War on Their Minds
1945   Jack A. Williams
Age in 1941: 24

Interview Team: Monique Tetreault

Q: What is your name?

Mr. Williams: Jack Williams

Q: What was your age in 1941?

Mr. Williams: I was 24 years old.

Q: Where were you born and where were you raised?

Mr. Williams: I was born in Portsmouth, England. From there we went to Canada for a year. Then we moved down to the United States and I was raised in Weston. My father was the head gardener at Case Estates so we all lived on the estate, and I went to school in Weston Public Schools too.

Q: During the 1930's what was going in Italy, Japan and Germany?

Mr. Williams: Well you know we sort of followed. Hitler was on the radio quite bit back then. We followed that but I really didn't know much about Japan or Italy. Actually, what we knew who was in charge over there making a lot of noise but we didn't pay too much attention to him. But I should have paid more attention because my brother went too. He was six years younger then me. He went to Japan he was also in the Air Force but in another branch with the one over there.

Q: How did you become aware of the dangers in Asia with War Minister Tojo?

Mr. Williams: Well I think it became fairly evident because he got more and more rambunctious and the papers everyday were talking about the things he was doing over there. He started nixing countries and everything else and of course, that's when the Blitz really started when it got back to us through the papers mostly. We couldn't really ignore it and it was getting to the point where he was getting pretty bad.

Q: What do you remember about the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Mr. Williams: We heard how they attacked on Sunday morning at all of that but we also heard that they had a radar notification that the Japanese were coming and so we thought that everything was all right but it didn't turn out that way. Apparently, it was sort of ignored and the bombing took place and it was really disastrous.

Q: What were your feelings about the American declaration of war?

Mr. Williams: Between you and me, I thought it was high time. In the beginning, I was kind of concerned that we spent an awful long time backing up England in Europe, and I thought that we really should have been in it quite a lot earlier then we were, so I thought it was good when we cut in.

Q: Did these feelings change during or after the war?

Mr. Williams: I never hated the Germans or the Japanese actually. It was sort of a funny thing because you sort of were… it was a job that we had to do and we were gonna go get it done. Really, I never stopped to think of personality so much and say 'yeah and I don't like this guy or I hate this guy' and everything like that. It was sort of a thing we went over with and had something to do, we worked night and day and tried to get it done (laughs)

Q: Under what circumstances did you enter the armed forces?

Mr. Williams: Well it was kind of funny. I tried to volunteer in, I did volunteer in, and they refused to take me because I wasn't a citizen of the United States. So I waited six weeks and along comes a little note saying 'Greetings' (laughs) I was drafted. So then I went in, and I don't know if this is a good time to tell you a little about what happened after I was drafted; the sequence of what happened. When I was first drafted in, we went to Port Devens, which was right close by, and I think I got about five shots of vaccinations (laughs) and I didn't feel too good after that. Then we headed off across the country on a train. Because of security reasons, they never would go straight from where you were to where you were gonna be for your basic training. So we went by close to Chicago, down south by St. Louis, and finally we ended up at a field down in Biloxi, Mississippi. The name of the field was Kiesler Field. That's were I took my basic training, and I had an experience there that sort of reminded me that I wasn't in New England any longer. We were practicing out there going through our routine exercises. One of them was, you ran along at top speed, and then when the whistle blew you put the rifle on the ground and feel down flat out of sight. I was in good shape then, young and everything else. So I was up close to the front. All of a sudden (laughs) we were going along doing this when a guy in front of me about fifteen jumped up and screamed. He had a water moccasin hanging right here (points to his chest) flopping like this (shakes his hands in front of his chest). Water moccasins are big water snakes. Big like that (shows about three feet with his fingers). It's not much longer, (shows again), but it's big and round like that (still demonstrating). So (laughs) anyway, needless to say after the whistle blew a couple of times I was no longer in the front. I was at the back looking for a place where someone had already dropped in the grass (laughs). I didn't like the thought of that at all. (laughs) So that's actually where we took our basic training, and first started being told what we would do and (laughs); and actually we went from there to Colorado. Denver, Colorado at Lauery Field, one of the biggest fields in the world; a mile high. The air was beautiful; you know, cool and nice, unlike that sticky stuff down in Kiesler. As we left there, we knew where we were going, and everybody said 'you're gonna like it out there'. Well we did like it out there. Except we had a sadistic Sergeant in charge of us. As soon as we got off the train out there he says 'I want you guys to get limbered up! A mile course around the field and run around.' We tried to run around a few hundred yards, but the air up there is so much lighter; you're up so high you know, no oxygen and everything. Everybody was gasping for breath (laughs). It was kind of funny, but we got used to it, you know, pretty quick so that was all right. And so when I started my training, I started training in B-17s; I got the measles. That held me up a bit. About a week or more, when I came back out, the outfit that I was with was already gone and a B-24 outfit was going through. So here I am all of a sudden trained on 17s and I'm on B-24s all of a sudden. So anyway, we ended up at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho, and it was there that I stood guard with Jimmy Stewart. So we were out one night, late and his plane and my plane were right beside each other so we were walking back and forth. He was a really nice guy. Honestly, he was as down to Earth as anyone could possible get. There was nothing high hoity-toity about him. He was a wonderful guy. We formed the 445th Bomb Group and that was composed of four squadrons. There was the 700th, 701st, 702nd and 703rd. Jimmy Stewart was in charge of the 703rd and I was in the 700th so we wer’nt all in the same group, but we were close by. Right from the beginning he was destined to go. He was not over there very long before we found out that he was leading missions. He was a very good pilot, very dedicated, and he did a good job. So (laughs) that was my experience with him.

