Hard to believe we’re already in November, but the cool weather brings lots of fall celebrations to Denton as the holidays quickly approach like a runaway train! Last year’s look at Denton’s Veterans Day Legacy profiled a few notable locals, so we continue the tradition by sharing stories of amazing soldiers from back in the day.
One of our favorite tales is the amazingly epic 1912 walkabout by a Denton County veteran named J.C. Williams. The great article “Walking to Macon: The Journey of James C. Williams” dishes the details on this 72-year-old spring chicken who stubbornly walked over 930 miles in 65 days to attend a 1912 Confederate Veterans reunion! In what doubtlessly involves equal parts spry derring-do and Texas Tall Tale-telling, newspapers from across the United States breathlessly reported on the trek of this former POW-turned-“champion walker of the South” as he encountered enthusiastic support and copious hospitality during his two-month odyssey. Ole J.C. Williams was quite the celebrity when he finally arrived for the May festivities in Macon GA, by which time funds had been gathered to assure the plucky veteran a more luxurious return trip by train. But dang, ain’t that some moxy, though?
Another inspiring story from just last year tells the tale of a Denton vet who traveled to Russia in 2014 to keep a promise made over 70 years ago. WWII veteran Leroy Williamson was 93-years-old by the time he finally made the trip to personally thank the Soviet troops who had freed him and other captives from a Nazi POW camp. After a surprising military reception and public parade in honor of his visit, Williamson attended a private dinner wherein USSR military officials shed their uniform regalia to toast the American as a brother in arms and in peace. If that’s not a fitting tribute for Armistice Day, then folks I just don’t know what would be.
Another fantastic Veterans Day Tribute is the riveting documentary “We Served Too: The Story of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots of WWII” that’s airing on local PBS stations. You may know that Denton’s TWU houses the WASP Archives and a neat special exhibit collection of memorabilia that you can tour, but the story of this program and the brave women who volunteered is incredible drama. These determined and courageous young ladies were part of a secret wartime unit of the first female pilots trained to fly for the United States military, yet were denied official military status. WASP pilots received no military insurance or benefits during or even after the war, families were not allowed to display a Service Star to concede their service, nor could WASP pilots who died in the line of duty receive a military burial. These WASP pilots weren’t even acknowledged as US Military Veterans until the mid 1970s, when advocates began to crusade for proper acknowledgment. The documentary tells the captivating stories of these daredevil femmes’ determination and bravery, and the fight for recognition from the US Government that finally resulted in surviving WASP pilots receiving Congressional Gold Medals for Service in 2010. All the more amazing is that we can tour the remarkable TWU collection of WASP memorabilia right here in Denton!
So a big THANK YOU to our Veterans and Military Service members for your dedication and sacrifice, we hope you enjoy the many well-deserved tributes and freebies that appreciative Americans offer on this holiday. Vets ride for free on DCTA, local faves Bet The House BBQ and Wine2 have specials, and the American Legion has a free breakfast. BUT let’s also be mindful to serve, support, and even assist our many brave Denton Veterans even as we honor them on our downtown Denton Square this 11/11 at 11am. Never Forget, Always Support, Honor Forever.
Shaun Treat is a former professor at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of our local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past. Be sure to check out our local museums curated by the fine folks at the Denton County Office of History & Culture, and follow @Dentonaut on Twitter for local happenings.