Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Chief Petty Officer James E. Williams


USS James E. Williams (DDG-95)

The guided missile destroyer USS James E. Williams (DDG-95) prior to an underway replenishment with amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1), 17 November 2005. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Timothy Bensken)


Guided missile destroyer USS James E. Williams (DDG-95) proudly bears the name of Chief Petty Officer James E. Williams—the most decorated enlisted Sailor in U.S. Navy history—who received the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary heroism during the Vietnam War in October 1966. 

Williams was born 13 November 1930 in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Just two months after his birth, his parents moved to Darlington, South Carolina, where he spent his youth. In July 1947, he joined the U.S. Navy at just 16 years old. He retired in April 1967, serving in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.


Chief Petty Officer James E. Williams

Chief Petty Officer James E. Williams. U.S. Navy photograph.

In Vietnam, Williams was assigned to the River Patrol Force whose mission was to intercept enemy arms shipments on the waterways of South Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. On 31 October 1966, Williams, who was patrol commander for his boat, River Patrol Boat 105, and another PBR were searching for Viet Cong operating in an isolated area of the Mekong Delta. Suddenly, guerrillas in two sampans opened fire. Williams and his crew neutralized one boat crew, but the other escaped in a nearby canal. As they gave chase, the PBR Sailors soon found themselves in a beehive of enemy activity. Viet Cong guerrillas fired rocket propelled grenades and small arms from fortified riverbank emplacements. 

Against seemingly overwhelming odds, Williams led his PBRs against enemy junks and sampans while calling in naval aviation support. When the UH-1B Huey helicopters of Navy Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron 3 arrived, he led another attack that evening, turning on his boats’ searchlights to expose enemy forces and positions. After the three-hour battle was complete, the American naval force killed numerous Viet Cong guerrillas, destroyed more than 50 vessels, and disrupted a major Viet Cong logistical operation. 

On 14 May 1968, President Lyndon Johnson presented Williams the Medal of Honor for “his  extraordinary heroism and exemplary fighting spirit in the face of grave risks inspired the efforts of his men to defeat a larger enemy force, and are in keeping with the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.” 

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Williams received during his 20-year career the Navy Cross, Silver Star (with one gold award star), the Legion of Merit (with Valor Device), the Navy and Marine Corps Medal with gold star, Bronze Star with two gold stars, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Gold Star and Palm, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation with one service star, Purple Heart with two gold stars, Vietnam Service Medal with bronze service star, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal with bronze service star, United Nations Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with two bronze service stars, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, Korean War Service Medal, and the Navy Good Conduct Medal with four bronze service stars.  

Williams passed away on 13 October 1999. He is buried at the Florence National Cemetery in Florence, South Carolina. 

***** 

Sources

United States Navy: Our Namesake. https://www.public.navy.mil/surflant/ddg95/Pages/Namesake.aspx Retrieved 4 March 2020. 

Congressional Medal of Honor Society: Williams, James E. http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-detail/3447/williams-james-e.php Retrieved 4 March 2020. 

USS James E. Williams (DDG-95)

  • Laid down: 15 July 2002 at Pascagoula, Mississippi, by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems
  • Launched: 25 June 2003
  • Commissioned: 11 December 2004
  • Sponsor: Elaine W. Williams, the widow of the late James E. Williams

Additional Resources

Published: Fri Mar 06 16:43:52 EST 2020