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Steady as she goes: Veterans advocate Billy Williams turns 95

Dominion Post - 9/7/2022

Sep. 8—These days, he doesn't move as fast, as say, a volunteer fire company responding to a call.

But then again, Billy Williams wasn't doing too badly in his wheelchair on Wednesday afternoon, either.

"No, we're good, I got it, " he said, politely declining the offer of an assistive push.

"I'm steady, " he said, as he propelled himself along with his feet, just like an old "Flintstones " cartoon.

"I'm still going."

Wednesday was Williams' 95th birthday.

The way his longtime friend and neighbor, Gloria Morgan, sees it, his quote, "I'm steady, " applied just as much on this day — as it has the 34, 674 other afternoons of his existence.

"He just does for people, " said Morgan, who grew up in his Grafton Road neighborhood and often looks after him.

"He's always been there, helping, doing whatever he can."

That included being a founding member of the Clinton District Volunteer Fire Department, on Sept. 6, 1948.

Earlier that year, Mt. Calvary Church, which was the spiritual epicenter of the lane, was struck by lightning.

Williams was one many who took part in a snaking bucket brigade, as congregants desperately tried to extinguish the flames that consumed the roof and then the pulpit and the pews.

"We just passed buckets down the line, " he said. "One by one."

The fire sparked neighbors to thinking.

Maybe we need something a little more official, they said.

Uncle Sam and the glass menagerie Morgantown was then a regional glassmaking hub, and Williams dropped out of high school and joined that industry to help support the family when his father's health began failing.

He was a glass-gatherer, a job that was demanding, grueling and exacting.

Glass-gatherers supply the product, without break, to the artisan glass-blowers who make the creations.

The work left him literally drenched in sweat, with blistered hands that mimicked a topographical map of West Virginia.

He loved it, though. He loved seeing lasting creations forged from a literal breath of life.

As the Korean War was catching fire, he was drafted.

After his discharge, he came right back to Grafton Road and the glass factories.

"It was home, " he said.

He couldn't stop thinking about the other soldiers who could only make the return trip in flag-draped coffins.

And that gave him a new mission.

Respect is the order He became a ranking officer in Veterans of Foreign War posts and was the initiator of the annual Pearl Harbor Day observances at WVU.

That remembrance is on the downtown campus at the mast of the USS West Virginia, which was heavily damaged on Dec. 7, 1941.

Williams was also in the honor guard for military funerals, standing at attention under scorching sun, drenching rain and sideways-snowstorms.

"We were gonna be there for the veteran and his family. It was a matter of respect."

That carried over in his life, as he began aging.

He never married. His father, Omer, and mother, Dean — who almost made it to 100 — were both gone.

One sister, Elizabeth, died as a teenager in 1940 after being stricken by sudden illness. His remaining sibling, Rosalie Liston, who was married with a family in Ohio, passed two years ago.

Her sons make trips to West Virginia, though, to check on their uncle.

Morgan checks on him every day.

Williams sometimes has to rely upon area nursing facilities, and she's always a frequent visitor, taking him to medical appointments and other errands.

"I'm his surrogate niece, " she said.

"If you have an older neighbor, drop by. It means so much to them."

"Gloria does a lot for me, " Williams said, smiling.

"I know a lot of good people. I guess we'll make it right to end, won't we ?"

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