James Elliott Williams (13 November 1930–13 October 1999). Skillful battle direction is one of the most important requirements for a leader in the U.S. Navy. Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class James E. Williams, who received the Medal of Honor for his achievements, demonstrated extraordinary bravery and leadership during the Vietnam War. The petty officer was assigned to the River Patrol Force whose mission was to intercept People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF) arms shipments on the waterways of South Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
On 31 October 1966, Williams, patrol commander for his boat, River Patrol Boat 105, and another PBR was searching for PLAF insurgents operating in an isolated area of the Delta. Suddenly, enemy troops manning two sampans opened fire on the Americans. When Williams and his men knocked out one boat crew, the other one escaped into a nearby canal. The patrol boat sailors gave chase and soon found themselves in a beehive of enemy activity as guerrilla fighters opened up with rocket propelled grenades and small arms against the Americans from fortified river bank positions.
Against overwhelming odds, Williams led his PBRs several times against concentrations of enemy junks and sampans. He also called for support from the heavily armed Bell UH-1B Iroquois helicopters of Navy Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron 3, the “Seawolves.” When that help arrived, he kicked off another attack in the failing light, cleverly turning on his boats’ searchlights to illuminate enemy forces and positions. As a result of the three-hour battle, the American naval force killed numerous PLAF insurgents, destroyed more than 50 vessels, and disrupted a major enemy logistic operation. BM1 Williams not only displayed great courage under fire, but a keen understanding of how his sailors, weapons, and equipment could be used to achieve victory.
(DDG-95: displacement 9,515; length 510'; beam 66'; draft 32'; speed 30+ knots; complement 312; armament 1 5-inch, 1 Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) for 96 BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-66 SM-2MR Standards, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets, 1 Mk 15 Close In Weapon System (CIWS), 2 25 millimeter, 4 .50 caliber machine guns, 6 Mk 32 torpedo tubes, and accommodations for the A/N WLD-1 Remote Mine-hunting System, aircraft 2 Sikorsky SH-60B Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) Mk III Seahawks; class Arleigh Burke)
James E. Williams (DDG-95) was laid down on 15 July 2002 at Pascagoula, Miss., by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems; launched on 25 June 2003; sponsored by Mrs. Elaine W. Williams, the late Chief Boatswain’s Mate William’s widow; and commissioned at Charleston, S.C., on 11 December 2004, Cmdr. Philip W. Vance in command.
Dark blue and gold represent the Navy. The gold cross formy represents the Navy Cross awarded to Williams for his extraordinary heroism during the Vietnam War. The hexagon refers to the Navy Commendation Medal awarded to him for heroic actions, again during that conflict. The three wavy piles reversed symbolize the delta of the Mekong River, where Williams distinguished himself in engagements against enemy forces. His two awards of the Silver Star are recognized by the stars at the top of the shield.
The anchor represents the Navy. The mantle draped over it symbolizes sacrifice and unusual courage; the stars on the doubling denote James Williams’ multiple awards and leadership capabilities. The inverted star represents the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration the U.S. can bestow upon a service member. Together, the colors of the mantle represent the U.S.
Two enlisted cutlasses refer to Williams’ status as an enlisted sailor and his readiness and commitment to engage vigorously any enemy force.
“Lead from the Front,” inscribed in gold on a dark blue scroll doubled scarlet.
The 95 chain links surrounding the seal refer to the ship’s hull number.
James E. Williams, Cmdr. Ian M. Hall in command, with two Sikorsky SH-60B Seahawks, Aircraft No. 432 and Aircraft No. 434, of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (Light) (HSL) 42 Detachment 4 embarked, made her maiden deployment when she sailed to the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Gulf (2 May-17 October 2006). James E. Williams deployed in company with amphibious transport dock Trenton (LPD-14) and guided missile cruiser Hue City (CG-66), as part of Maritime Security Operations Surge 06-2, and carried out primarily maritime security and theater cooperation operations with the Sixth and Fifth Fleets, including patrols against pirates off the Horn of Africa and in the Gulf of Aden.
