Charlie “Howard” Williams always remembered what his uncle used to tell him: You might run me home but you’re not going to run me away from home.
That philosophy of defending your ground led to his decision to join the Marines during the Vietnam War.
“I felt good about defending my country, being able to,” Williams said. “I got put into position I could defend my country by going into the military. That’s what I was excited about. I was in that position.”
The Morgan County native didn’t go to Vietnam but he would have if ordered. He served from 1972-74 with the 3rd Light Antiaircraft Missile Battalion, based at Cherry Point, North Carolina. He was a missile launcher operator. They had temporary additional duty for more than six months aboard the USS Portland on maneuvers in the Atlantic. They docked at Rotterdam, Holland; Harstad, Norway; and at an Air Force base in Germany.
“I loved it,” Williams said of his two years in uniform. “It was exciting to me. And I’m proud.”
He was from Moulton Heights, a small community near Decatur. His mother died when he was 2. He was one of six children – three boys and three girls – raised by his paternal uncle.
Williams grew up fast – he had two children in high school. After graduating from West Morgan High in 1971, he attended Morristown College in Tennessee. But his basketball scholarship didn’t cover everything, and money was tight, so he dropped out and joined the Marines.
“After I left school, I just decided I’d join the military,” he said. “And I chose the Marine Corps because I knew more about it. I could talk to my brother about it.”
Larry “Cocoa” Williams, five years older, had served with the Marines in Okinawa and he died in November 2021. “It hurt me to my heart. He was a character,” Williams said.
Williams left the Marines as a lance corporal in 1974. He went to work in 1975 with Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, or 3M Company, in Decatur. After 37 years, he retired in 2013.
“And then I couldn’t stand just sitting around the house so I got a job with NARCOG,” he said. The Decatur resident drives a bus for NARCOG Transit, a government-funded system which provides low-cost transportation for the elderly and underprivileged.
He and his wife, Sylvia, have been married almost 45 years. He has six children, including five girls, and 14 grandchildren. At 69 he enjoys playing with his grandchildren and he attends King’s Memorial United Methodist Church in Decatur.
Williams shared his thoughts on this nation’s commemoration of 50 years since the Vietnam War.
“I think it’s deserved recognition because of what the U.S. was trying to do even though it didn’t get accomplished,” he said. “The United States is the best country in the world. It’s going to try to do the right thing. And if it doesn’t do the right thing, it’s still going to try. Nobody wants to go to war. And the Vietnam War was a prime example. Sometimes what you’re going for doesn’t get accomplished. But you’ve still got to try to get it done. Hindsight is 20/20.”
Editor’s note: This is the 352nd in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.