame you. I’ll give you a discharge. He said ‘We’ll get you home as quickly as we can.”

Williams said his father had advised him to put his life into God’s hands, and to keep a locket around his neck. He later lost it after returning to the United States and never found out what was in it, but he wore it and came home untouched.

Williams later had a long career with the McDowell County Board of Education as a classroom teacher and coach, and as the principal of Elkhorn Junior High School. He also served as a classroom teacher and coach for the Wyoming County Board of Education, an adjunct instructor in sociology with Bluefield State College, a mining instructor with the West Virginia Department of the Interior, and adult education transitions instructor with the West Virginia Community Action Directors Association.

On May 11, 2019 Williams was presented an Honorary Degree from West Virginia University. He was married to his wife, the late Christine Frances (Neal) Williams for 72 years. They had seven children, and now have 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

— Contact Greg Jordan at