U.S. Navy Fireman: Al Williamson

Published 2:54 pm Friday, October 24, 2014

In 1957 Al Williamson was just 17 when he left Jeff Davis County for the U.S. Navy. He had never been much further away from home than Magee, Ms. but when he signed up for the Navy after a short tenure in the National Guard his first adventure was traveling across country for basic training.

“After we were sworn in they put us on a plane that night and we flew to San Diego for three months of boot camp. That’s the furthest I had ever been from home,” stated Williamson.

As a post-war sailor Williamson was stationed in Tacoma, Washington disassembling parts of aircraft carriers that were mothballed after their valiant wartime service.

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“There were 26 aircraft carriers, an old steamship and a captured German supply ship We took out hydrators, drinking water evaporators, pumps and other parts, took measurements and logged pieces then stored them in the ships’ airplane elevator compartments. That steamship had the biggest pistons I had ever seen,” stated Williamson.

Shirley Burnham / The Prentiss Headlight

Shirley Burnham / The Prentiss Headlight

Navigating the inside of US Navy ships was no problem for the sailors but when it came to the German supply ship they were in a quandary constantly losing their bearings. “It seemed we got lost every time we went in that German ship,” mused Williamson. “It was organized about backwards to an American one.”

During the process of handling such large heavy equipment Williamson was injured and had to have surgery. While he was recuperating his orders were changed and on recovery he shipped out to the island of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, 2,000 miles from Hawaii and about that many from Guam. The island now serves as a restricted high security missile defense training area. It is also famous for wartime atrocities when 27 doctors and nurses were marched by Japanese troops into the sea, killed and left for shark food. There is a rather large cross-shaped monument Williamson particularly remembers that memorializes those medical personnel.

Williamson served kitchen duty and later as a fire fighter trained to assist incoming planes in the event of a fire.

On his return to Seattle Williamson was stationed on the USS Charles E. Brannon destroyer escort ship that was repurposed to pick up new reserves transporting them for 2-week training sessions in San Diego. He stated his most horrific time and the only time he was seasick was when this small vessel (307 ft. long) was caught for three days in hurricane gale waters and he began to doubt if they would survive.

Fireman E-3 Willie Albert Williamson was released from the Navy in 1959 and placed on inactive reserve. He received his discharge in 1961. Williamson’s mother said he left a boy and came back a man.

October 27th is designated as Navy Day. We salute those Jeff Davis County natives like Al Williamson and others who served their country in this vital branch of the U.S. military.