Preferred Citation: Salazar, Ruben. Border Correspondent: Selected Writings, 1955-1970. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1995 1995.

Burial Rebuff Shakes Battlefront Buddies May 31, 1966

Burial Rebuff Shakes Battlefront Buddies
May 31, 1966

BIEN HOA, South Vietnam—No one seemed to notice or care what color Pfc. Jimmy L. Williams, 19, was when he was hit by Viet Cong mortar fire in the jungle 30 miles southeast of Saigon.

His buddies, black and white, helped carry the wounded 173rd Airborne Brigade soldier to a medical evacuation helicopter where he died.

In Williams' hometown of Wetumpka, Ala., however, they knew that the dead soldier was Negro and so would not allow his parents to bury him there.

Because he was black. Williams had to be buried Monday in Andersonville National Cemetery—even though his parents would have preferred their son's permanent resting place be Wetumpka.

His buddies, black and white, still fighting the Viet Cong for, as one put it, the "advantage of even Wetumpka, Alabama," don't like "what they have done to Jimmy."

Reaction from Buddies

Three men, all Negroes who knew Williams, were interviewed at the dead man's company headquarters, Company B, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Most of Williams' other buddies are still in the jungle fighting the VC in an operation called Hardihood. The search-and-destroy operation has claimed 28 Viet Cong dead, by body count, and 30 other possible Communist dead.

Sgt. Dorris R. Resino, 27, of Los Angeles, told the Times: "Williams was a better than average soldier because he was a paratrooper. He deserved to be buried any place—even in the White House grounds . . . . That he was not permitted to be buried where his parents wanted him to be is going to bother me for a long time."


Tells Puzzlement

Then, his anger spent for the moment, Resino said with puzzled compassion:

"It seems to me that once a man is in the ground you don't know what color he is . . . . Why not bury him where his parents want him to be?"

Spec. 4 Herbert Mayo, 20, of Steubenville, Ohio, fondly remembers Williams as "a guy we used to tease because of the way he walked."

"You could tell from a mile away that it was Jimmy because of the way he walked," Mayo recalled. "He was not the type who liked to be in the armed forces but he did his job . . ."

Then in a more serious vein, Mayo said:

"When the firing started and he was hit, some of us went over and picked him up in a poncho . . . to take him to the Medivac helicopter . . . . I remember the last words he said were:"

"'Please wait. Please wait'. . . As we moved him toward the helicopter his pain got worse and he wanted us not to move him . . . . But we had to . . . He died in the chopper . . ."

"I liked Jimmy. . . . I knew him since last September and he used to cut my hair . . . . He was a good barber ..."

Then without rancor or anger, Mayo said:

"I think it's pretty bad that a man who gets killed fighting for his country cannot be buried in his home town. Jimmy used to talk about wanting to go back to Wetumpka . . . . He liked it there . . . . So why could he not be buried there? ..."

Pfc. Freddie Connor, 20, of Detroit, remembered Williams as "a guy who missed the girls back home." Connor, who, like Resino and Mayo, is not particularly interested in the civil rights movement, said calmly:

"It seems to me that the people there (Wetumpka) could find a way to bury Jimmy in his home town . . . . He was fighting for the people back there, too . . ."

Carried Tape Recorder

Connor recalls that Williams often carried a tape recorder with him to tape music "over the radio or any place he heard music."

"He would often tell the guys, 'I've got a new tape of music, come over to my tent and listen to it,'" Connor said. "That was the kind of guy he was."


Then as if to himself, Connor said:

"If they (whites) don't want to bother with me I don't want to bother with them . . . . But what harm would have come for Jimmy to be buried where he wanted to be?"

Operation Hardihood, which started May 16, continued Monday. Jimmy Williams' platoon has suffered heavy casualties. All of Williams' buddies killed with him were resting this Memorial Day where their survivors wanted them to be.

All but Williams.

Burial Rebuff Shakes Battlefront Buddies May 31, 1966

Preferred Citation: Salazar, Ruben. Border Correspondent: Selected Writings, 1955-1970. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1995 1995.