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I was grateful to meet ‘The’ Ira Williams

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Veterans Remembered is the fourth in a series written in support of the Veterans Monument being built for the veterans of Lancaster County in hopes it will stimulate readers to remember those veterans  who touched their lives and provide support for the Veterans Monument project.
Writing Veterans Remembered is easy if the memories belong to me. Writing the memories of others and expressing how they want their memories shared sometimes stretches my abilities. I have a clear understanding of the scripture that tells me I shouldn’t cast my pearls before swine. When I borrow the pearls of other veterans I am ever so careful of the light in which I place their pearls.
Veterans Remembered today is about “The” Ira Williams. You will understand why he is “The” Ira Williams as you read Veterans Remembered. Ira was raised in the New Hope section of Lancaster County, one of four children of Claude and Theo Neal Williams. Theo was from Taxahaw and she impressed upon all of her children the importance of a good day’s work. This would serve Ira well in all that he would undertake in life.
Ira’s brother, John, worked for Springs and brother, Ward, was a private in the infantry during World War II. Ward’s feet froze during the Battle of the Bulge. Sister, Mattie Belle, was an Army nurse and attained the rank of captain.
History in math class
My first remembrance of Ira Williams was in 1960 as a ninth-grader in Miss Ruth Rollings’ math class at Heath Springs High School. The class was math, but history always found its place as the class began or ended. Miss Ruth was 62 years of age, almost 5 feet tall, and weighed 163 pounds. She had a club foot that caused her to walk with a limp. She wore special lace-up granny shoes and would often place her right hand on her right hip which allowed her to walk with speed and determination.
Miss Ruth often challenged her class with a history question and promised to stand on her left eyebrow if answered correctly. I don’t remember the question, but one day the question was answered correctly and the class held her to her promise.
Miss Ruth ordered quiet in the class and she stood before us stretching her arms and reaching for the floor. Her arms were unusually long for her body and she would touch the floor without bending her knees. After touching the floor twice she caught us all by surprise by plucking a hair from her left eyebrow, placing it on the floor, and standing on it. She proclaimed, “I am smarter than you look.”
It was on such a day that Miss Ruth challenged the class with the question, “Who is Ira Williams?” No one spoke. She exclaimed with a loud voice, “You children are ignorant! If I could bore a hole in your head and pour in the knowledge I would do it. I can’t do that so you must listen to me.”
Next, she took a paper from her desk and told us it was written by one of her students for Veterans Day 1953. The paper was titled, “Who is Ira Williams?” She further explained the writer was a neighbor of the Williams family. The writer explained that Ira enlisted in the Army in 1940 before we were at war and that he was smart and industrious, was promoted to warrant officer, was a member of the 3rd Armored Division of the 1st Army and had been a part of the D-Day invasion on Omaha Beach.
Life-threatening injuries
Ira had endured all of the hardships of war fighting in all of the battles across France and was the first Lancaster County soldier to cross the Siegfried Line into Germany. The writer shifted gears and told that present day Ira was near death and had been injured in a parachute drop in Korea. Multiple bones broken, a body cast, unable to eat and weighing only 94 pounds, Ira had been in a hospital in Japan for several months with no visible progress.
The writer pleaded for the prayers of the classmates on behalf of Ira Williams. There was silence in the classroom. We all wanted to know what happened to Ira but were afraid to break the silence. Miss Ruth, after a moment, spoke. She told us they prayed that day and the children went home and prayed and that the Lord heal Ira Williams and today in the year 1960 Ira Williams was still serving his country. She further told us it would be good to have students like those in the 1953 class. Miss Ruth was right. We were ignorant but we knew who Ira Williams was.
As a class and as an individual I often heard about Ira Williams while serving as a chauffeur for Miss Ruth Rollings. On a trip to Canada in August 1964, it was required of me to tell about “The” Ira Williams to the Vermont side of Miss Ruth’s family.
Face to face
It was not until the first week of March 2011, that I was able to meet “The” Ira Williams face to face. With the help of Ira’s son, Jock, a meeting was arranged and Jock assured me his father was “The” Ira Williams, age 92, and that his father would like very much to talk with me and was already registered on the Veterans Monument.
My wife and I visited Ira for about two hours on a Sunday afternoon and listened as he so graciously unfolded his life of pearls before us. Sometimes Ira spoke with great emotion and at other times with stern conviction. He covered D-Day plus four at Omaha Beach, through France, across the Siegfried Line, through Germany fighting battles, liberating cities and two concentration camps. The 3rd Armored Division of the 1st Army moved through Germany until it met the Russians and was ordered to pull back.
Ira was holding a book that detailed the action of the 3rd Armored Division. It was called “The Spearhead” for which the 3rd was known. He turned to a page of statistics and read, “Two thousand, two hundred, fourteen killed in action, 7,451 wounded and 706 missing.” With a stern voice and looking directly into my eyes he said, “You take this book and read it, if you write anything about me, I don’t like that hero junk. You read this book and you’ll see who the heroes are. You can find me at Bill’s in Elgin every morning during the week.”
A week and two days later I went to Bill’s in Elgin and there was Ira sitting with the mayor of Stoneboro. Ira was examining the stock market and the mayor was eating flap jacks and bacon. I assumed they knew each other and I talked with the mayor until Ira finished the paper. Ira interrupted me saying, “Did you read the book?” I told him I read the book and noticed many places he had marked “B.S.” and to ensure that didn’t happen to me. I wanted him to review what I wrote before it was printed. Ira then recounted what happened to him in Korea and told of his near-death experience. I noticed the mayor of Stoneboro was squirming in his seat looking for an opportunity of speak, but Ira continued. When he paused the mayor stood and said, “Are you “The” Ira Williams?” Ira laughed and said, ‘’Yes, I am.” The mayor responded, “I am Bobby Joe Hilliard from Stoneboro, I have seen you in here for a long time but didn’t know you were “The” Ira Williams.”
I left the two of them talking. Later I got to thinking that Mr. Hilliard was a history student and a graduate of Heath Springs High School Class of 1956. I wondered if he remembered the paper, “Who is Ira Williams?”
Today Ira Williams, at age 92, treasures his family, his home with neighbors and friends all around. He is an active supporter of his church. A large poster in his house reads, “I am Lancaster, I’ve been everywhere twice but Lancaster is my home. I am Lancaster.”
Ira shares his faith openly and gives God thanks for his blessings. Ira Williams is the salt of the earth.
Monument update
Good progress has been made with registration of names for the Veterans Monument that is being built for all veterans of all branches of service from the Spanish American War to present day. This monument is not just for war time veterans. It is for all veterans.
As of April 23, 2011, there are 94 spaces available for name registration on the Veterans Monument.   The Veterans Monument Committee requests you register veterans’ names by May 31,2011. If spaces are still available after May 31, call (803) 273-9669 or (803) 273-5146.