MILLEDGEVILLE — Laurens County native John Williams was 17-years-old when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor launched the Unites States into World War II. After hearing the details on a home radio, Williams with brothers Homer, Ellis and Robert had no reserves about the next move.
At 19, he was drafted into the U.S. Navy.
“Right off the bat I said, ‘I have to go.’ There were four of us boys that all went. All four of us came back,” Williams said.
While the others served in various capacities including Army Rangers, Army infantry and medical divisions, Williams found his duty on the waters.
A young, country boy received a quick crash course from boot camp in the Great Lakes to crew assignment in Norfolk, Va. Williams and other southerners slept on mattress springs in Wisconsin barracks.
All-important clothing went into one bag. A buzz cut was the least of the worries.
Williams said people passed out during a multitude of tests.
“Somebody going into service now can’t even imagine how much difference there was when we went in. I caught a bus in Dublin to Atlanta by myself. I’d never been anywhere,” Williams said. “They put me on the slowest and worst train to Chicago. I had nothing to eat for 36 hours.”
Training was the difference in life and death. The 88-year-old said his chief petty officer cried, saying the crew was the best he’d ever seen.
Boot camp had no down time. Everyone was told not to make too good of friends within the crew.
In Virginia, the 187-person crew loaded onto the USS Martin H. Ray. Williams served as gunner on the 20mm cannon, in addition to assignment as the ship’s cook.
“It was pretty good. I enjoyed that. A ship’s cook rating was about the best thing for an enlisted man. You did eat better. If you didn’t, it was your fault,” Williams joked.