Bill Williams 95 yr old WW2 Vet - 43rd Navy Construction Battalion - CM 1st Class - One of first brigades to land and occupy Nagasaki after atomic bombs dropped, worked as an engineer/architect to build and design command and relief buildings - After the war worked as an architect in Birmingham Alabama designing many well known buildings - Have since visited 30 different countries in retirement.

**I am hosting this for grandfather who will be answering all your questions (I'll be typing). I wanted to do something that engages him since my grandmother passed a few years ago and we have had to move him into a retirement home (he lived on his own until he was 94!!). He loves talking about his past experiences.

Random Facts: I was an architect in Birmingham Alabama, designing a number of downtown buildings that still stand today including the Alabama Power Building addition. I was known for my use of lighting, both natural and artificial, in building design. I love ice cream. I was on the Opera Guild of Birmingham and drew many set designs for the operas.

EDIT: Thanks for everything guys! Great questions. He enjoyed the pondering and we're always looking for ways to engage him, so this was perfect. We may do another one specifically related towards his architecture and design experience, which was his real passion. Thanks again! That's all for now.

Comments: 98 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

grandpaknowskarate22 karma

Given your experience, would you recommend military training for young men and women today?

ysoc30 karma

When I entered college at Gainesville FL, I was in ROTC. Had to be taken by all boys for the first two years of college. I enjoyed it, I learned how to shoot straight. I like the rifle range a lot. I could put two bullets through the same hole. (He has a few marksman badges) It would be good if they still did that, they would enjoy it, and it would be good for them. Only two years.

Zockman17513 karma

What was it like in WW2?

ysoc16 karma

That may be too broad of a question... "Good night. No, that's too much."

Zockman1759 karma

How about.... What was the food like back then?

ysoc19 karma

Well. In Nagasaki, not all battalions had a portable kitchen. We were lucky enough to have one, though when getting it off the boat they dropped it into the water. They were able to get it, as I remember, caused we used it later.

I do remember coming out from our office in Nagasaki and there was a soldier putting fuel in his helmet. He was going to light the fuel to create a kind of make shift stove to heat the rations, but had used to much. I blew up in his face. He was alive, but I don' think he had much hair.

tinyworlds13 karma

What was the first building you designed and what is the story behind it?

ysoc20 karma

I know that one. It was a very expensive 3 story house in Columbia SC. Well it's a story... I had had one year at college, in which I had taken an elective course in pre-architecture design. When school got out I looked for a job in a architecture firm but couldn't get hired cause I didn't have any experience. My brother in law called and wanted me to come look at a house he had had designed for himself. I criticized the drawing, it was the worst design of a house I had ever seen. He then asked me to design the house. He took me to a contractor who told us how much it would cost. My brother in law was satisfied and we got to work on the house. I helped him build it, digging ditches and what not, for $7 a week and room and board. The house ended up being too expensive and he sold it without ever moving in.

The drawing of that house helped me get into architect school later.

I went back a number of years ago and it was still there. The lady living there was very pleased and asked me various questions about it. Was a very nice house.

SmoothRide7 karma

What were the thoughts going through everyone's heads after the bomb dropped and knowing practically an entire city was destroyed? Your first thought in your head when being told Hiroshima and Nagasaki were pretty destroyed with one bomb.

ysoc9 karma

Well, we were never really told that. We knew the atomic bomb had been dropped, but that's all we knew. It wasn't until we landed that we saw what had happened. But after that all correspondence was cut off, a blackout from the media.

The first thing I noticed was that the only thing standing were round smoke stacks. Everything else was leveled.

I thought it was interesting that before we got to Japan we were given small booklets describing how good the Japanese people were. And then we saw this.

I know that our outfit was already scheduled to go into Nagasaki before the bomb was dropped, so I guess we hoped it would work.

(he was kind of all over the place with this one, but some things I hadn't heard before)

call_of_the_while7 karma

Have you seen any tv shows or movies that come close to capturing any part of your experience during the war? And thanks for doing this for him OP, you're a good person.

ysoc10 karma

I would have to say no. But that's a question I would have to give a lot of thought too.

outlaw_ottoman7 karma

I was a Seabee myself, although much later on. I am curious to know if there was any resistance on the mainland when you landed or was the populace resigned to the end of the war? Also did you as a Seabee participate in any island hopping with the Marines? Thanks!

ysoc13 karma

"There was absolutely none. I remember walking in the streets, I came upon a house with an open front and a couple of elders Japanese sitting in side and eating something. I asked if I could take a picture and motioned to my camera. They smiled, saying it was ok, and invited me inside to eat. They took a bite of food out of the pot and offered it to me. I declined."