Q: Did you choose to go into the Airforce? Or were you assigned once you were drafted?

Mr. Williams: I know that we didn't get there right away, that we were late. I can tell you about that if you like. The B-17’s had a wide wing, so it could go the Northern route. The wing doesn’t have much of a slope on it, and if it ices up the plane won’t be forced down. B-24s are what I was in. It had to go the Southern route because the wing was shaped so it could give you the lift. Well if you got any ice on it, you lost the lift and the thing (plane) would come down. So we went the Southern route. So our first stop was Bealen. When we came in there, there was a sudden down pour and all of a sudden there was about six inches of water on the runway and we slid right of the end of it. Of course we were heavily loaded. Well it turned out that we found a gas leak so we were there a few days and they finally decided to go on flight to Africa. So they left the Bomb-bay doors open at five to let the gas fumes out. Of course all the radio equipment was back there in the bunker. How we ever got there, I don't know, but anyway, we got there. We landed in Merikesh. When we got there we had to wait for a gas tank. Now the gas tank in those wings are made up of sections. All these sections are about that thick (shows with hands). They have an outside skin but then they have this soft, squashy stuff in there that looks like black tar. If a bullet goes through there it immediately seals up behind it so it doesn't leak gas; that's the idea of it. So we had to wait for one of those to come in from the United States. Well while we were there I (laughs) the only word I knew in French practically was 'singe' which means 'monkey'. So I talked about it with the native boys, he was working in the thing there and I told him we wanted to hunt monkeys. Well he got the idea. He put his hoe down and took us into the jungle, well it's what it was you know, well he's pointing to all these monkeys in the trees. They were more like baboons in size. And you know I hit them with a 45 mm… forget it! We didn't catch anything. So anyway, then he got the idea that we would like a drink, so he took us to a very overhung place, you know, and inside there, there were about three guys. They look like pretty tough guys, and they had a barrel with this liquid in it. So I guess they wanted our money. We thought it was best to buy a drink off of them 'cause they didn't look to friendly. They gave it to us in a coconut shell;I can remember that. I look at it and all these bugs are floating around it. So it took it and I thought 'I better be the first one to drink this.' So I blew all the bugs off of one side and I took a sip and I handed it to the kid that was with me. His name was Bullreed, and he's looking at it, and he didn't want to drink it either. He would have poured it away if he had the chance. I said 'drink it like this'. So finally he took a couple of sips of it and we gave it back to them and got out of there. (laughs) So we had a lot of strange experiences over there that were a lot of fun actually; after we got back and everything. Of course we really didn't have anything to worry about; I mean, if those guys were gonna be around with their spears, we had 45s, so I think we had them out gunned anyway. But anyway, we came back, and after quite along while, I think probably six weeks at least, this plane came in and we took a panel of the bottom of the plane. We had to unscrew about a thousand screws to get it out of there. We put a rope over the one that was in there and we clasped it as best we could, and pulled it out through the hole. Then we took the new one and we tied the rope around it and pushed it back up there. There was a connection on it that you had to connect through a hole. I happened to be the smallest guy there so they sent me up in there to do it. It was all fine until the rope let go and the thing expanded. Of course the thing is about a hundred in the shade and there was no shade because it's desert so there I was. So I was lucky I was able to get my head down near the hole until we could get another rope around it, and clasp it again so that I could do it. I finally got it down and we opened it up and then we were all set to fly for England. This was fine, of course we were carrying a lot of stuff that they wanted to have over there besides our regular equipment. In the Bomb-bays they had big storage bins and they were full of all kinds of stuff; So the plan was heavily loaded. When it came time to fly, we started to go off, and boy that wasn't a very long runway. We were going down that runway and I kept seeing those trees coming up closer and closer and I didn't think that we were gonna clear them. Well, on the bottom of the plane there are two little rods that stick out with a wire in-between them. It's a directional finder or something. We took that off in the trees. That's how close we came. (laughs) Of course then you know they had some of their direction abilities out of there, so we got out of there, and ended up over England, wanting us to get out of there or they were going to shoot us down. Fog everywhere you couldn't see anything. So finally a pilot said he would climb out of there. He climbed out, and when we got over the overcast, there was a barrage all around us. How we didn't get hit by one of those, I don't know, but we were blessed, that's all I can say. A barrage balloon is a small balloon that has a big cable attach to it so that the planes will fly into them. We didn't know where we were. Once we got out above the overcast they got us squared away, and we finally got to where we were suppose to go. But it was an adventurous flight. I must say. A very adventurous flight.
...This is the holster of a pistol worn by an S.S. Storm trooper. Now the storm troopers I think were the elite German officers and men. At the end of the war, instead of herding all these people into camps and everything like this, they were called up to the front and they had to do their share of the fighting I guess. But up until then a lot of others had shot a lot of men by the end of the war. Anyway, this came off of that particular storm trooper. So when my friend came back to this country, he didn't want it so I bought it off of him. It's a great souvenir. This is a book put out by the Second Air Division. Now the 445th which I belonged to was part of the Second Air Division. Okay, so in here I've marked a couple of places. In here it tells about what the 445th Bomb Group did during the war. This book has a lot of amazing stuff in it. It really tells what the 445th did and what their worst day was. Our bomb load varied. They could carry about four 2,000lb bombs which were a ton each.

