Navy Veteran James E. “Willie” Williams is today's Veteran of the day.

During National Native American Heritage Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Navy Veteran James E. “Willie” Williams, a Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient.

James Elliot “Willie” Williams believed that when he joined the Navy at 16, he would get to see the world. He went to San Diego for basic training in 1947. During an interview with All Hands Magazine, Williams explained that during this time he learned the importance of discipline and how it made him a better sailor. He said that he felt most proud when he was made a patrol officer, because that signified that he had earned the trust of the Navy.

During the Korean war, Williams was on the destroyer USS Douglas H. Fox (DD-779) and learned how to operate small boats in order to enter North Korea. Before retiring, Williams volunteered to go to Vietnam and had command of the patrol boat, PBR-105. In October 1966 he encountered 65 enemy ships on the Mekong River in South Vietnam. After a 3-hour conflict, Williams and his command were able to disrupt a major enemy outpost. President Lyndon Johnson presented Williams with a Medal of Honor for his actions. Williams, a member of the Cherokee nation, is only one of 32 Native Americans to receive this award. He was the first person to receive the top seven awards from the Navy, including a Medal of Honor, Navy Cross and Silver Star. He received the most awards of any enlisted sailor.

Williams passed away on Oct. 13, 1999. In 2005, the Navy named a guided missile destroyer, USS James E. Williams (DDG-95), in his honor. He continued to receive posthumous recognition for his service in 2010 when the Special Boat Unit 20 from the Joint Expeditionary Base-Little Creek dedicated their headquarters as the BM1 James E. Williams Building.

We honor his service.

Nominate a Veteran for #VeteranOfTheDay

Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.

It’s easy to nominate a Veteran. Visit our blog post about nominating to learn how to create the best submission.


Writer: Aristeo Hernandez

Editor: Jonas Yee

Fact checker: Raphael Romea

Graphic artist: Danielle Kleppe

Share this story

Published on Nov. 30, 2021

Estimated reading time is 1.9 min.

Views to date: 425

More Stories

  • Navy Veteran Calvin Leon Graham became the youngest World War II soldier at the age of 12, and the youngest recipient of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

  • Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Air Forces Veteran Horace Poolaw, who became a well-known photographer of Native American life.

  • Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Deborah Jo Pereira, who enlisted in the military at a unique time in her life and in American history.