Alabama Veterans’ Museum – I Hear Footsteps Behind Me!

6-18-2016 10-52-38 AMIt has been said that “imitation is the highest form of flattery.” If that is the case, a few weeks ago the museum was paid one of the highest compliments to date. Our Board of Directors President, his wife Michaela, my son Drew, and I attended the first Veterans’ Appreciation breakfast in Clinton, TN. This breakfast was modeled after our monthly Coffee Call.

One of our regular guests at Coffee Call is veteran Bill Ward. Over the years when his parents’ visits coincided with the Veterans’ Breakfast, he would bring his dad. He was so impressed with the breakfast and the museum, that he wanted one in Clinton, Tennessee, (Anderson County) where he lives. After several years of trying and running into dead ends, he convinced the County Mayor Terry Frank, (head of the county government), and the Veterans Affairs officer Leon Jaquet, to come to Athens and look at our museum. Of course the trip was arranged to coincide with the monthly coffee call. Terry Frank was so impressed that she immediately said that she wanted to do a breakfast in Anderson County. Terry has worked diligently to get this off of the ground. The first breakfast, which was held on May 14th, was a huge success, with approximately 100 attending. Terry and her husband sponsored the first breakfast and sponsors for the next four months are already lined up. The town of Clinton is providing the facility for the breakfast.

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As Terry stated to Bill, “Your dad’s hope of a museum and monthly breakfast for Veterans in Anderson County is off to a good start!” She is doing everything in her power to make a museum a reality. Bill Ward, Sr. grew up in the panhandle of Florida. He entered the Navy at the age of seventeen and celebrated his eighteenth birthday in basic training. He was assigned to the destroyer O’Brien, (DD-415) which left the Atlantic fleet to transfer to the Pacific fleet in November 1941. They arrived at Pearl Harbor on the evening of Dec 6, 1941 (great timing). Besides surviving the Pearl Harbor attack, his ship was involved in the Battle of the Coral Seas, Battle of Midway, and the Battle of the Solomon Seas. During the Solomon Seas battle, they took a torpedo that blew off the bow. They went to Espiritu Santo for temporary repairs, proceeded to Noumea for further repairs, and were cleared to return to the west coast for permanent repairs. The damage suffered in the torpedo attack was more severe than previously thought; it broke in two, and sank off of Samoa. He received the Purple Heart for wounds received during a Japanese air attack. He was on an antiaircraft gun which was hit with several killed and the rest wounded. His rank at time of separation was Boatswain Mate 2nd class (BM2C.)

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Bill Ward, Jr. grew up in Anderson county Tennessee and entered the Air Force Sep 29, 1966 at the age of seventeen, and also celebrated his eighteenth birthday in basic training. During his career, he worked as ground radio repair, aircraft maintenance control, aircraft scheduler, software development for Maintenance Management Information Control System (MMICS), quality control instructor for cargo prep for airlift, hazardous cargo trainer, NATO driver instructor, Forward Air controller, (both airborne and ground), night director of Air Support Operations Center (ASOC), and first sergeant. He traveled to all of 50 states, as well as 105 foreign countries, and retired as a MSgt. Wow!!!

Bill Ward, Sr. told a story that really hit home while we were visiting him in Clinton. Seems there was a very old man building a bridge across a river, a stranger came up to him and asked “Old man, why are you worrying about building that bridge? By the time you finish you will be too old to use it.” The wise old man replied, “Yes, but I hear footsteps behind me!”
By: Sandra Thompson, Director, Alabama Veterans’ Museum