PLAINS TWP. — Nothing about Don Williams says hero, including him.
But the single sheet of paper he unfolded while sitting at a picnic table Thursday afternoon under the pavilion outside the Polish American Veterans Club told of his bravery as a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic in Korea 66 years ago. His actions earned him the Silver Star Medal, the third highest award for gallantry in combat.
Williams, 85, of Jenkins Township, joined more than 50 other veterans at the annual picnic, enjoying food, sharing memories and being the center of attention for a few hours. He wore a baseball cap emblazoned with silver star insignia, showed scars from combat and had a copy of the Army orders from May 16, 1952, as proof of his valor.
“That’s shrapnel right there,” Williams said, pointing to a blue speck on his left hand near his thumb.
It’s a physical reminder of the day an enemy mortar scored a direct hit on the self-propelled artillery piece he and his unit manned on April 9, 1952, near Hill 882. Two men were killed instantly, and he and the others suffered injuries.
The unit of about 10 men was assigned to harass and fire interference, sending a 155-mm shell as far as 18 miles into enemy territory. They waited approximately a half hour and fired another round. Williams said he suspected the enemy detected the flash from the barrel of the gun in order to zero in on the target.
The rear door of the tracked vehicle was open when it was hit, Williams recalled.
“I got blown backwards,” he said. Outside and dazed, he sought cover in a hole as mortar fire rained down on them. He was wounded but went into action tending to the others.
“You just do a survey of each man” to assess their injuries and prioritize, Williams said. They were able to get help and evacuated the wounded out via a three-quarter ton weapons carrier.
“I was interviewed by some colonel” who wanted to know what happened, Williams said.
The official version of the attack stated that “at great risk to his life, he refused to leave his post until he had completed treatment of the wounded and was assured they had been evacuated to safety. The courageous example, determination of purpose and initiative displayed by Corporal Williams on this occasion reflect the highest credit on himself and the military service.”
Their work wasn’t done. “We had to go back and get the piece (of artillery),” Williams said. That mission was at night.
Williams said he was discharged “15 days before I turned 20.”
He went to trade school, worked in a steel mill and later at Air Products in Hanover Township for 41 years, retiring in 1996. He and his wife raised three sons and three daughters.
‘Guys were disappearing’
Robert Megatulski earned bronze stars for his service as a U.S. Navy Seabee during World War II. “I’ve been bombed, strafed, shot at, shelled,” the 93-year-old Megatulski said. The Forty Fort man was assigned to the 77th Naval Construction Battalion in the South Pacific.
Megatulski said he was 17 and working in a machine shop before he enlisted. He watched others in the shop go off to war.
“The guys were disappearing. What the hell am I doing here?” Megatulski said he asked himself.
His initiation into the war came as his ship was pulling into port at New Caledonia. A two-man Japanese submarine surfaced and fired a torpedo, Megatulski recalled. “They spotted it and turned the ship sideways and it passed us by,” he said.
When he was discharged, Megatulski returned to Forty Fort, going to work as a salesman. He served his community, too, on Forty Fort council for nine years and eight years as mayor.
After serving in the Air Force for four years, Roger Burridge went to work at the Tobyhanna Army Depot. Burridge, 67, of Bear Creek Township, retired from Tobyhanna after 36 years there. He volunteered for service and spent a year, 1970 to 1971, in South Vietnam as a communications officer at the Tan Son Nhut Air Base. He wanted to stay another year. “But they turned me down,” he said.
Burridge explained he was single and “Why send some other guy over here?”
U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, paid a visit to the picnic. He introduced the Veterans Care Financial Protection Act, signed into law by President Trump this year, that targets scam artists who prey on veterans.
“Standing up for the veterans is second nature to me,” he said. He also sat down for a bite to eat.
“I’m here because I’m hungry too,” Cartwright said.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.