Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 9, 2013

Helping those who served

Bluefield man works for fellow veterans in Mercer

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

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