Eight Somali pirates seized South Korean fishing trawler Dong Won No. 628 and her 25 crewmen, off the Somali coast near 4°54'N, 49°21'E, at 0945 on 4 April. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB), headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, warned ships in the vicinity to steer away from the danger. The hijackers compelled the fishermen to make for Somali coastal waters, where they held them hostage while negotiators attempted to end the confrontation peacefully. James E. Williams escorted Dong Won No. 628 at one point, and Cmdr. Hall afterward reported that an “embarked translator” became a “must,” but also noted that Ship’s Storekeeper 2nd Class Kevin Kim “provided outstanding Korean linguist support.” The South Koreans paid the pirates a ransom, and the thugs released their captives on 30 July.
James E. Williams carried out ‘sustainment training’ about 100 nautical miles southeast of Jacksonville, Fla., overnight on 13 and 14 March 2007. She trained with 14 other ships and submarines including: aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVN-65); guided missile cruiser Gettysburg (CG-64); guided missile destroyers Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), Forrest Sherman (DDG-98), and Stout (DDG-55); attack submarines Philadelphia (SSN-690) and San Juan (SSN-751); and Columbian diesel boat Tayrona (SS-29).
San Juan, Cmdr. Michael W. Martin in command, operated as an opposition force. During the evening of 13 March, Enterprise lost contact with San Juan when the attack boat failed to send a routine situation report at 2200. Lookouts from other ships spotted apparent yellow flares, and Arleigh Burke reported seeing a red distress flare. The Atlantic Fleet ordered vessels in the area to check in and San Juan again failed to report. A number of senior Navy leaders feared that the submarine suffered a catastrophic accident, and Lockheed P-3C Orions, ships, and submarines combed the area for debris for eight hours but failed to locate wreckage. Unbeknownst to those concerned, however, Martin had simply begun what the Navy designated as ‘full evasive mode,’ and at 0530 the following morning, San Juan checked in. “Although this was a false alarm,” a Navy spokesman announced, “the primary concern was the safety of our submariners and the support of family members,” but acknowledged that the flares and the loss of communications “together is a rare event.”
James E. Williams, Cmdr. Timothy R. Trampenau in command, with two SH-60B Seahawks, Magnum 444 and Magnum 446, of HSL-44 Detachment 9 embarked, deployed to the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Gulf (9 July-19 December 2007). The ship sailed in company with: Enterprise, with Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12 and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1 embarked; Gettysburg; Arleigh Burke, Forrest Sherman, and Stout; Philadelphia; and fast combat support ship Supply (T-AOE-6). James E. Williams was towing Forrest Sherman during a towing exercise when the hawser snapped and tangled itself around James E. Williams’ starboard shaft, on 13 July. The following day, divers from Enterprise discovered a nine inch line wrapped around the shaft. The destroyer returned to Norfolk for repairs (19-22 July), and then sailed to catch up with the group. Forrest Sherman later detached to circumnavigate Africa.
James E. Williams assisted Tanzanian-flagged passenger ferry Spice Islander I off the Somali coast, on 26 September 2007. Spice Islander I had consumed her fuel, food, and water while en route from Oman to Tanzania, and drifted in the pirate-infested waters. The ship dispatched a Seahawk, which directed Stout to the scene, and Stout took the ferry in tow and provided the mariners with food, water, and fuel, enabling Spice Islander I to resume her voyage.
Enterprise and her consorts fought multiple battles with pirates. “We’re responsible mariners and we help all sorts of people,” Fifth Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Lydia R. Robertson told reporters during the deployment. “…When we get a distress call, we respond.” Fifteen pirates seized Taiwanese fishing vessel Ching Fong Hwa 168 off Mogadishu in May 2007. The next month the Somalis shot a man in the back, killing him. Negotiations broke down and they then murdered 32-year-old crewmen Chen Tao. “We were in shock,” 47-year-old master Xinshen Ling recalled. “Just for money they took a life…they are not human.” The pirates also threatened to kill Ling’s 22-year-old son Linshangyi. The father threatened to jump overboard and feed the sharks, a move that shook the pirates because insurers paid less ransom when captains died. The pirates beat their captives and callously forced them to call home to implore grieving families to raise ransoms. Ling listened to his wife weep over their son.
