Newnan-Fairburn Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

#BHM – James W. Williams

In recognition of Black History Month, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. continues to recognize a few of its member’s “Achievement in Every Field of Human Endeavor”


A native of Memphis, Tennessee, James W. Williams’ earliest aspirations of flying occurred when he was a child. He and his father would go to the airport on the weekends to watch planes take off and land. Williams recalled telling his father, “One day I’m going to do that.” His mother, father and grandfather encouraged him to achieve his dream, but told him that he must get his education. While in high school, he participated in the National Defense Cadet Corp, where he obtained 3 years of army training.

Following his high school graduation, he matriculated to Tennessee A&I State University (now known as Tennessee State University). He was the first in his family to attend college. While attending school at T A&I, Williams was initiated into the Alpha Theta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity on December 5, 1965.

Williams recalls during his senior year, when fellow Kappa brother, and the first black to attain the rank of four-star General, Daniel ‘Chappie’ James visited T A&I for his military graduation and remembers thinking when he saw James walk in the door, “I wanted to be just like him.” Williams developed a relationship with James as his mentor. Williams participated in the Air Force ROTC program at T A&I and following his graduation, he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force in March 1967.

Williams said he made his decision to make the military his career when he first flew a plane. Williams’ skill as a pilot was exemplified by the fact that he was among a few elite blacks who were selected as a fighter pilot. Williams estimated that during that time, out of 8,000 Air Force pilots, approximately 400 were black and 25 of them were fighter pilots. Williams stated, [As a black fighter pilot], “You had to be 120% better than a white guy who as 70%.”

Williams was on his 228th Combat Mission, including 75 missions over North Vietnam before he was shot down on May 20, 1972. Williams was forced to eject his aircraft and was taken as a Prisoner of War (POW). Upon being captured, Williams was marched through the jungle nude, through the villages and held in captivity for 313 days in one of the North Vietnam prison camps, the Hỏa Lò Prison, infamously known as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. Williams said there were 616 POWs and only 16 of them were black, including himself.

John McCain (Sen. R-AZ) was also a prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton (1967-1973). Williams was carried as Missing in Action (MIA) the entire time of his captivity because the Vietnamese designated him as having a “bad attitude” during his interrogations. Williams endured several physical acts of brutality while being interrogated by the Vietnamese. He stated in spite of the physical cruelty and torment they implemented upon him, he remained true to his training to only provide his name, rank, date of birth and serial number.

Upon the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement in January of 1973, American military forces were withdrawn from South Vietnam as ‘Operation Homecoming’. Williams’ name wasn’t on the list of POWs. Williams’ wife contacted General James and he was able to verify that he was not MIA, but rather a POW and arranged his release. He was among the last to leave March 28, 1973.

He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries and continued to serve as a pilot with Tactical Fighter Squadrons (1976-1981), Air Liaison Officer (1981-1983), Chief of Safety with the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing (1983-1986) and Senior Controller with the 4440th Aircraft Delivery Group (1986-1989). Williams then served as a Professor of Aerospace Science and as Commander of the Air Force ROTC detachment at Alabama State University (1989-1992), followed by Chief of Social Actions for the 42nd Air Base Wing, from 1992 until his retirement from the Air Force, July 1, 1995.

Following his military retirement, Williams served as the Senior Aerospace Science Instructor at Tucker High School in Tucker, Georgia, and retired in 2015 after dedicating 20 years of outstanding service there.

Among Williams’ many honors, his third (of four) Distinguished Flying Cross w/Valor Citation provides an account of one of his many combat actions; it reads:

Captain James W. Williams distinguished himself by heroism while participating in aerial flight as an F-4D Weapon Systems Officer over hostile territory on 8 May 1972. On that date, Captain Williams participated in a flight of four F-4D tactical fighters on a mission to provide allied aircraft that were striking targets deep in the heart of hostile territory with protection from enemy interceptors. Disregarding his own personal safety, Captain Williams aggressively engaged a superior number of hostile aircraft and greatly aided the flight leader who destroyed one of the enemy interceptors. The remaining hostile aircraft then broke off their attack, allowing the friendly aircraft to strike the hostile targets without opposition. The outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Captain Williams reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Kevin Scott

Grand Historian

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