World War II brought hardship to many industries across the United States as hard working, patriotic men enlisted in the military. At LMU, the war brought the University to the brink of disaster. Enrollment plunged and graduation, which celebrated a historic high of 58 graduates in 1940, plummeted quickly, to just 17 in 1944. Despite the enrollment challenges, the community was proud that so many Railsplitters were serving and the University and its administration strongly supported the war efforts.
Many “Lincoln Men” as President Kincaid referred to them, served and were honored for their bravery. However, many also lost their lives on foreign soil. Professor Earl J. Hess, who holds the Stewart W, McClelland Chair in History, recently reminded me of a heartbreaking story from this time. One, that reverberates today as people a world away remember and honor a fallen Railsplitter. Hess touches on the story in his latest book, Lincoln Memorial University and the Shaping of Appalachia, from the University of Tennessee Press.
Casimir P. Williams, who was also known as C.P., served as a business manager for the University. He was part of the group of fundraisers who first brought Henry Ford and Benjamin Duke to campus in the 1920s. The venture ultimately led to the building of the Duke Hall of Citizenship in 1927. He also guided LMU through the bleak Depression and was still on campus in 1940 when the University formed a committee to oversee campus registration for the first peace time draft in American history.
C.P. Williams and his family lived close to campus and his son, Patrick McCamey Williams was enrolled at LMU for a short time. By that time, the campus had become a basic training ground for the military with both the Navy and U.S. Army Air Corps training men. The latter operated a unit of the Civilian Pilot Training Corps. Pat Williams completed the Civil Pilot’s Training Course and received his pilot’s license in 1940.
When the U.S. entered the war, Pat Williams was one of the many brave “Lincoln Men” who served his country. He was commissioned following his junior year at LMU. Before he was called to serve, he volunteered for active duty. He was inducted in the Army Air Corps at Ft. Oglethorpe. Following training and one term as a flight instructor, Pat Williams was assigned to the 63rd Fighter Squadron made up of the famous P-47 Republic Thunderbolts. His squadron was deployed overseas in January 1943. Pat Williams lost his life in a crash near the small village of Moorsele, Belgium on May 31, 1943. His father, C.P., was devastated by his death and it haunted him for the rest of his days at LMU.
Belgium was occupied at the time of the crash, so the local community had to seek permission from the Germans to bury the young man. Permission was granted and the community buried him. His body was removed from Moorsele in 1946 and now rests at the US Military Cemetery at Epinal, France (Bloc B, Plot 17, Grave 31). LMU held a memorial service in his honor on March 5, 1944. The young man’s art work was displayed in Duke Hall along with his medals.
Some 59 years later, led by local historian Lothair Vanoverbeke, the people of Moorsele honored the Harrogate native again. A memorial monument was erected in his honor near where his plane went down. On a website dedicated to P-47 (the plane Pat Williams flew) pilots, Vanoverbeke expressed his dedication to recognizing heroes from the war. “As the older ones start to forget and the young ones don’t learn about these facts at school, this memorial will help the people to remember the men that gave their youth and even their lives for our freedom. Let us be grateful.”
Earlier this year, the monument was moved again. On Sunday, May 29, just two days prior to the 68thanniversary of his death, 1LT Patrick Williams was honored by the people of Moorsele once more in a rededication ceremony. U.S. Ambassador Howard Gutman and Belgium Prime Minister Yves Leterme were in attendance at the ceremony.