Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Telescope

November 9, 2013

Helping those who served

Bluefield man works for fellow veterans in Mercer

BLUEFIELD — He had to carry an empty pistol in South Korea so he wouldn’t break rules of engagement if the North Koreans started shooting at him. The United States was fighting a war in Vietnam already, and didn’t want to add a second Korean War to its international agenda.

Today, Johnnie Williams, 67, of Bluefield, flies an American Flag in his front yard and works to help veterans get the benefits they earned while serving their country. Originally from Worth, a community in McDowell County, he joined the Army in July 1965.

“Well, I knew I was going to get drafted, so I went on and joined,” he recalled. “Two weeks later I got my draft notice. There was no reason to wait around.”

Williams went to Fort Knox, Ky., for basic training. He was in the signal corps., and took central office repairman training in Fort Dix, N.J., and Fort Gordon, Ga. When his training was completed, he was sent to South Korea and served there for 13 months.

Even though a cease-fire put in place after the Korean War was still in force, North Korean soldiers would sometimes open fire from across the border. American forces were fighting already in Vietnam. Williams remembers the situation when American troops were being fired upon and sometimes dying; much of this news was kept from the American public.

“Couldn’t shoot back,” Williams said of the situation. “The rules of engagement changed and you couldn’t shoot back. They didn’t tell anybody that people were getting killed in Korea. They were reporting about the people being killed in Vietnam, but not Korea.”

Williams started out working in communications, but then he was assigned to driving a supply truck. The narrow roads, the weather and the traffic made this duty far from easy.

“It was rough duty. They’d give you a pistol, but not bullets. Maybe I could scare somebody off or something,” Williams said. “That was the coldest I’ve ever experienced, the coldest. The summers were hot too. And the smell. The smell, man. Human feces. They would be hauling a wagon with it in it. I had to pass that on the road and try not to hit one of them.”

As far as the South Koreans were concerned, they had the right of way.

“They wouldn’t get out of the way. They wouldn’t give up the road. You either had to stop or go around them,” he stated.

Williams returned from South Korea and was transferred to Fort Lee, Va., where he spent his last 18 months in the regular Army, leaving in July 1968.

“I went into the reserves, the ready reserves,” he said. “After that, they sent me a discharge. I waited 11 years, then decided to go into the National Guard, the 150th out here at Brushfork.”

Williams was a sergeant first class by the time he retired from the National Guard, but he soon realized that he needed to do something worthwhile with his time.

“I belong to several organizations. I belong to the VFW, and I’m quartermaster at the VFW, so I stay pretty busy. I tried to lay around for the year, but I couldn’t do it. I had to be doing something; and helping veterans is one of my top priorities,” he said.

“I’m the commander of the Disabled American Veterans in Princeton and the service officer. We file claims for them and we help them out if they need help financially, but that’s basically what we do,” Williams said.

Filing for veterans claims takes a lot of effort, and it has to be done correctly if federal officials are going to accept it. Forms must be filled out completely and the correct records must be provided.

“It’s a long process,” Williams warned. “For a fully-developed claim, you might hear from them in four months. If you don’t have fully-developed claim, and don’t have all of your medical records, all that, then it could take six to eight months or about a year.”

Veterans often do not have all the medical records they need in order to file a claim for benefits.

“Usually, they don’t have the records. If you sign a form for the VA (Veterans Administration) to go get them, they might try once or twice before they give up, so it’s best to have all of your stuff together so you can file a fully-developed claim,” Williams said.

“You have to have all the forms and get all the doctors’ diagnosis. I say if a person leaves the service, have all your medical records. I know a guy at church who left the service and he has all his medical records; and he filed a fully-developed claim, and he should hear from them in four months,” he added.

The VA Medical Center in Beckley announced recently that a new mobile clinic had arrived. The facility will be used to provide health care services for Mercer County area veterans. It is currently scheduled to arrive in the county during January 2014. Williams said the announcement was good news, but local veterans need to take advantage of the new service.

“Well, yea, that would keep veterans from having to go to Beckley for a cold of something, or flu; get your flu shots over there and basic stuff. If we get that mobile clinic and don’t use it, it’s going to fly,” he said. “It won’t stay. It’s got wheels.”

