Our veterans serving our country: Joe Williamson

Published 10:00 pm Monday, November 10, 2014

1111Joe Williamson
With war looming, President Roosevelt signed the Selective Service and Training Act into law in 1940 and, in 1941, the Army of the United States (AUS) was established. American males between 21 and 36 were required to register to serve for 12 months if selected by the lottery, but many decided to enlist for three years, like former Charlotte and current Tryon resident, Joe Williamson.

Anybody with a grain of sense knew it wasn’t going to be over in one year. I was 23 years old, not married and working at PPG paint and glass store in Charlotte, N.C. and, with the draft was breathing down my neck, I enlisted because all the draftees from Charlotte were sent to Fort Brag to be a foot soldier and I wanted to go in the Army Air Corps.”

“After basic training in 100 degrees on the desert in Tucson, AZ, I was sent to Hamilton Field in San Raphael, CA to be an administrative Sargent in the 35th Pursuit Group that flew planes to monitor the California coast. On December 5, 1941, we boarded the SS President Johnson and sailed for the Philippines. Two days later, halfway to Hawaii, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Our ship was painted red white and blue with no camouflage and no guns, so we turned around and went back to Hamilton Field to spend the next few weeks filling sandbags and building revetments around our fighter planes in anticipation of a Japanese attack.”

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“On January 12, 1942, we reassembled our supplies, loaded on a much larger vessel, and set sail again for the Philippines; this time with a destroyer escort and two other troop ships in the convoy. The Philippines fell before we got there, so we went to Australia where we stayed in an old National Guard camp and filled our burlap mattress covers with straw and spent three weeks doing light exercise to keep ourselves fit, eating four different kinds of meat: lamb, ram, sheep, and mutton.”

“We sailed to Perth on an Australian troop ship and took our P-40 fighter planes out of the hold and assembled them on the deck of an old aircraft carrier, not fit for service. About halfway to India, the Japanese sank the carrier and there were no survivors out of the 100 men on board so I lost many friends. Unable to dock in Ceylon due to crowding, we headed up the coast to Bombay where there was a plague, so we finally debarked further up the coast in Karachi. After two weeks in a tent city in the desert, the bulk of the troops were sent eastward to upper Assam while some of us remained to man General John Brady’s headquarters and establish the Karachi Air Defense Command.”

“In 1943, we flew to Assam to supply the Chinese, Indian, Nepalese, British and American allied armies that were holding back the Japanese from advancing toward central Burma. We lost 350 transport planes going over the “Hump” (the Himalayas) because they had to fly through the valleys without radar accurate enough to fly over the mountains. After several bombing attacks from the south, we sent a radio team to a hilltop in North Burma to warn us of incoming bombers. We sent them canned goods at first but, when we sent the meat they requested, it spoiled on the planes since the cabin was so hot. We sent them live pigs via parachute and you should have heard them squeal when we sent them overboard!”

“With the aid of one squadron of the Royal Air Force (RAF), the Japanese never got any further north than Myitanawa, Burma. When I was given orders to return to United States, I came down with dengue fever and was sent to a hospital in Calcutta. I finally arrived in California in August 1944 with three weeks furlough because I was so thin. Two friends who served with me in India heard General Brady was at Stout Field in Indianapolis, so we each requested to be sent to his command and stayed there until the war ended in November 1945.

After his discharge, Joe went back to work for PPG Paints until he started Williamson’s Paint in Spartanburg in 1949. He worked there with his wife, Allene, his brothers, Jim and George, his oldest son, Joey, and his daughter Missy until he moved to Tryon in 1987 to work in the Landrum store with George. At 97, he still goes in to work with his youngest son, Tommy.