John R. Williams

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John R. Williams

John Rufus Williams (born February 19, 1894 in Sheffield, Colbert County; died November 14, 1918 at the Old Sarum Airfield near Salisbury, Wiltshire, England) was a sergeant in the 216th Aero Service Squadron during World War I.

Williams was one of seven children of Thomas M. and Ida Williams. His father was president of the Birmingham Beverage Co. at 408 24th Street North in 1909 and the family resided at 814 13th Street South. worked as a coal dealer and real estate agent. By 1910 the family had moved to 920 14th Street South. A year later, Thomas was listed as working in real estate and coal sales, and had moved the family to 930 11th Street South. By 1914 the family had moved to 1018 18th Street South. That year John worked as a clerk for Louis Saks Clothiers on the northeast corner of 1st Avenue North and 19th Street. In 1915 the family moved to a house at 1629 13th Avenue South and he was working as secretary and manager at the H-P Hat Store in the former Bonita Theater at 1923 3rd Avenue North. In 1916 the family had moved a few blocks to 1415 10th Avenue South, and John was working as a clerk for Wright Hat Stores. By the next year he had taken a job as department manager and buyer for the Porter Clothing Co. at 1922 1st Avenue North.

Williams registered for the U.S. Army in June 1917 and was formally enlisted as a private on December 14. He was described as being of medium height and medium build with blue eyes and thinning dark brown hair. The 216th Aero Squadron was organized in January 1918 at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas under First Lieutenant Thomas B. Lyons. Williams was promoted to the rank of sergeant on February 1. The squadron was stationed to Garden City and Mitchel Field in New York and the Port of Entry in Hoboken, New Jersey that March. The unit was sent overseas as part of the American Expeditionary Forces in July of that year.

The 216th trained as a bombing squadron, using a variety of single-engine biplanes. Sergeant Williams died in a training collision between two Avro 504K trainers at the Old Sarum Airfield on November 14. Williams was serving as an observer in an aircraft piloted by Royal Air Force Lieutenant Ian Mees. It collided with another plane, piloted by RAF Captain Claude Abell and the two planes both fell to the earth in flames. Canadian Cadet George Oliver was badly injured, but survived the crash.

Williams was initially buried in a plot near the airfield. His mother was living in Irondale when she was notified of his death by telegram. The survivors from Williams' unit left from Liverpool aboard the Orca and Mauretania in November 1919, bound for New York Harbor. On February 23, 1920 Williams' remains were repatriated at Hoboken, and he was reburied at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia in March with his parents present.


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