Great uncle Willie gets his Purple Heart 100 years after his death in World War I
By Diane Bell
via the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper web site
In his soon-to-be-released documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old,” based on actual World War I film footage, “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson explained that his grandfather had actually fought in the war. He offered this explanation for why he had taken on the project.
“I think it’s great if we can just pause for a moment and think about them for a bit because they are part of our family, part of us. We still carry their DNA … let’s pause in our modern lives for a second and think about what they went through,” he told Britain’s Forces TV.
It’s a quote Poway CPA Robert Knight invokes to explain why he requested the Purple Heart award ceremony that took place Thursday for his great uncle William James Williams, Jr., 100 years after he died during a German U-boat attack in World War I.
Williams had been one of the lucky ones who, unlike his younger brothers, wasn’t drafted when the United States joined the war. But when a call came in early 1918 for machinists to enlist in the war effort of the Coast Guard — which had been placed under U.S. Navy jurisdiction the previous year — he and his best friend in Muskegon, Mich., signed up.
Less than seven months later, both he and his friend, Francis “Frank” Scott, had perished off the coast of Wales when their 190-foot Coast Guard cutter Tampa was torpedoed. It was on a mission of escorting supply convoys back and forth from Gibraltar to southern England and Wales. Only three bodies were ever recovered from the wreckage.
It wasn’t until President Harry S. Truman extended Purple Heart eligibility for members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard back to 1917 that the 115 Tampa crewmen, who died along with the Tampa’s 16 passengers, became eligible for Purple Hearts. The medal is reserved for those wounded or killed during war.
And it wasn’t until about six years ago, when Knight started researching his genealogy, that he stumbled across his great uncle’s background. “Willie died in World War I,” was all he had ever heard over the years from other family members, including his grandmother, Willie’s younger sister.
Read the entire article on the San Diego Union Tribune web site here:
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