Eighteen months ago, Bill Williams lost his wife of 56 years and while he still grieves, he has been re-energized trying to share some of his war experiences and memories with the younger generation.
“You reach a stage in life where you can give up and be doom and gloom,” said Mr. Williams, 83, of Perrysburg. “Or you can still do good things in life, have a little more faith, cope with others, and know there is a reason you’re here.”
The Ohio Department of Aging featured him in a War Era Story Project on World War II released earlier this month. The Korean War veteran talked about being 12 when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and growing up throughout the war.
“We ask the public to tell their story,” said John Ratliff, with the Ohio Department of Aging. “We want to capture the elder's legacy. Mr. Williams was in the homefront section, where we wanted to capture what life was like here.”
Mr. Williams sat Monday in the house where he grew up, with cats roaming all over, photos of him and his wife and children filling every wall, scrapbooks from war stories out and medals on display.
Growing up, he lived down the street from a prisoner-of-war camp at the Rossford Ordnance Depot. Mr. Williams said it sat where Owens Community College is.
“The prisoners of war were put to good use; they farmed and worked in factories,” he said. “The [Nazi] Germans were not let out much, but the Italians were put to good use, they were good people. They had a dictator [Benito Mussolini] that made them go to war they didn’t want to.”
He said he was never scared being so close to a POW camp because they would see prisoners marched in and see them smiling. After telling his story to the Department of Aging, Mr. Williams said a friend from grade school, Fred Farringer, emailed him and recalled seeing Italian POWs picking up trash on Lime City Road back then.
“When they finished picking up the trash, they climbed back in the truck,” Mr. Farringer wrote. “But the guard, who was carrying a M-1 rifle, had to do something with the rifle to climb in the truck. He handed the rifle to one of the POWs, climbed into the truck, and the POW handed it back to him.”
After starting at the University of Toledo, Mr. Williams went to war himself from 1951-55 as a radar man for the U.S. Navy. A chief petty officer who served on various ships, he returned home and to his job in Toledo at Sears, where he met his future wife, Audrey Jane.
He said he does not share his story to boost his ego, quickly saying he was no hero in Korea. He said he does it to carry on with history for the next generation and his two grandchildren. “If our country loses its ability to feel empathy for what people went through, we will be one heck of a country,” he said.