"No, I did not. We shipped out of California and station for a while on the island of Dutch Harbor, then Adak, where I built and designed and airport and a dock (or two)."

rushhead6 karma

Thank you for serving, Mr. Williams. What was it like when you first arrived in Nagasaki after the dropping of the atomic bomb?

ysoc9 karma

Very peaceful. We were pretty much free to travel wherever we wanted too. Except of course where they dropped the bomb. Cause nothing was left. Surprising quiet.

smgulz5 karma

How did the Navy prepare you, safety-wise for landing in Nagasaki after the detonation? Like, did they give you medication or was it still a time when no one really knew how to protect you guys from radiation? Thanks for your time answering questions and your service.

ysoc7 karma

We were not aware of any radiation. We weren't even told about it. The only thing was that at the edge of the town there was a barrier of sorts they said was dangerous to cross. On the other side of that barrier everything was leveled except the smoke stacks.

smgulz3 karma

Wow, that's pretty wild. Were you or any of your comrades affected by the radiation or were you far enough away from the point of impact?

ysoc29 karma

Well, I lost my hair. Don't tell them I'm 95 years old though.

rushhead4 karma

Of the countries you've visited during retirement, which ones did you like visiting the most? And the least?

ysoc13 karma

New Zealand was the most beautiful. I'm trying to see where Russia would fit in. We had a very nice trip to Moscow, we lived with an elderly woman close to Moscow, about half a days ride. We went to the Moscow circus, which was great. Best circus I've ever seen.

Spain was my least favorite. I was mugged and our driver's licenses and passports stolen. When we got home and tried to get new licenses, we were arrested for having made photo copies of our licenses. Color copies. We were in the news and everything, trying to get the laws changed.

charliehaven3 karma

What was your first impression of the use of atomic bombs, since you were one of the first to reach Nagasaki after they dropped?

How do you view the military as it stands today compared to what it was when you were in? How has it changed?

ysoc13 karma

Excellent. It saved a lot of lives. We reviewed a map I have that showed the war time defenses, and there was no way, without the loss of great life, we would have been able to invade cities like Nagasaki without that bomb.

Cap31273 karma

What did you think of Japan post war, and how do you feel about its progression to the modern day?

ysoc3 karma

I traveled there many years later with a group called "Friendship Force". I find the people to be very highly education, the ones I came in contact with were very educated. We had a man and a women come to stay with us for a week, the women a school teacher, the man a retired teacher. We remained friends for many years after. They stayed with us at our lake house here in the states twice.

Cap31272 karma

I have to ask, how was the food post-war? I know the country was in shambles.

ysoc7 karma

Well, it was pretty good from what I recall. And I never had too learn to use chopsticks.

Dude-Man-Bro-Guy3 karma

Where were you when the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor? What was going through your mind when FDR declared war on Japan?

ysoc7 karma

Charlestown SC. Was in a theater, and when I came out, the Navy boys were very excited and standing on the running boards of the cars hollering that they had bombed Pearl Harbor. I wasn't in the Navy at the time, and I didn't know where Pearl Harbor was, most people didn't.

Dude-Man-Bro-Guy2 karma

Were you drafted into the navy or did you volunteer? If you volunteered, was there something that inspired you to serve?

ysoc4 karma

I volunteered. I was working for a draft company and they were producing drawings and such. And they were writing letters to keep me out of the draft. But then they said they couldn't and I decided to volunteer. My officer that recruited me recommended to the commanders that I be brought in as a drawer and architect. So I was.

rushhead2 karma

If you haven't written it yet, what would be the title of your autobiography?

ysoc3 karma

(He chuckled at this one) Yea I've thought about it. I'd have to think about it some more.

tinyworlds1 karma

What is your favorite memory of New Zealand?

ysoc6 karma

I think my favorite memory were the school children in uniforms. (laughs a little) They were just sharp. And it was a very pretty place, a lot of open space.

(I laughed at this one, school uniforms, lolz)

VerumInInanis1 karma


ysoc10 karma

I was on liberty one time (free time) and a friend was trying to get a date with a geisha girl. She had on the full costume, it was beautiful. I don't think he got the date. I didn't see any rape during my time there.

I was called at one point to meet a Japanese boy, and show him my arm. He was looking for a certain tattoo. Reason being is that the boy had been give a can of rations, which he did not open but took home to his dad. When the man opened the can, there was a grenade inside that killed the dad.

tb2001 karma

What was the general atmosphere like after V-J day? Was everyone pretty much relaxed and cheery?

ysoc7 karma

I don't really remember. I do remember vividly the day Roosevelt died. I was stationed on an island. It was a quiet day...