There’s a retirement ceremony Wednesday in Washington for Lt. Gen. Willie Williams, who is director of the Marine Corps staff — the service’s No. 3 general. Marine Corps Times reported this back in April, when I profiled him, but the video above was released earlier today and is well worth sharing here.
Watching it brought to mind my few interactions with Williams going back to summer 2010, when we met at a reception for D.C. media hosted by then-Commandant Gen. James T. Conway. There was a lot of brass at the CMC’s house that evening — deputy commandants and several one- and two-star generals. I spoke with several of them, including Conway, who took time at the end of the event to show me and fellow Marine Corps Times staffer Dan Lamothe one of the many artifacts on display in the home. But today it was my conversation with Williams that stands out most.
He and I were among the group of attendees who followed Annette Conway, the commandant’s wife, during a tour of the historic residence. We made small talk, and I learned Williams’ nephew was a journalism student at the University of Alabama and that his only daughter, Yolanda, had passed away a few years prior. The general came across as soft-spoken and sincere, easy going and easy to talk to.
We bumped into one another again the following spring, at an event near the Pentagon honoring several military children. Last summer, he represented Marine Corps headquarters at Marine Corps Times’ annual Service Member of the Year ceremony, delivering remarks about the 2012 Marine of the Year, Staff Sgt. Jessie McDonald. During a brief conversation afterward, I asked the general about his nephew, who by that time was well on his way to the start of a successful career in the news industry.
Last fall, Williams hosted me for an hour at his office, an interview that yielded two stories: the profile mentioned above plus a Q&A focusing on his responsibilities as the commandant’s top adviser. It was a captivating conversation. We talked about his experiences in The Tank, and the challenges inherent to the position. We talked about his career path, and the obstacles he encountered on his way to becoming, then, only the fourth African-American Marine to wear three stars. We talked about his childhood, how he grew up poor in the segregated South and worked as a janitor in a textile mill to help pay for college.
It was after that, while researching the profile, that I learned about the role Williams had in developing the Marine Corps’ logistics strategy for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. … And his friendship with actor Joe Mantegna.
Williams said he’s returning to his native Alabama to begin the next phase of his life. I’d like to wish him all the best in retirement.