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Another Agent Orange Victim: In Memory of Norman (Bill) F. Williams Jr.
By Beverly Williams
Norman F. Williams Jr., known to family, friends and anyone who met him as Bill, was born on July 17th, 1944 in Jackson, MS. When he was six weeks old, his family moved to Norman, OK and then at six years old, moved to Little Rock, AR. He grew up there and lived there until he joined the Marine Corps.
He was greatly influenced by both his parents. His mother was Cherokee Indian, and Bill spent a lot of time with her family growing up. Many of his beliefs were formed by those early years. His spirituality, sense of honor and obligation, and love of nature and all things natural were bred and ingrained in him from birth. His father was Welsh and a geologist. He served as State Geologist of Arkansas for almost 50 years. But more than that, he was a Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserve after a stint in the Army during WWII. His love of this country as well as his sense of duty and service were passed on to his son. While as most veterans he never spoke of the horrors, fears, and nightmares of wartime service, he did tell tales of the funny things, the adventures, and his pride in his service. Bill grew up knowing he owed his country his service.
As he was finishing high school, Vietnam was just heating up, and he expected to be drafted. Since he knew he would probably end up in the war, he decided to join the Marine Corps. His reasoning was if he was going, he might as well receive the best training and survival skills available. He became a real Marine and was one until the day he died. Every Corps birthday, we raised a glass of whiskey to the Corps.
Since he had already had a job as a newspaper photographer, he received specialist training as a Corps photographer. Then he was sent to Cherry Point. For the next two years, he begged to be sent to Vietnam. He always maintained that he was no good as a stateside Marine. Finally, he was sent to Chu Lai. During his time there, he flew with the Korean Marines, flew missions with helicopter crews, traveled the jungles with the Chaplin and all the time, he was being exposed to Agent Orange. Although Vietnam signed his death warrant, he lived to tell his tales. However, the toll of his friends and fellow soldiers who didn't make it home and the many who've died since then from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange weighed heavy on him. He carried them in his heart and nightmares.
After his tour, he came home and left the Corps. He married and had 3 sons. He went back to newspaper photography and from there into TV. However, reporting on crime and bad situations didn't satisfy his need to find a reason for why he survived. He decided to become a policeman, which allowed him to take action, feel the adrenaline rushes, carry a sidearm, and be of service. But never being politically correct, he left the Force after trying to arrest the father-in-law of the Chief of Police for racketeering. He eventually went into the computer business and worked for himself for almost 30 years, during which he was married and divorced twice. In 1991, he married his third wife, Beverly, who was with him through the rest of his life.
By the time of the Iraq invasion, Bill had become a passionate voice of peace. He knew personally the cost of wars being waged for profit, greed, egos, and power. He spoke out anywhere someone asked him to do so. His Marine Corps boots from Vietnam traveled with the Friends "Eyes Wide Open" exhibit. He joined and was active with VVAW and many other groups who opposed war. He was unapologetic for his stance against "corporate" wars and the loss of young lives for no good reason.
But Vietnam was always with him. In 2010, it caught up with him, and he was unable to function normally. Flashbacks, nightmares, paranoia, and guilt flooded him. With a lot of effort, he finally went to the VA, and they began helping him. With the diagnosis of PTSD, the VA got him counseling, medication, and health care. Then they found prostate cancer which is known as an Agent Orange disease, and he received disability for it and PTSD. A year later they found IPF (Interstitial Pulmonary Fibrosis), but it wasn't on the approved Agent Orange list at that time. He went to work to prove it was because other Vietnam vets were turning up with it and it is now being considered as an Agent Orange killer on a case by case basis. All the time, the Fayetteville, AR VA was doing all they could to take care of him including getting the latest and best medications for him. Then in 2018, they discovered he had Stage 4 lung cancer, which is on the list of Agent Orange effects. Two months later, Bill died on June 26th, 2018, of lung cancer. Agent Orange claimed another victim and my husband that day.
If you weren't there, you can't understand it.
The fear. The loneliness. The sadness.
If you weren't there, you can't understand it.
The pain. The lives. Wasted. Gone.
Old wounds close but never heal.
They bleed again and again with thoughts
Of young men going.
They never go away.
—Norman F. (Bill) Williams Jr.
Corporal, US Marine Corps
Beverly Williams was Bill's wife. She runs The Inn at Bella Vista in Arkansas, where she is a golf professional and instructor at the B. Williams Golf School.