Thursday, March 19, 2009

Adriel N. Williams

In the rural countryside of southwest England lies an airfield, long abandoned, where decades ago rows and rows of C-47 Dakotas lined up for parts unknown.

There's little left to mark the spot. A few of the original buildings are still there. The Jaquet Weston Plant memorializes those who previously called it home. A local pub fills pints and bellies not far away.

One of the great honors of my life was to be the dinner companion of a handsome, well spoken gentleman at a celebration in St. Louis, Missouri, a dozen or so years ago in the company of several hundred others. The ballroom of the hotel was filled with round tables of eight as far as the eye could wander in any direction, men and women in their finery gathered together in common purpose.

That gentleman, my dinner companion, was guest of honor.

The men in that room had all served under his command, fifty years earlier, in the fields of England and France in World War II. Men like Hal Read, and Marty Wolfe. Bill Elmendorf. Gale Ammerman, and Larry Riordan.

Adriel N. Williams.

Born in Shelby County, Kentucky, in 1916, Adriel Newton Williams went directly into pilot training following his high school graduation, received his wings in 1939, became an officer, and in 1942, assumed command of the 436th Troop Carrier Squadron (79th, 80th, 81st and 82nd Squadrons) of the Army Air Corps, a position he held through the end of World War II.

Primarily towing gliders and dropping paratroopers into combat in battlefields of England and France, the 436th TCG participated in major operations of the European theater, including the Invasion of Normandy (D-Day), Operation Market Garden (Nijmegen-Eindhoven), resupply of the 101st in Bastogne, and crossing the Rhine.

Following the end of the war in Europe, then Lieutenant Colonel Williams returned with the 436th Troop Carrier Group to the United States awaiting reassignment to the Pacific, but during their time back in the States the war happily ended, and the 436th was inactivated.

Colonel Williams subsequently attended the Air War College, graduating in 1953, and the National War College, graduating in 1959, assuming command along the way of several assignments, stateside and in Japan. In 1961 he was promoted to Brigadier General and served from that time at the Pentagon, rising to the position of Director of Transportation, U.S. Air Force Headquarters in Washington, D.C. in 1966.

Brigadier General Williams was decorated during his military service with the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, and the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant, Thailand.

He was witness to some of the most moving and profound events in recent human history. He was there for D-Day. He was there for Market Garden, when the eyes of Dutch schoolchildren turned upward to witness a sky filled with Allied paratroopers floating earthward. He was there for V-E Day. He was there for hundreds of young men to lead them into dangerous missions far away from the warmth of home and hearth, in the cold hills of southwest England, huddled in tents in France. Membury. Melun. Paris was a whispered promise away, on liberty, with bottles of champagne and daredevil pilots, French farmers who'd trade eggs for rationed cigarettes.

I am happy for the life of General Williams, happier still that he was there for those men of the Second World War, and happiest of all that a half-century later I had the great honor of becoming acquainted with him, sharing his stories, and seeing him be rightly honored by the men of the 436th--pilots, navigators, radio officers, businessmen, husbands, fathers, grandfathers--who paid tribute on that memorable autumn evening in a glittering ballroom in St. Louis.

For further reading about the 436th Troop Carrier Group, I can highly recommend two books written by members of the 81st Squadron:

First, from Martin Wolfe, a radio operator during WWII: "Green Light: A Troop Carrier Squadron's War from Normandy to the Rhine," 1993, Center for Air Force History (U.S), and

Second, from Gale Ammerman, a glider pilot during WWII: "An American Glider Pilot's Story," Merriam Press, Military Monograph MM65.


RiKMeistr said...

I can’t help but add this note,Kathy: I would like to take this moment to thank “The Greatest Generation” and especially my parents. We owe what we have today to their sacrifice and determination. Military heros such as General Williams and my father, now deceased, will 'never' be forgotten, and forever be, in God's good grace!

Anonymous said...

I also would like to add, that on this sad anniversary of what would have been my grandfather, Dr. Gale Ammerman's 66th wedding anniversary, I am missing him so much that I can barely swallow. So as I fell upon your page, it is with much honor and pride that I say...he was as well...ONE OF THE GREATS!!! I miss you G'pa.

kathy riordan said...

Anonymous, I'm sorry you didn't leave your name or a way for me to contact you.