Q: What was the 445th's worst day?

Mr. Williams: The worst raid that they had was (Castle?). The four squadrons together sent out about sixty planes that day and got three back. You know there are ten men to a crew. The reason that happened was because they got separated from the main force and they lost their air cover of P-51s. They protect them. As soon as the Germans found out that they were alone and helpless, they just shot ‘em to pieces. So, that was a bad day. A Very bad day.

Q: What was your role during the war?

Mr. Williams: I was in charge of the power operated gun turrets and gun sites. We did the maintenance on them aboard planes. We made sure that the bomb racks operated right, made sure that the guns operated right. The covers to these turrets were Plexiglass. When they first when over there, they thought that they were bulletproof. That much Plexiglas does not stop a bullet. Didn't even slow it down. Even if they weren't (cracked) bad, we had to put a new one on and new ones were hard to come by. We went all around England when the plane was down, taking off the plexiglass turrets so that we could put them on ours, and ones that needed them. On the other hand, if there was just a hole like that (shows with hands), we learned how to patch them so that it wouldn’t impede their vision, because they had to be able to see. Seeing was very, very important. We used to go out every morning and talk with the crew, and one of the kids came up with the idea that the German planes come out of view right on the tail and they'll try to get you to shoot at them. They were trying to find out if the tail turret is working. If it isn't, then they will come in and shoot the plane down. I said that I could understand that so he says what I'd like to try is to see tracers come in and fire the 1st hundred rounds with the back gun. All tracers. So they'll see these things coming and they will go somewhere else where it's easier; and that's exactly what they did. He said that if they put all the tracers in the back guns, the Germans could see it coming. They didn't like to see it coming any more then we did. (laughs)

Q: Are you still in contact with Jimmy Stewart?

Mr. Williams: No, Jimmy Stewart of course is a movie actor and he went back to Hollywood. He kept in touch with the group who wrote the book, but I didn't keep in touch with him. But he was very famous.

Q: Was it easy for you to keep in contact with your family during the war?

Mr. Williams: We communicated all the time though. I didn't get to see my family at all after I went in. I did get to see a couple of people on thanksgiving that I knew from Weston. They found out that I was out there at Lowrey Field in Colorado. He was working out there on some gun powder project, so they invited me out for Thanksgiving dinner. I did get out, and spent the day with them in a nice private home away from the camp. It was very nice but that was about it because I just didn't get back for anything else. I couldn't get leave. Not long enough to do it.

