San Diego

WWI Guardsman Honored with Posthumous Purple Heart

More than 100 years after he was killed in action, a World War I veteran was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart on Thursday by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The medal, which is awarded to those wounded or killed in action, was presented to the family of Fireman William James Williams Jr. at the Coast Guard headquarters near the Embarcadero.

Williams was killed when the Coast Guard Cutter Tampa sank on Sept. 26, 1918, in the Bristol Channel off the coast of Wales. The Tampa was escorting a convoy to Wales when it was struck by a torpedo. All 130 aboard were killed.

"You don't have to make a big deal about it," Williams' great-nephew Robert Miles Knight said. "Just once in a while — a little bit out of your life, our busy lives — to honor and remember these people that died before us."

Williams joined the Coast Guard in March 1918 after reading an ad in the local newspaper in Muskegon, Michigan, where he was from, calling for people to enlist. 

"Recognition for Fireman Williams was long overdue," San Diego Coast Guard Sector Commander Capt. Joseph R. Buzzella said. "Thankfully, due to the devoted genealogical research conducted by his family, we stand here today ready to honor his selfless sacrifice." 

Several members of Williams' family were present at the ceremony and had actually petitioned the Coast Guard to honor him. Knight accepted the award on their behalf.

"It kinda bittersweet, the build-up to it," Knight said. "I wanted to make sure that people remembered about the Tampa and the crew and the sacrifice."

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