People to Watch

Local Navy Veteran is Anderson By Choice

In 1965, Uncle Sam hit the phones, calling young men to tell them that they were going to join the military. Bill Williams, a 1965 graduate of Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, was one of those young men. So, when the call came, Williams decided to join the Navy. What followed was an experience that allowed him to travel the world, made him realize that one small change in plans can have significant impact on life, and develop friendships that have lasted 60 years and counting. He is now the founder of the group, Anderson By Choice, proudly declares himself Anderson by choice, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. 

When Williams answered the call to duty and joined the Navy, he was told that his only option was to get into the Aviation Officer Candidate School to train to be a Radar Interceptor Operator (RIO).

“This is the guy who sits in the backseat of the F4 Phantom II Jet aircraft,” says Williams. “I always thought about flying, but when I was 16 I had to get glasses, so I didn’t think I could be a pilot. My dad was in the Navy, so I thought I’d try it out. As an RIO I could still fly and that sounded like a good plan to me.”

After a year of extensive training and traveling, Williams was assigned to Tiger Squadron VF33 in Oceana, VA and in April 1968, the VF33 was to be stationed on the USS America and go into Vietnam. The USS America arrived in Vietnam in May 1968. This is when Williams had an experience that made him realize that one seemingly small change of plans, can impact a person’s entire life experience. 

“When preparing to go overseas, I was flying with my pilot, a guy named John Holtzclaw, and another man who was an Airforce Exchange pilot. There was a situation where I wanted to change airplanes, so we switched planes and I flew with the Airforce Captain and John flew with another RIO. Two months later, John and his RIO got shot down. They were rescued, but I would have been in John’s backseat when he got shot down if we had not made that change. That was a God send, no doubt about it,” says Williams. 

While serving, Williams was engaged in 2 encounters with Russian aircraft. One of these encounters makes the top of his list of most memorable military moments. 

“We flew in sections of two airplanes and the plane that flew next to you was referred to as your “wingy.” My wingy shot down a supersonic jetfighter, also known as MiG 21. The pilot of the MiG 21 ejected from the plane and as far as we know, he survived, which was miraculous,” says Williams. 

Williams spent nine months in Vietnam, from April 9, 1968 to November 1968. After leaving Vietnam, he traveled the world and obtained the distinction of going from Pollywog to Shellback.  

“I was stationed on the USS Independence in May 1970, and we did a Mediterranean cruise where I got to see the world. On the Vietnamese cruise, we went across the equator and traversed the equator. Until this point, I was a Pollywog, which is what you call a member of the Navy who has never crossed the equator. When I crossed the equator, I became a Shellback, which is a Navy term for someone who has crossed the equator and once this happens there is a ceremony on the ship that initiates you into the Shellback word.”

After four and a half years of active service, Williams was released from the military in November 1970. While he had some standout moments during service, he counts the friendships he made in the military as his favorite part of the experience. 

“These are guys I’ve known for 60 years now, and we are best friends. The friendships developed in the military are different because you’ve been there and done that together. There is a certain camaraderie that is different from other friendships,” says Williams. 

Serving in the military made Williams more appreciative of what service members do and it makes him especially proud of the red, white, and blue and what it means to be a military hero. 

“Anybody who signs up and has worn the uniform is a hero. You’ve got guys and ladies out there peeling potatoes and maybe never saw combat, but they signed the same piece of paper that I signed. I don’t consider myself a hero, but anyone who signs that paper is a hero.” 

After a career working for the Naval Air Systems Command in Arlington, Virginia, Williams and his wife decided it was time to retire. 

“We were looking for lake property and my wife came to Anderson on a trip with her sister. My wife came home and told me that Anderson had everything we would ever need,” says Williams. 

For the last 15 years, Williams and his wife have happily lived in Anderson and their favorite thing about it is the people. They love the town and the people so much that they started a group called Anderson By Choice, as a way for newcomers to meet friends and learn all the need to know activities, events, restaurants, and unique qualities of Anderson. All the people in Anderson By Choice come from outside of Anderson and in some cases outside of SC. 

“Our life in Anderson has been everything we’ve wanted in retirement, and I just wish we had been here 5 years earlier,” says Williams. “I can’t think of anything we don’t have in Anderson that I wish we did have. We enjoy every minute of Anderson.”