Q: Was your family involved in the war effort?

Mr. Williams: My brother was. He went to Japan and I went to Europe. He was also in the Airforce; In Okinawa and those different places.

Q: Did he make it back after the war?

Mr. Williams: Yes. Yes he did. We were lucky that way. Actually, close members of our family we didn't lose any of. Now my wife, the woman who I was gonna marry; we just got engaged before I went. We figured well, what if I don't come back it will be better maybe if we weren't married, so we were gonna wait till I got back. Barbara was going to Simmons College to become a nurse and she became a nurse. So three of us were engaged which only left my father. He was a real old man. My sister who was working in a defense plant. They were more like Rosie the Riveters. But my father who was in the first World War lived to be a 103 so he lived pretty well, considering they used a whole bunch of gas during the first World War. His brother was badly gassed. Chlorine! He was sick most of his life after he got out of there.

Q: Was it hard for you to say good-bye to them when you left?

Mr. Williams: To get back into everyday life? Yeah maybe in a way. I got married to my girlfriend quickly. When I came out I said ‘when do you want to get married?’ and this was Monday morning, and she said how about next Sunday. (laughs) I guess she figured she’d waited long enough. (laughs) So we got married right away. Then of course I had responsibilities when we started to raise a family. We had five kids. She was kept pretty busy. I didn't have time for a lot of these things like looking up people who had been in the service with me. I worked night and day, going to school and working. I went to school on the G.I. Bill of Rights to try to get this schooling in before I ran out of that and get a job and be able to support these kids. I went to Northeastern and I started co-oping. I remember Raytheon gave me the best amount of anyone. I got sixty-five cents an hour. So I finally ended up, after I got my degree, going there, and I was an engineer there for thirty-five years. So that was very, very good. And people like Adams who were in charge of Raytheon and Tom Phillips and these people, they were almost like fathers to us. You had that feeling that it was just a big family. It was terrible after I had left. A lot of the people who worked with me who were younger quit anyway… it got so bad. Things did change.

Q: When did you come back from Europe?

Mr. Williams: I came back from England and I was married June 17th which was a week after I got back. So I came back in June.

Q: What year was that?

Mr. Williams: That would be 1945. They sent me to train down in Florida to fight the Japanese, but they had a point system then and if you had so many points then you could get out of the service. In other words I think that 65 was the amount that you needed to get out. I had something like 164 or something like that, I had a lot. I was in for quite a long while. I was in for over three years. So I had quite a lot of points. They decided that there wasn't much sense to train us more, and waste time on us when we could just say we wanted out. If you had enough then you could get out. So they finally sent us home. They discharged us from Florida...when I was trying to get my citizenship papers, I made out a Declaration of Intention. I did that in 1940. It started following me around because I went from base to base. I'd move out and it would move to the base behind me so I never got it. So we finally got to a place called Mitchell, South Dakota. So I went to the fellow at the desk in charge and I told him that I didn't want to go into the English army because I am an English citizen. But I am American and I want to get my citizenship. He asked what was holding it up, so I told him, and he said 'where are your papers now?' and I said that they are in Iowa. He said 'that's not problem, I have a crew on the 24, I'll have them fly you back. So they flew me back a couple of times and I got them. So ten years later I read it and my name is Jack and I found out that they put John (laughs). That was about ten years later. I didn't even read it. I just knew I had it.

Q: Were there any welcome home parties for you?

Mr. Williams: I started trying to become a citizen before I went to war and I didn't go until 1942. Things move awful slow. That was in the way and then that so I never could get it before. I finally got my discharge. Honorable discharge. There was a real bad hurricane and we took shelter where all these mattresses were. Pretty soon all these mattresses were flying by. Twenty minutes later all the mattresses started coming back. They we coming from the other way 'cause they were on the other side of the storm. We had some fun experiences. I had a real funny one with a fellow. I don't think he was brilliant or anything but the hurricane blew three sides of one building. After the hurricanes we had to guard all the safes. This kid locked the door to the only wall standing at this once building. I never could get over that one.

Q: Were you aware of the relocation of the Japanese-Americans?

