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Wilkes County Veterans History Project: Eric Williams

Eric Williams Photos

At Border between North and South Korea, holding a 12-gauge shotgun

GP Gladys trench line

Inside GP

Dress Uniform for Inspection. Only time worn in DMZ.

Singing Elvis Presley's "Teddy Bear'. Worked the entertainment circuit for three months, had four backup singers, one from Lenore.

North Korea steam shovels and bunker

Dogs that are very popular in Korea. 

James Eric Williams Story, as told to Emily Ball

James Eric Williams was born on December 18, 1942, in North Wilkesboro, NC. His parents were innkeepers, who owned a motel. Eric, along with his sisters, Karen and Erica worked with their parents and went to school nearby, called Lees McRae. After graduating, he went to college at East Tennessee State, where he married Gwen Williams. He joined the ROTC and was one credit away from graduation when he was drafted to the army. He joined the 2nd Infantry Division, 2nd and 23rd Charlie Co. He went through basic training at Ft. Riley, Kansas, which lasted for eight weeks, and then it was off to Korea. He served from June 1966 to June 1968. He was able to stay in touch with his family by mail. 

During his service, he rose to the rank of Spec. 4, serving as a sniper and was a very good shot with a rifle and scope. He gained awards and medals for his expert rifle skills and his skills with machines. He was ranked first in the ROCT and was "the best shot there was" in is unit. The 2nd Infantry Division was the first to be sent to fight. They were considered to be "the roughest, toughest bunch of the army."

He time in service lasted thirteen months. Ten of those months were spent in the DMZ between North and South Korea. The dividing line was the Imjin River. 

The soldiers were split into Day and Night Patrols. Day Patrol was made up of forty men, while Night Patrol was only eight men. The last three months of service was spent working to keep up the morale of the solders. He traveled with a group of twenty-five men, going around all of the big cities in Korea and singing all of the popular songs, like Elvis' 'Teddy Bear',

Two bunks down from him was a man from Lenore, NC. His name was Johnny Barlow, and he quickly became Eric's best friend. Another of his unit mates was a boy from Puerto Rico. He was excited for the adventure and glory of the fighting. When he had only nine days left of his service, they all went to show a preacher what the Day Patrol was like. They were attacked, the boy was killed, and the preacher got shot and then sent home.  

One of his assignments was to take some South Korean civilians to the DMZ and spray Agent Orange over everything. It can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years to feel the effects.

When it came to plans and leaders, things often got messy. One time, his unit was given contradicting orders. The general told them "Don't tell the soldiers to stop [killing]," and they were sent out to the field, but their commander on the ground said, "Do not shoot unless I tell you to." The general's orders ranked everyone else's, and his orders were followed. The commander was then reassigned. 

Another plan wasn't carried though due to poor planning. Some North Korean soldiers had crossed the Imjin River. The Night Patrol got so close to the North Koreans that they could smell their cooking. They were ordered to take them out during the night by running through their camp and throwing hand grenades. The trees were too thick to go through with the plan. They reported their findings and location and sent in the Day Patrol to take care of them instead. 

At the DMZ there was no down time. Soldiers had to always be alert for trouble, and they were always on duty. Combat is a series of unusual and terrifying events. On the DMZ, there was no safe place, it was the danger zone, with no man's land in the middle. 

When they were sent to war, they thought that it would be over in 1966 and then in '67. It's still going on to this day. 

The best part of service was getting to go home when it was over. 

After the war, he was the same man he'd always been. His experiences from service didn't change him. He was just glad to be home with his wife and family. He joined the family business and worked as an Innkeeper, like his parents. He joined the VFW and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He has lung cancer from spraying Agent Orange, and suffered from nightmares, which he has been able to get treatment for, with medication from the VA Hospital.