If local veterans do not take advantage of the mobile clinic, it will reduce the chances of getting a permanent veterans clinic in Mercer County.

“If we don’t use it, then they’ll say ‘we told you that you didn’t need a clinic in Mercer County,’” he said. “If I need something, I’ll go over there instead of going to Beckley.

Veterans also need to stand together in order to preserve their benefits and services. When the federal government needs to trim costs, veteran services are often on the list, Williams said.

“Veterans are easy pickings. If they want to cut something, they come looking at the veterans and the retirees. We need to stand up and stick together. Veterans are a big voting block. If we don’t stick together, we’re going to get a lot more taken from us,” Williams said. “Look at all the waste they got up there in the Pentagon. My medicine’s on the high end of the tier. The co-pay went from $25 to $43. That’s who they pick on, the veterans and the retirees. They figure it would be easy. That’s who they jump on. If we stick together, we can accomplish a lot.”

Williams said veterans must also persevere if they want to receive the benefits they earned while serving their country.

“It took me a long time to get my benefits,” he recalled. “It took a long time and I didn’t think it was ever going to happen, but it did. It finally happened, and I didn’t give up. A lot of veterans give up. They’ll deny you the first time and hope you’ll forget about it; but I urge them if they get denied, there’s always the appeals process.”

Williams again urged veterans to get all their personal records together, especially if they are preparing to leave the military.

“They need any records that show they were in an accident, or saw somebody get killed or get hurt. It goes a long way. If a person sees somebody get killed, that haunts you the rest of your life,” he said. “That’s tough.”

Williams took a patch from his pocket that helped sum up veterans’ love of country and the need to receive the benefits they deserve.

“I love my country, but I fear my government,” it read.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

1
Text Only
Telescope
  • Pam Meade Giving back to the community

    When Pam Meade retired after 26 years in the banking business, she worked in her garden, traveled, and did all the other things that a lack  of time didn’t allow. The novelty started wearing off when her second year of retirement arrived, so she started looking for more to do and found a new purpose when the Tazewell Area Chamber of Commerce needed a new executive director.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Original marriage of the Bluefields Celebrating historic union

     All prospective brides and grooms feel excited as the appointed hour for the exchange of their wedding vows moves ever closer, but for Stephanie Muncy of Nemours and Cody Woodall of Springville, Va., the excitement is almost mach one — the speed of sound.

    July 12, 2014 3 Photos

  • Richard Smith 1 From Hot Wheels to classics...

    Years ago when they were boys, Richard Smith and his brother Roger watched as the men in their families worked with muscle cars and hot rods. They had their Hot Wheels toys to play with, but then they grew up and got their own big cars. Now Richard Smith and other enthusiasts are working to share their passion for cars.

    July 5, 2014 2 Photos

  • Hankins Telescope 1 ‘I love it, it’s in my blood’

    June 21, 2014 2 Photos

  • Florida Georgia Line Ready to party

    June 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • IMG_0941.JPG Jake’s Grocery: A point of stability in McDowell County

    In a world of constant change, Jake’s Grocery has been a point of stability for decades. Economic downturns and floods have challenged owner Jacob T. Potter and his wife Carol Sue, but with help from above, the small store in McDowell County has stayed open to see its 45th anniversary.

    June 7, 2014 2 Photos

  • Lasker  Telescope 1 Looking back on life

    In less than a month Dr. Bruce Lasker, 68, of Bluefield, will be cleaning out his office, while reminiscing about the last 38 years. As an OB/GYN, Lasker has been delivering babies in the two Virginias since 1976. He delivered his last baby in April and will retire officially on June 30.

    May 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • Wikle Telescope 1 Combining two loves

    Princeton resident Stan Wikle, 60, knows and loves gospel music. He also likes planning events. So in 1995, he combined his two loves to create Stan Wikle gospel Promotions, a business that brings national Christian artists to local venues in the two Virginias.

    May 10, 2014 2 Photos

  • Weiss Telescope 1 Determined spirit

    April 26, 2014 2 Photos

  • Coulbourne Telescope 1 Sharing memories, creating new ones

    April 19, 2014 3 Photos

Lifestyles