Somali pirates attempted to seize North Korean cargo vessel Dai Hong Dan, while she sailed about 60 nautical miles northeast of Mogadishu, Somalia, on 29 October 2007. The boarders took the bridge but the North Koreans held the steering and engineering spaces. The IMB called Combined Maritime Forces in Bahrain, which dispatched James E. Williams to investigate.
The destroyer sent one of her Seahawks to reconnoiter ahead, and when the ship reached the area the next day, sailors contacted the pirates via bridge-to-bridge and ordered them to give up their weapons. James E. Williams’ arrival encouraged the North Koreans to take back Dai Hong Dan, and they stormed the bridge and killed two pirates and captured five, though the Somalis wounded six crewmembers. Two translators, an embarked person who specialized in Arabic and a crewmember who spoke Korean, facilitated the destroyer’s negotiations with the pirates and they surrendered. The two remaining armed pirates discarded their weapons over the side, and James E. Williams sent a boarding team, consisting of three security sailors and three hospital corpsmen, who aided the victims until the North Koreans refused further help. Cmdr. Trampenau reported that the North Korean government expressed its “appreciation to the United States government” for the rescue.
James E. Williams shifted to Task Force (TF) 58 the following day and took part in Operation Bowsprit, counter piracy patrols. The ship reported that she assisted “multiple pirated vessels” off the Somali coast during Bowsprit (31 October-25 November). James E. Williams proved “instrumental” in freeing Tanzanian merchant vessels Manuvo I and Manuvo II and their 24 (total) crewmembers, from pirates following five months of captivity. Sailors from dock landing ship Whidbey Island (LSD-41) medically treated the freed prisoners, and the Americans then repatriated the mariners to Aden, Yemen.
James E. Williams then tracked the pirates who had seized Ching Fong Hwa 168, and on 5 November the destroyer compelled them to abandon their effort to retain control of the hijacked vessel, and the hijackers returned to the mainland. Following this deployment, Cmdr. Trampenau rated his ship’s “effectiveness” as "very high.”
While James E. Williams deployed to the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, she responded to a distress call from an Iranian vessel, when a fire erupted on board the boat while she sailed in the Gulf of Oman, on 8 August 2012. The destroyer made speed to the area and rescued all 10 mariners from their burning craft. The American Sailors provided medical treatment to the Iranians, and they were then transferred to Enterprise for additional medical care, before being repatriated to their homeland.
James E. Williams greeted 2019 operating with Destroyer Squadron 26, part of Carrier Strike Group 10, the Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) Carrier Strike Group, out of Norfolk, Va. While the ship carried out routine training off the Florida coast on 8 March 2019, the officer of the deck heard over the ship’s bridge-to-bridge radio about a vessel in distress approximately 30 nautical miles away.
“The OOD [officer of the deck] called me with his intentions to render assistance to the vessel in distress,” Cmdr. Joseph F. Fals, the ship’s commanding officer, recalled. “I concurred with his plan and we set out to reach the vessel.” Once they reached the immediate area, crew members deployed in a rigid-hulled inflatable boat and checked on the welfare of the people on board the vessel. Several of the 26 people in the vessel reported not feeling well, Fals said. His crew provided bottled water and the sailors remained with her until Coast Guard cutter Charles Sexton (WPC-1108) reached the scene and picked up the passengers. While Charles Sexton hove to, the destroyer’s sailors assisted in getting the passengers over to the cutter before sinking the vessel to prevent her from being a hazard to navigation.
“From start to finish, the James E. Williams crew demonstrated top-tier professionalism,” Fals reflected proudly. “They exercised mission command, quickly developing and communicating a solid plan which they smoothly executed. As a result, the boat crew performed extremely well. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Detailed history pending.
Mark L. Evans
13 March 2019