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Top Enlisted Servicemember Shares Outlook Learned From Naval Hero

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

CAMP SHIELDS, Japan, April 12, 2007 – The philosophy that has guided and shaped the life of the U.S. military’s top enlisted member grew from advice he received from the most decorated enlisted sailor in Navy history -- a war hero who earned the Medal of Honor and also happened to be his first cousin.

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Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks with Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3 at Camp Shields, on the Japanese island of Okinawa, April 12. Defense Dept. photo by John D. Banusiewicz

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared the philosophy he learned from James Elliott Williams with the Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3 here today.

“He told me, ‘Always prioritize your life. Put your God first, put your family second, and put your job third,’” Gainey said. “I was so lucky growing up in South Carolina with him in my life.”

Gainey told the sailors on Okinawa, an island about 400 miles south of mainland Japan, that as a boy he was unaware of his cousin’s heroic exploits.

“I didn’t know about all that,” he said. “He never talked about it. It was later in life that I found that all out, and now I carry his story forward.”

Williams joined the Navy at age 16 in 1947 and served in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts before retiring in 1967. In addition to the Medal of Honor, he earned the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit with valor device, two Navy and Marine Corps Medals and three Bronze Star Medals, among others.

In Vietnam, Williams was a petty officer first class assigned to the River Patrol Force. His mission was to intercept Viet Cong arms shipments on the Mekong River delta.

On Oct. 31, 1966, Williams was patrol commander aboard River Patrol Boat 105, searching along with another patrol boat for Viet Cong guerrillas. Suddenly, guerrillas manning two small boats opened fire on the American patrol boats. When Williams and his men killed the attackers on one of the enemy boats, the other escaped into a canal.

Giving chase, the American patrol boat sailors came under rocket-propelled-grenade and small-arms fire from enemy fighters on the river bank.

Several times, Williams led his boats against concentrations of enemy vessels. He also called for support from UH-1B Huey helicopters. When the Hueys arrived, he began another attack as night fell, illuminating enemy forces and positions with his boat’s searchlights.

In the three-hour battle, the American naval force killed numerous Viet Cong guerrillas, destroyed more than 50 vessels and disrupted a major enemy logistic operation.

Williams received the Medal of Honor for his actions that day from President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. He died in 1999. In 2004, the Navy commissioned the Aegis guided missile destroyer USS James E. Williams.

Gainey awarded his personal coin to several of the sailors, and noted to them that one side contains the inscription “Pride is contagious.”

“Remember James E. Williams?” he asked. “If you have pride in your God, in your family and in your service, everything else will come out right,” he told the Seabees. “I believe that with all my heart.”

Later, after a breakfast meeting here with Navy enlisted leaders based on Okinawa, Gainey traveled to White Beach Naval Facility, where he spoke with sailors assigned there and crewmembers of the USS Tortuga, a Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship that’s in the port preparing to transport Okinawa-based Marines.

Contact Author

Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, USA

Related Sites:
USS Tortuga
USS James E. Williams

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