Williams gets Purple Heart 51 years later
Journal Gazette & Times-Courier, of Matoon, IL. September 2, 1995
It took 51 years, but Harold E. Williams of Mattoon finally received the Purple Heart he earned during World War II.
On July 9, 1948, the Defense Department advised that he had been awarded several medals, including the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during World War II. Williams put away the letter and put behind him the events of his years in service.
He would always have the scars on his legs to remind him. And he kept a little Navy issue bible, pages tattered and curled, which went through the war in his pocket.
Learning he had earned a Purple Heart but had not claimed it, his granddaughter, Jennifer Hutchcraft, applied to the Department of the Navy in 1993 to rectify the situation.
In addition to his Purple Heart, Williams now has a WWII Victory Medal, an European-African Middle East Campaign Medal and an American Campaign Medal. And there's another one, but he's not sure what it's for.
Williams, who was inducted in June, 1942, was a member of the gun crew on USS Hugh L. Scott in November 1942, when it was attacked and sunk by a German submarine off Morocco, near Casablanca. He was a torpedo victim on his initial trans-Atlantic voyage.
The transport ship was part of a convoy bound for North Africa during the early stages of the Allied invasion of the country.
"We landed our troops Sunday, Nov. 8, at Fedala, Morocco. We were still in port the following Thursday when the torpedo hit," he said.
The first torpedo hit USS Hugh L. Scott amidships and started a fire. The second hit only seconds later toward the stern. Williams, a gunner's mate, was supposed to be in the chow line when the torpedoes struck. But the chow line was so long that he had decided to stay on deck and was cleaning the ship's massive gun far afront.
Ordered to abandon ship, Williams jumped from the deck to flame-filled, shark-infested waters some five stories below. His legs were burned when he entered the water.
Members of the gun crew, who needed to maneuver in tight space, were the only seamen who were permitted to remove life jackets. "But I sure got one on before I abandoned ship," he remembered. "My only thought after I hit the water was to get far enough away that I wouldn't be caught in the suction if the ship sank. When I reached a safe distance, I swam more leisurely."
Williams added, "I was in the water only about 20 minutes before I was picked up by a lifeboat from another ship. The water was warm and I experienced no discomfort." Of the 400 men aboard USS Hugh L. Scott, 65 died in the surprise attack.
Williams was hospitalized on USS Joseph T. Dickman, which headed to Casablanca.
After a 30-day survivor leave in Mattoon, Williams was assigned to sea duty on USS Philadelphia and USS Samuel Chase, then to land duty at an ammunition depot in Tunisia. While he was in the service, his wife, Hazel, was employed as a guard at the Illiopolis, Ill., Ammunition Depot.
He was discharged from the Navy on Oct. 6, 1945.
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