“I wanted to be in a bomber, especially a B-17,” said Williams.
Williams was one of the first African Americans to be trained as a World War II military pilot in the US Army Air Corps. They were named Tuskegee Airmen after the predominately black college, Tuskegee Institute/University. Although that made him unique in itself, he also was a Baptist minister, a professor of law at Saint Joseph’s College and district governor for Lions International. He isn’t more proud of one thing over the other.
“It was democracy in action,” he told the crowd. “It is the brotherhood of man. I was the first Negro in the history of Maine to join the bar. That’s not a pride thing, that’s a sad thing.”
Williams described the difference between one Army with two branches, one black and one white, and the difference now: “It’s one Army - one Navy.” After serving in World War II, he was recalled for the Korean War and served again.
“It all shows we are one nation. Greek American, Japanese Americans, that’s race, not Americans,” he said. “Color is not a race. White is not a race. Black is not a race, it’s a beautiful color.”
When given the Certificates of Lifetime Membership, he said, “You guys honor me. You make me cry.”
He received the honor from Commanders Willie Goodman and Mel Greenier with mixed emotions.
“We Negros, Puerto Ricans, Spanish, we have all served this country in every war mostly in subservient roles,” he said. “Until Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘Franklin, come on let them go to school’.”
“It was hell getting in, but we were proud,” he added.
“He served his country proudly and he’s an inspiration to us all. If you spend any time at all with Fred, you’ll leave with a smile and I guarantee you’ll learn something,” said Commander Willie Goodman, from the VFW Post 10643.
Williams is very critical of the new president and the possibility of a future war. “He doesn’t know when we were carrying 50 pound bags on our backs, knee deep in water so you can hardly walk coming on that beach. I turned back to see Jim and he had no head. He doesn’t know.” Williams described war as evil. He also demanded that everyone read the Bill of Rights five times.
Williams is a part of Windham history as well, having served on the Windham Select Board, where he made $10 per meeting and joked about it with the veteran who served on the committee that set the pay rate. He has lived in Windham for 31 years.
He is being honored later this month in Augusta for a Lifetime Achievement Award.