I didn't know until you posted today that your grandfather had died. Gale Ammerman was a fine man. I'd lost contact with him and his wife Jane since my husband, Larry, was in the hospital for eight months in 2004-2005. Before that, we'd seen both of them a lot at squadron reunions. My husband, Larry (Lawrence T.) Riordan was actually in the 82nd Squadron, but we went to the 81st's squadron reunions every year for many years, which confused me enormously for the first several years we were first married in 1993. Gale was the first person to introduce me to "TARFU Airlines." My husband Larry served with him on a committee to combine the four squadrons, 79th, 80th, 81st, and 82nd, into one 436th Troop Carrier Group for the purpose of reunions going forward. Sadly, as far as I know no reunions are now being held, and these wonderful men are all falling.

I'm brokenhearted to learn of Gale's death, and I hope you'll convey that to your grandmother, Jane, and to the entire family. My husband Larry is doing well now, but was also sad to here of Gale's death.

Another man among men, gone. God bless, and God speed, Gale.--Kathy Riordan

I hope you won't mind that I am reposting his obituary here:

Dr. Gale R. Ammerman died Tuesday, April 21, 2009, in Aliceville, Alabama. Born in Sullivan County, Indiana on March 6, 1923, he was a veteran of the United States Air Force, serving as a glider pilot in World War II. Dr. Ammerman made combat glider landings on D-Day, June 1944, in Holland and across the Rhine River.

For his actions he was awarded the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Dutch Orange Lanyard and a Presidential Unit Citation. He was discharged from the Air Force as a First Lieutenant on January 4, 1946.

Following his service in World War II he earned a Doctorate of Philosophy degree from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. and served as professor of Food Science and Technology at Mississippi State University until he retired after 23 years. He retained the rank of Professor Emeritus following his retirement.

He is the author of "An American Glider Pilot's Story" published by the Merriam Press of Vermont.

Following his retirement from MSU, Dr. Ammerman served for many years in economic development in Pickens County, Ala., as advisor to the Pickens County Commission and served on the Board of Directors of the West Alabama Economic Development Authority.

He is a past President of the Aliceville Area Chamber of Commerce.

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Jane Burke Ammerman; one daughter, Kathleen Winston of Starkville, Miss.; sons, John Ammerman of Columbia, South Carolina, Joseph Ammerman of Richland, Mississippi, Mark Ammerman of Aliceville, Ala., and Chris Ammerman of Montgomery, Ala.; 13 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. at Dogwood Chapel in Aliceville. Services will be 11 a.m. Friday, April 24, 2009, at St. Roberts Catholic Church in Reform, Ala. Burial will follow at 3 p.m. at Oktibbeha Memorial Gardens in Starkville, Miss.

Pallbearers will be his grandsons, Jim Hunniford, Rick Ammerman, Jason Ammerman, Cory Ammerman, Paul Ammerman, Joshua Ammerman, Dylan Ammerman, and John Ford Ammerman, and great-grandson Austin Bize.

Memorials may be made to the Gale R. Ammerman Endowed Scholarship Fund – Fund Number 500580, The MSU Foundation, P.O. Box 6149, Mississippi State, MS 39762.

Skelton Funeral Home of Reform is in charge of arrangements.

chris said...

To Marty Wolfe:

I tried to "tag" a comment earlier but don't think it worked.

Thank you to Marty Wolfe for the wonderful article about my Father, Gen. Adriel N. Williams. I have read your book Green Light and it is a fine and lasting history of the troop carrier and glider corps.

I was first shocked when I saw the heading of the article and the date as my Dad died on July 8, 2004, but as I read on I caught on to what I was reading.

My Dad was a fine man and unfortunately I did not really get to know what a kind man he was as well during the last two years of his life as he suffered with myeloma.

You may remember that my Father's co-pilot and deputy was Col. Walter Bridgers from North Carolina. He passed away several years ago but I got to visit with his widow, Margaret Bridgers last summer, who was dying of cancer at the time and died shortly thereafter. She was also my Godmother so I'm losing more and more of these wonderful people who saved civilization.

Thank you again for your tribute to my Father.

Christopher D. Williams

kathy riordan said...

Chris, I am so very sorry for your loss and sorry you didn't leave me with a way to contact you personally. I have often wondered what happened to your grandfather and would love to speak with you more about him. I also do not know if Marty Wolfe is still alive or not, since I lost contact with him about six years ago.

I am happy you like this article I wrote in tribute to your father, a fine man.

Coy said...

My grandfather was in the 436 Troop Carrier 79th Squadron of the United States Air Corp. I would like to share information. I may have photos of your grandfather. Please let me know how I may contact you.

kathy riordan said...


You can contact me at: