Eau Claire celebrates veterans in big wayPublished 9:14pm Monday, November 12, 2012
EAU CLAIRE — Chaplain Lt. Col. Gary Williams “broached a pretty somber subject” — a service suicide epidemic — as keynote speaker for Sunday evening’s 11th annual Veterans Day program, which filled Eau Claire High School gymnasium.
A Time cover story last summer reported the military was experiencing a member taking his or her life at the rate of one a day.
“What produces that pain?” Williams asked. “Change produces a sense of loss and loss can produce a sense of pain. I decided to talk about this for what we can do for our future veterans. We can make home lives secure. If you’re married, love your spouse. That’s the greatest gift you can give your child. Give them a hug. Tell them every night you love them. It sounds corny, but it produces a sense of security, so when they’re in Afghanistan they know they have family back home who loves them. That sense of security helps deal with pain.”
Williams hails from the Detroit area. After high school, he attended Concordia Lutheran College in Ann Arbor and seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind., graduating in 1983. He and his wife have three sons, a daughter and two grandchildren.
“It’s a pleasure and honor for me to thank our soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines and Coast Guard,” Williams, who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 and served as chaplain for the 359th Signal Brigade, said. “What a privilege to be in the midst of selfless men and women who serve our country. When I think about vets, I think about ordinary guys and gals — if you ask them — who have done some extraordinary things.
“I think about Ernie, youngest of his crew in World War II,” said Williams, who entered the Army chaplaincy in January 1989. “He spent a number of hours peering into the trees, looking for that sniper who killed 17 of his comrades. He finally found that guy and killed him. He was the only one who knew anything about explosives. He was bound and determined, when asked, to be the guy to figure out how to put explosives under a bridge. He crawled under and made sure the enemy could not come across that bridge.
“I think about Sam in Vietnam,” Williams, who was a pastor in Berrien Springs from 1999 until 2004, when he reactivated and started a chaplain detachment in Iraq, said. “He got a letter a week or two after his son died. And yet Sam was tasked to do supply work. He couldn’t even go to his own son’s funeral. He probably didn’t want to do anything, but he did his job.”
A young man in Iraq in 2005 “made an impact on my life,” Williams said, “because every morning at 3 he got up and called his wife because she was being threatened and was concerned for her life. The Army wouldn’t let him go home, so every day the mechanic got under Humvees and got his hands greasy and dirty to make sure his fellow soldiers would not have to be fearful of breakdowns. He did ordinary things under extraordinary circumstances. We thank you and your families for the loneliness and pain they’ve gone through missing you. Some of you couldn’t communicate for months at a time.”