Memorial Day event honors fallen heroes

Published 6:21 pm Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Confederate Park was the site of a somber but necessary reminder of the price of freedom during the Greenville Lions Club’s annual Memorial Day Celebration.

Monday marked an opportunity to celebrate and honor the lives of men and women who have given their lives in service to their country.

Major Gerald W. Johnson, chairman of the Butler County World War I Centennial Committee, served as guest speaker.

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His Army career began at age 17 as a member of the local National Guard unit.  Upon his graduation from Troy State University and the Alabama Military Academy, he entered active duty, where he commanded an infantry company and a Ranger company during 12 months of continuous combat in Vietnam.

Among Johnson’s many distinctions includes the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Silver Star, four Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart, the Legion of Merit, three Meritorious Service medals, four Army Commendation Medals, three Air Medals and many others.

But Johnson chose to recognize the distinctions of others Monday morning, especially 14 young men from Butler County who were killed in action during World War I.

Johnson elaborated further on one individual, Will (Bill) Frank Williams, named for his grandfather, a Civil War veteran.

“At 25 years of age, he was not overly concerned about the draft, though he had complied and registered, as he was fully qualified,” Johnson said.

“Had he known that 83 percent of Alabama youth did not qualify for the draft because of literacy or health issues, he would have been more concerned.

“On Jan. 6, 1918, he married the love of his life and looked forward to having a family and a home of his own. So you can imagine the shock when he was inducted into the Army on May 25.  His family knew what he was facing, having heard the many stories of the grandfather’s three years of war. To compound matters, his wife had just found out that they were expecting a child in the fall.”

Soon after, he was sent to South Carolina for training before being shipped to France as a replacement. Signed to the 165th Infantry, a regiment of the New York National Guard, he eventually saw action at Meurcy Farm as a member of the forces responsible for pushing the Germans out of France.

“On the morning of Sept. 12, one day after his 26th birthday, and just three and a half months after leaving home for the Army, and only two and a half months before the birth of his child, Bill Frank was struck down while moving across open ground in the assault at Saint Mihiel, the largest American offensive in the war,” Johnson said.

“He was one of 234 Americans killed at Saint Mihiel.  Two months later on Nov. 11, the war ended.”

Johnson closed by drawing upon his own experiences of war.

“Remember this: it takes a great young generation to win a war, but it takes an even greater generation to stay the course and support that brave young generation sent in harm’s way to protect our life,” Johnson said.

“It is now our turn to be measured. Be not concerned about the young. They will fight, and win, if we let them.”

The other Butler World War I soldiers from Butler County who were killed in action include:

PVT Rufus P. Hendrix (July 15, 1918)

PVT Bryant Price (July 16, 1918)

CPL William F. Alexander (July 21, 1918)

CPL Amos Bush (July 26, 1918)

PVT William T. Cheatham (July 26, 1918)

PVT Harace Rigsby (July 26, 1918)

PVT Edgar W. Hall (July 28, 1918)

CPL Walter Wallace (July 28, 1918)

PVT Charles L. Homes (Aug. 6, 1918)

PVT Eugene T. Brooks (Sept. 14, 1918)

CPL Berkly H. Crook (Oct. 8, 1918)

PVT Comer C. Caine (Oct. 15, 1918)

CPL George E. Ealum (Nov. 11, 1918)