Mr. Williams: The funny thing about that we were busy and we never heard the mention by anybody while we were there. We didn't know about it until we came out and came back home. Even though the war with Japan wasn't over, we heard about it then. That always bothered me. I know it's hard to say but when the Indians were in this country we moved them to this sterile ground to get them out of the way. And of course we found out that there was oil. As soon as we find out they are sitting on oil they took them and put them in tiny little places you know where they could hardly breath never mind live. But the greed for that oil really did a job on them. We did the same thing to the Japanese. We took their beautiful farms and some of the best land. It was greed. Terrible!

Q: Did Americans whom you knew ever notic the irony in the racial segregation at home or in the armed forces?

Mr. Williams: I'd like to tell you a little bit about that before we get right into it. When we were going to Mississippi we were all on a train. You couldn't lay down, they only had seats, so you had to sleep sitting up. It took about 2 or 3 days getting down there. One morning I woke up and the car that had been full. There were only a few people in there. So I said 'What happened? Where did everybody go?' So someone said 'we crossed the Mason Dixon line. Black fellas are in the back, Meaning the back of the train. Well in New England we didn't have much to do with all kind of segregation, but down there at that time it was really something. ... In some ways overseas there was segregation too, but not in the same way. Blacks and white fought together, but had to eat in different mess halls. I started walking into a mess hall and the black fellow said 'no no you need to go to the other mess hall.' It was segregated. I got on a train's cars seats faced one another. There was a British officer sitting down reading his paper, so I spoke to him. He snubbed me. It was class distinction. If that had been Bill Gates, he would carry on a conversation with me. That bothered me. We had a little bit of everything over there. Now, when you go down south it doesn't happen as much. It took a long while but it happened.

Q: How do you feel about the German atrocities towards the Jews?

Mr. Williams: We heard something about that, we never heard a lot about it. We saw a lot when I went to Israel. Towards the end of the war, tales began to leak out. People who had been in the camps came back and told stories. When the war was coming to a close, we were really anxious to get home. That's why I like Patton, he was a great General and got a lot of them out of there. He drove the Germans out of there.

Q: How did you view President Roosevelt during the war?

Mr. Williams: I thought he was a great Commander in Chief actually. He had more and more meetings with Churchill, and I know you are gonna ask me about when he died. I felt like I got hit with a baseball bat. I never felt so stunned in my life. I was walking through the camp, and a someone came up to me and said 'did you hear that Roosevelt passed away?' I hadn't thought of anything like that ever happening. You know. Especially during the war, I felt very bad. My wife felt the same way as I did. We thought he'd go on forever.

Q: What was you opinion of President Truman during the wartime?

Mr. Williams: I think President Truman had the toughest decisions to make and that a man ever faced. Dropping the Atomic Bomb was one of them. I think that it was a decision that he must have had to think over for a while before making up his mind to do it. I think that it was probably the right thing to do. He saved a lot of American lives. Whether it was humane or not, I don't think so. But, I think it did save an awful lot of lives.

Q: At the end of the war did you anticipate future wars or those countries would find other ways to dealing with conflicts?

Mr. Williams: As I look back in history there have always been wars and there always will be wars. But there certainly should be better ways of dealing with them. Some of these countries have been fight since before Christ was born. They still will be fighting in the future. I fear China. We have millions of people. China has billions. Bad country to go up against. I don't like what's going on now because we are giving them all of our top secrets and we are backing all those companies. We are giving them all of our latest technology. I feel that this is not the way to go. I regret that because we could fight them one day. And it won't be like Desert Storm either. You just cannot control billions of people.

Q: What are the lessons of WWII?

Mr. Williams: I think one of the lessons is that we need to be well prepared. It was one of the things I felt strongly about.

Q: What do you think of today's generation? Are we different? Are we the same?

Mr. Williams: Well I'll tell you. I think this generation is the same as the last generation. Things are more excepted now days. Like if someone back then were taking drugs, we tell them to stay in the corner and not come near me. I don't think that way anymore since my kids grew up in the 1960's, things just became more excepted. You know what is going on. Basically, the kids are the same; they are all good kids.

Q: Do you have any parting advice for he youth of today?

Mr. Williams: I suppose it's important to be aware about what's going on around the world. Maintain a strong military group so that other countries will leave us alone. We are the peace-keepers. (laughs).


Mr. Williams discusses the worst day of the 445th. (Quicktime)


50 caliber bullet (left) Walters P-38 bullet

Honorable Discharge Certificate
Honorable Discharge Certificate

P-38 Holster
German Officer's P-38 Holster

Certificate for Meritorious Service

Mrs. Williams
Mrs. Williams


Certificate of Naturalization

June 17th, 1945 Wedding