Minnie Lee Williams refused to accept the notion her son would never return from World War Two. She took in laundry to help augment her husband’s earnings from his shoe repair shop on Green Street in Olde Town Conyers and on occasion took out her son’s clothes, too. Minnie washed and ironed Johnny’s clothes as if he still lived at home, as if he would still be coming home, as if he was still alive.
Johnny G. Williams joined the Army in March of ’41 before his country entered World War II. He was among the first Afro-Americans to train at the ERTC – Engineer Replacement Training Center at Fort Belvoir, VA.
After completing additional training at Fort McClellan, AL, Johnny’s next port-of-call was CBI, the China-Burma-India Theater of operations. His unit, the 76th Light Pontoon Engineering Company, would be building an engineering marvel, the Ledo Road. The road started in India, weaved through virtually impenetrable Burma, and eventually lengthened into China to establish an overland route to resupply the war effort raging from Chinese soil.
If not fighting off marauding Japanese or dodging in-coming artillery as well as enemy airplanes, the Ledo Road engineers battled knee-deep mud, typhus-carrying mites, poisonous snakes, Monsoon downpours, malaria bearing mosquitos, jungle insects, and the biggest leeches in the world. Annual rainfall averaged 120 inches in valleys; 140 inches in mountains.
Normally the 76th constructed bridges and pontoons across hazardous rivers like the Tarung, Lamung, and Magwitang, but in early August of ’44, the forces of Commanding General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell were fighting a tenacious enemy counter-attack and called for backup. The only reinforcements available were the combat engineers.
On August 19, SSgt. Johnny Williams and six other Americans took off from Shingbwiyang on a C-47 cargo plane to reinforce Allied militaries near the town of Myitkyina. The C-47 and its human cargo were never heard from again. The thick unforgiving jungles of Burma had claimed more souls.
One of Johnny’s nephews, Pastor Aldren Sadler, Sr. of the Church of New Beginnings, stated, “Diplomatic relations have recently improved with Myanmar (Burma) and the door is gradually opening for recovery teams to enter areas where downed aircraft have been reported. Our family hopes that one day Johnny can actually come home.”
A chunk of granite in front of the Rockdale County Court House records the names of Rockdale residents that lost their lives in World War One and World War Two. Johnny G. Williams’ name is etched into granite on the bottom left.