Medal of Honor





Rank and organization: Boatswain's Mate First Class (PO1c.), U.S. Navy, River Section 531, My Tho, RVN.


Place and date: Mekong River, Republic of Vietnam, 31 October 1966.


Entered service at: Columbia, S.C.


Born: 13 June 1930, Rock Hill, S.C.




For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. PO1c. Williams was serving as Boat Captain and Patrol Officer aboard River Patrol Boat (PBR) 105 accompanied by another patrol boat when the patrol was suddenly taken under fire by 2 enemy sampans. PO1c. Williams immediately ordered the fire returned, killing the crew of 1 enemy boat and causing the other sampan to take refuge in a nearby river inlet. Pursuing the fleeing sampan, the U.S. patrol encountered a heavy volume of small-arms fire from enemy forces, at close range, occupying well-concealed positions along the river bank. Maneuvering through this fire, the patrol confronted a numerically superior enemy force aboard 2 enemy junks and 8 sampans augmented by heavy automatic weapons fire from ashore. In the savage battle that ensued, PO1c. Williams, with utter disregard for his safety exposed himself to the withering hail of enemy fire to direct counter-fire and inspire the actions of his patrol. Recognizing the overwhelming strength of the enemy force, PO1c. Williams deployed his patrol to await the arrival of armed helicopters. In the course of his movement his discovered an even larger concentration of enemy boats. Not waiting for the arrival of the armed helicopters, he displayed great initiative and boldly led the patrol through the intense enemy fire and damaged or destroyed 50 enemy sampans and 7 junks. This phase of the action completed, and with the arrival of the armed helicopters, PO1c. Williams directed the attack on the remaining enemy force. Now virtually dark, and although PO1c. Williams was aware that his boats would become even better targets, he ordered the patrol boats' search lights turned on to better illuminate the area and moved the patrol perilously close to shore to press the attack. Despite a waning supply of ammunition the patrol successfully engaged the enemy ashore and completed the rout of the enemy force. Under the leadership of PO 1 c. Williams, who demonstrated unusual professional skill and indomitable courage throughout the 3 hour battle, the patrol accounted for the destruction or loss of 65 enemy boats and inflicted numerous casualties on the enemy personnel. His extraordinary heroism and exemplary fighting spirit in the face of grave risks inspired the efforts of his men to defeat a larger enemy force, and are in keeping with the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.


The following message was received on 22 May 2001

Hi Neil,

Someone sent me your web page on my husband. It is very good but there are two mistakes: his birthday was Nov. 13, 1930 and his hometown was Darlington, S.C.

He was two months old when his mother moved back to Darlington after his birth.


Elaine Williams, widow of James Elliott Williams,CMOH





James E. Williams, Much-Decorated Naval Hero, Dies at 68


By Richard Goldstein, 19 October 1999


James E. Williams, who as a patrol-boat commander in the Vietnam War won the Medal of Honor and became one of the most highly decorated sailors in Navy history, died Wednesday, October 13, 1999, at a hospital in Florence, S.C. He was 68.

Williams, who lived in Palm Coast, Fla., suffered a heart attack while visiting family members, his wife, Elaine, said.

In the spring of 1966, Petty Officer Williams was a year away from retiring, having served 19 years as a Navy enlisted man. But he volunteered for combat in Vietnam.

"He had experience in small boats, and he knew he could lead young Americans in combat," recalled the retired Rear Adm. Morton Toole, who commanded the patrol-boat division in which Williams served.

Overseeing patrols in the Mekong Delta from April 1966 to April 1967, Williams won the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, three Bronze Stars, and the Navy Commendation Medal. He also received three Purple Hearts and was twice awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for rescue operations under fire.

One of Williams' gunners, Rubin Binder, recalled being "19 years old and scared to death," only to be steadied by the veteran boatswain's mate.

"He was like a rock," Binder said. "When he said he was going to do something, he did it."

A petty officer would normally take charge of a single patrol boat. But Williams was given responsibility for two-boat patrols and the authority to call in helicopter and artillery assistance because, his former commanding officer, Fred McDavitt, said, "Williams was superior from the very beginning."

James Elliott Williams, a native of Rock Hill, S.C., first saw combat in the Korean War. He was assigned to a destroyer, but was detached to take raiding parties into North Korea on small boats.

During the Vietnam War, he received the Medal of Honor for what Binder remembers as "an incredible firefight" the night of Oct. 31, 1966.

When Williams' two-boat patrol was attacked by two sampans, he ordered return fire that killed the crew of one enemy boat and sent the other fleeing to an inlet. In continuing the counterattack, he exposed himself to fire from snipers along the river bank and from a large concentration of enemy boats that joined the battle.

When darkness arrived, he ordered his patrol boats' searchlights turned on to illuminate the enemy positions, although that made his own boats easier targets, and he moved close to shore to press the attack. The two American boats destroyed 65 enemy boats and inflicted many casualties in a battle that lasted three hours and left Williams with a wound near his right kidney.

He was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon B. Johnson on May 14, 1968, at a Pentagon ceremony. A burly man, 5-foot-8 and 210 pounds, Williams had a physique that impressed the president, who asked, "How'd you get that big neck?"

Williams was appointed U.S. marshal for South Carolina in 1969 by President Richard M. Nixon and served more than a decade in the Marshals Service.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three sons, James Jr., of Darlington, S.C.; Steven, of Dorchester, S.C.; and Charles, of Charlotte, N.C.; two daughters, Debbie Clark, of Palm Coast, and Gail Patterson, of Florence; and seven grandchildren.

In a statement issued after Williams' death, President Clinton praised him for "extraordinary bravery in combat."

But Williams did not covet publicity. He turned down offers for a movie based on his Medal of Honor exploits, feeling too much dramatic license would be taken. As he said in an interview with The Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston, S.C., in 1990: "If you're not going to tell the truth about that battle, then it ain't worth telling."

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