[June 10, 2018] I don’t highlight heroes enough on my leadership blog. What we can learn from them is beyond the value I could ever state but I wanted to draw attention to U.S. Navy Boatswain’s Mate First Class James E. Williams who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam.
James E. Williams is considered one of the most decorated enlisted men in the history of the U.S. Navy. Of course, being on the pages of theLeaderMaker.com, one would expect him to be extraordinary and he was. He enlisted when he was only 16 years old and serving in both the Korean War and Vietnam War.
“When I was 16, I convinced the country clerk to alter my birth certificate so I could come into the Navy. I thought there was nothing better than servin’ my country and getting’ paid for it.” – James E. Williams
Williams never intended to be a hero; he just wanted to be a Sailor. He said that the proudest day of his life was when the Navy made him a “patrol officer” which is only held by Navy chiefs and officers. It showed him the trust the Navy had in him and that he could do the job in combat.
On his first day as a patrol officer, October 31, 1966, he was to spend a relaxing day doing lazy patrols along the Mekong River. What happened was that he and his boats ran into a Viet Cong staging area. What Williams knew was that bold and decisive decisions in combat gives a huge advantage. After enemy contact, his two boats sank 65 enemy boats and eliminated 1,200 enemy troops. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for that action.1
James E. Williams is a hero. But he admonished those who talked about his medals. Williams knew that you’ve got to think team; it takes a team to win any battle, not an individual. We salute him for his bravery.
He understood what leading from the front was all about. The U.S. Navy named a ship after him; DDG 95 “Lead from the front.”2