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What could a man who survived eight bouts of malaria, earned two Purple Hearts and loved and lost three women possibly want for his birthday? How about a ribeye steak cooked medium rare?
That’s all Williston’s Richard A. “Dick” Williams wanted for his birthday and Saturday a small group of friends made sure the 93-year-old got what he asked for.
Arriving fashionably late for his celebration, Williams entered Pyper Kub restaurant armed with a folio of memorabilia and enough stories to fill a book.
With care he removed first one photo and then another from the folio. “That’s my friend,” he said, “and this is a family I stayed with when I went back.
“It will be Mary,” he said, pointing to the picture with the little girl, “who will take my ashes back.”
“Back” is the beaches of Normandy–the site of the D-Day Invasion June 6, 1944.
It was there that Williams, then 24 years old and acting as a medic, labored to save lives of the casualties who dotted the waters and shore of Omaha Beach.
“I’m not a hero,” he said when a guest calls him one. “They were the heroes. I’m just a survivor.”
There’s nothing halting in his voice as he begins his stories of that infamous day.
“Oh, sure,” he said, when asked to recollect what he could from D-Day. “That’s easy. You don’t ever forget.”
Williams was on a 30-man lighter, or flat bottom barge that transfers passengers from larger ships, that was coming into the Cherbourg Peninsula toward the beaches.
The lighter went into a vortex that caused it to go two miles farther west than planned.
“It’s a long beach line,” Williams said, “longer than Daytona or Cocoa.”
By the time the lighter arrived at its destination, it hit a sandbar and the soldiers alit from it into waist deep water. Williams said as he got closer the water was chin deep and he found it more difficult to maneuver, encumbered by the now drenched uniform and equipment.
“If you stood up you were dead,” Williams said, “ so you rolled or crawled. I’d grab the collars of the GIs and drag them from pylon to pylon for cover.
“I’d apply a tourniquet, give some morphine and then do it again.
“If they had an arm or leg off, you didn’t bother,” he said.
By dusk, Williams was able to eat a D-ration, military chocolate that gives a fast burst of energy. He dozed for a few minutes, but the war raged and his duties as a medic called.
Stories like this are legion in the mind of the D-Day veteran, who turned 93 Aug. 8.
In 2004, speaking into a tape recorder, Williams decided to share his wartime remembrances.
In the six years that followed more was dictated, transcribed and finally in 2012 published.
“Men of Iron: A Tribute to Courage” is Williams’ memoir and a salute to the men of the greatest generation.
The book, available through several sources including Amazon and Barnes and Noble, is filled with clear, vivid stories that depict the bravery and fortitude of those who fought during World War II.
Williams is brutally honest in his storytelling as he describes the carnage and horrors of war as seen through the eyes of a young 24 year old.
Many scenes in the book are so graphic, readers might cringe as they read them.
But there’s also light moments that remind the reader of his humanity–stories of lost virginity, visits to brothels and lost love.
When a neighbor told him he should pen remembrances of the war, he was at first reluctant.
“Why the hell would I do that?” he said. “I lived it once.” Eventually though he knew he had to write it down. By doing do, he might help someone else who is in combat or has been in it.
Originally from Binghamton, N.Y., Williams was working as a dental technician in Pasadena, Calif. when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The next day, he joined the long lines of men eager to enlist.
“I looked around and saw all these people,” he said Saturday, “and I thought, ‘How the hell can we lose?’
“I wasn’t afraid to die,” he said. “I’m still not afraid. I hurt all over. It’s no fun getting old.
“Of course I knew I could die, but that’s what war is about.”
Today, living in Williston Williams maintains his health is good– “Too good,” he says. He enjoys telling a good story and eating a good steak–both of which put this hero in the spotlight and deservedly so.
He sums up his life in the postscript of his book: “This book is my footprint in the sands of time. I passed this way and did my best.”