In 1940, Jim Williams’ mother, Carrie Leigh Collins, resided in Bulloch County. Her aunt resided in Hinesville and called Carrie to come stay with her and work at the White Way Café downtown on Main Street. She said there were many contractors building Camp Stewart and most of them ate at the only restaurant in town. The tips were good and expectations were high regarding incoming troops to the military base nearby.
Jim’s dad, James Raymond Williams, was on the first busload of soldiers to Camp Stewart. On Jan. 2, 1941, two officers and 28 specially selected men were formed into the nucleus of the Military Police Detachment of Camp Stewart.
With continued emphasis on the special selection of its personnel, the detachment grew until its roster included seven officers and 135 enlisted men on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 20, 1941. PFC Williams was selected and served as one of the 135 enlisted soldiers in this prestigious Military Police unit. The MP Detachment moved to Camp Sutton, N.C., in July 1943, and later to Camp Drum, N.Y.
With the expansion was an ever-increasing growth in efficiency, in enthusiasm and in the desire and will to prove itself the best military unit, not only in Camp Stewart, but in the entire Army.
PFC Williams ate frequently at the local White Way Café, where he met Carrie in early January 1941. They dated for 10 months and married on Thanksgiving morning, Nov. 20, 1941, in Ridgeland, S.C., returning to the mess hall at Camp Stewart for the noon Thanksgiving meal.
Seventeen days later, Dec. 7, 1941, PFC Williams and his bride were Christmas shopping in Waycross when the radio announcement came over all loud speakers, "The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. All military personnel should report immediately to their respective units."
Cpl. Williams reported, along with the others in his MP unit.
The unit left for further training at Camp Drum. This unit developed into the 509th Military Police Battalion and left New York Harbor during WWII on July 17, 1943. It arrived in Liverpool, England, on July 28, 1943, and advanced to Bristol, London and Plymouth, England. There, the soldiers trained until D-Day, June 6, 1944.
They regrouped and left Southampton, England, on June 6, 1944, and were part of the Normandy invasion in France. After liberating France and Belgium, they moved into mainland Germany on May 9, 1945. The 509th also participated in the Battle of the Bulge. After CPL Williams married and was granted approval to reside off the base, he and Carrie rented a small room in a boarding house on Main Street in Hinesville. The boarding house was owned by the sheriff of Liberty County. While Christmas shopping Dec. 7 in Waycross, Carrie bought a small plastic Christmas tree set, which included two candleholders.
After experiencing the first Pearl Harbor Day, Carrie made it a family tradition to put the little tree up each year on Dec. 7th in remembrance and respect for the lives lost at Pearl Harbor, and for those who served in World War II.
Raymond Williams died in 1969, and his wife died in 2001.
"They were proud Americans, great parents and true patriots in every sense of the word," said their son, Jim, a retired sergeant first class and Vietnam veteran.
The Hinesville resident continues what his parents started so many years ago, placing the small Christmas tree on his dining table every Dec. 7.
"It is an honor for me to continue this family tradition, and I pray that my son Clay and my four grandsons will do the same," he said.