By Marlene Bohr
James ‘Jim’ Williams has devoted most of his life to serving others.
In his new position as the Morris County Veterans Service Officer since Sept. 1, Williams, himself, is a veteran entering the Army in December of 1968.
Originally from Abilene, Williams worked in Dallas, after the military, where he met his wife, Cindi.
“My wife and I married 20 something years ago and shortly after that we moved to Naples out on Highway 77,” Williams said. “She is the daughter of Doug and Joyce England.”
Completing basic training at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Williams later attended Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) in Fort Belvare, Virginia.
“After AIT, I got orders for Vietnam,” he said. “I was in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 as a combat engineer and attained the rank of Sgt. E5. I got out of the military in December 1971.”
Williams, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Dallas Baptist University in Irving, went to work for the Veterans Administration as a veteran’s benefits counselor as soon as he was discharged from the Army.
“From 1971 to 1979, I worked at the regional office in Waco assisting veterans in obtaining their benefits. In 1975, they asked if I’d be interested in going to the VA Hospital in Dallas and work with patients confined to bed, so I did.
Williams recalls one part of his job as a benefits counselor that he found quite fulfilling.
“In 1976, we had a van that would go to the rural areas and I was one of the select few that worked on the van in the rural areas.” Williams said. “We set up the van and opened the doors. We put it in their local newspapers what day we would be there. We would pull up in that town that day and spend the entire day working with veterans who did not have access to the VA counselors. It was very rewarding.”
Williams has, over the years, had many memorable moments from helping veterans. One particular incident continues to rank high on his list.
“One of the most memorable ones I remember is I had a widow of a veteran come into the van to seek advice,” he said. “The man was a World War II veteran and the widow came in to see about getting his life insurance. We researched it and pulled it up to find out who his beneficiary was. Unfortunately it was his ex-wife.
“What I did, and I loved doing this, (was) I said let me see if I can locate the ex-wife. I will contact her personally and let her know the man has died and explain the circumstances. I said I would ask if she would relinquish the claim on that money and give it to the wife who married him after the war. After eight weeks, I got in touch with the ex-wife and after several minutes, she was most agreeable and relinquished her rights to the GI bill money. She told the widow she could have the insurance money. That was the highlight of my time going out to the rural areas. It was so good to see the rightful person get the interest money. The one thing I will never truly forget is her smile and her being so deserving. It was in 1944 when he got out of military and remarried in 1950 and never thought about changing the beneficiary.”
Williams also worked for a period of time for the city of Hurst as a building official before retiring.
“That is the one who is responsible for all the building inspectors, the examiners who are over the plans and over the department issuing permits. I then went to work in Mount Pleasant as a building inspector and did that for about five years and retired again. Then I did consulting work for the city of Atlanta as their building inspector and set up their permit programs.”
Williams met his predecessor, Jim Garner, who died this past May, very briefly several years ago.
“I have heard a lot of good things about him,” he said. “I have big shoes to fill.”
Williams now looks forward to serving even more veterans in his new position.
“I want to keep the friendly environment at the courthouse so when veterans come in they know they have someone who does care, that has been there and knows what they feel,” he said. “I am not only talking about the veterans. I am talking about the spouses and the children as all those have benefits. I want to make sure I do everything possible to make sure they get their entitlements. That is my goal. I think my job is to serve them as they have served this country. That will be totally unconditional service.”
Williams and his wife are members of the First Baptist Church in Omaha. The couple has two sons and a daughter, a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.
“My wife and I work every other third Friday at the Food Bank in Naples at the Helping Hands,” he said. “I believe in God first, family second and job third.”