He was just 17 years old when Meridian resident Jeff Williams decided to join the U.S. Army. With adventure calling, the Wichita, Kansas, native left his hometown of Bloomington, Illinois, after he got his general education degree.
Fleeing a rough home life, Williams enrolled in Coco Beach, Florida, in June 1967 and was promptly sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for his basic training. His training as an advanced personnel specialist at Fort Knox, Kentucky was uneventful, and Williams learned all the skills he needed.
Instead of a personnel specialist, the job in reality was more like a company clerk. “I typed a lot of discharge papers — including my own,” he said. His first duty station was in Fort Benning, Georgia. His job included keeping personnel files up to date and writing DD214s discharge papers. He was there less than a year before he got a new assignment to report to SHAPE, or Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. It is the highest military command in the world, he said.
SHAPE is one of two North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) commands, with this one located in Casteau near Mons, Belgium. It includes 29 member-states from around the world who have pledged to respond to armed attacks of any of its member countries — with force, if necessary. On any given day, you can see a variety of uniforms of member countries from around the world.
Williams lived off base in Mons, Belgium, with his wife, Dee Fagerburg. They married in 1970, and they spent many a day touring Europe and surrounding countries, including Germany and Switzerland.
His favorite was Austria. “I walked the path that Julie Andrews walked in ‘The Sound of Music,’” he said. “It’s the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen.”
Williams said the locals spoke Flemish, a form of French. Since his wife spoke the language, they had no problems. “That made it a lot easier,” he said.
A specialist 5, Williams spent most of his time at SHAPE and traveling with his wife. In fact, he was honorably discharged in Europe, where the couple continued to tour after he left the military in 1972. He spent three years in the Reserves but was never called up.
After their tour, Williams came back to Bloomington, then Springfield, Massachusetts, then used the G.I. Bill to attend college at the University of Houston, and later the Missouri State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Williams went into business for himself in import/exports, traveling to Mexico to buy goods that were sold throughout the United States. At one point, his Mexican imports were available in every Kmart in the nation.
Williams parted from his wife but they remained friends. They had one daughter together, and she went on to earn a medical doctorate degree. Today, he also has two grandchildren.
Williams decided to take it easy for a while, but later went to work selling insurance with his father in Houston. He also worked in upper management in the hotel/motel industry.
All was well for a time, then Williams’ health started to decline. He started falling. He had serious heart issues. He had home health care five days a week, but eventually decided to retire at the Hilltop on Main in Meridian, where he’s doing much better health-wise.
As for his military experience, Williams is glad he served. “It actually took a boy and made a man,” he said of his Army years. “I grew up. It was very good for me; I was lucky. I had a lot of good assignments.”