Sunday, April 14, 2019

Allen V. Williams



 

UPDATE: 

Allen Williams died on May 28, 2019  

after a long battle with Alzheimer’s 


Corporal Allen V, Williams, was one of the five Marines who stepped up on the afternoon of July 6, 1968  when Lieutenant  Frank Ahearn asked for volunteers to risk their lives by moving down slope into an intense enemy ambush on the already infamous Hill 881 South to recover the body of my friend Lance Corporal Tom Mahoney, killed just minutes before (the others being Privates First Class Bruce Bird, Richard Delucie, Wayne Sherwin and Richard Patten). The attempt proved unsuccessful, but not before Williams, Bird and Delucie were seriously wounded in the effort and subsequently medevac’d to a field hospital.

Allen Victor Lee Williams III was born the son of a respected New York City psychiatrist and had educational and professional opportunities beyond the reach of most young Americans. Despite this, he joined the Marines as an enlisted man in 1967 to serve his country as a rifleman.  However, Allen was not a typical “grunt.” During his time in Vietnam, he often told his fellow Marines how he was going to be actor after returning to civilian life. Because of his engaging personality and sense of humor, he was well-liked in his platoon. Due to a knack for voice impersonations, he was regularly asked to read suspenseful paperback books for the entertainment of his buddies. One told me years later how Allen’s Vincent Price imitation, while doing horror stories, sent chills down the spines of his listeners. His platoon commander, Lieutenant Ahearn, would later say of him: “Williams was a fine Marine, a good person and very good for the morale of the unit.”

I contacted Allen in 2010 while researching The Long Goodbye, and was surprised at how deeply Tom’s death had affected him. “Tom was my best friend in the Corps,” Allen said. “A day never goes by that I don’t think of him. I tried once to find his folks, but I stopped myself because I thought it would just make the pain worse. I suppose his people are gone by now. The whole experience at Khe Sanh and on the hills was awful. For a long time, I thought of trying to talk to someone about it, but for the most part, I just buried it in some deep part of my heart.”

On the day in late 1968 when he was finally discharged from Saint Albans Naval Hospital in Queens, Allen took the subway home. He was in uniform and, despite the train car being crowded at the time, he vividly recalled how “passengers literally (physically) pressed against one another to move away from me, as if I were a leper.” It was, Allen added, “due to that ridiculous ‘baby killer’ stigma now borne by all Vietnam vets.” After his discharge from the military, Allen stayed true to his dream of becoming an actor and went on to have a long, successful career in film and television, with roles in significant television shows throughout the next four decades, (see for yourself at www.imdb.com/name/nm0930006/).



 He was a regular cast member in such acclaimed series’ as The Lou Grant Show, Knott’s Landing and The Client, and numerous major films, including Being There and Against All OddsIronically, in the 2012 film Project 12, Allen was cast as President Lyndon Johnson—the president who had sent us to Vietnam.  However, for many years he never mentioned his Vietnam service. “If I had,” Allen said, “I would have been blacklisted.”


His final role was in the 2018 film The LandlordYet, the curtain came very close to coming down on his “final role” fifty years earlier at age twenty while playing the very real part of a loyal and courageous friend who was willing to die rather than leave Tommy behind on that hill. It is not hard to guess why Allen Williams is one of the most extraordinary individuals I have ever had the pleasure to know. In recent years, Allen’s battle with Alzheimer’s Disease has not only ended his career and destroyed a once brilliant mind, but stolen from his family and friends the pleasure of being in the company of a remarkably sincere, compassionate and interesting person.

I spoke to his daughter Carrie Williams recently and learned that Allen’s health is declining rapidly.  I reminded her of how Allen and I had so appreciated the eloquent and heartfelt message she’d sent us on Veterans Day 2010; and this, in turn, reminded me how important it is to not put off telling those you care about how you feel:

“I wish you had never had to endure the tragedy and turmoil of war, or had to grow up too fast, or lose your best friends in combat. I could never understand where you have been. I can only be grateful for the impact you both have made on my life. Thank you for your service to our country, for your love of each other, and the example you set for the next generation. The only real men I have known were Marines.”  






Lecture: Senator Bill Raggio

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