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As we celebrate this Veterans Day, many names come to mind of people we know in Brunswick County that served their country with great honor.
Some names are well known, and other names are less known. Nonetheless, they were heros. Many residents of Brunswick County are familiar with the name of Odell Williamson.
Odell was a veteran and served as an Army pilot during World War II assigned to the 30th Division.
But this is not the story of Odell; this is the story of his younger brother that many people never knew. His name was John Leon Williamson. John Williamson is a hero to the Williamson family and to all who know his story.
John Williamson was born in Ash on Nov. 5, 1921. He enlisted in the Navy in Raleigh on July 11, 1940. After his recruit training, he was assigned to the heavy cruiser, USS San Francisco (CA-38).
He was onboard the cruiser during the attack on Pear Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, and was involved in the initial American amphibious assault of the war on Guadalcanal. He also took part in the American victory at the Battle of Cape Esperance.
On Nov. 12, 1942, one of the many Japanese attempts to bombard American positions in the Solomon’s and to reinforce their garrisons resulted in another great battle, the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
Before the main engagement, torpedo bombers off Guadalcanal attacked Williamson’s ship, the San Francisco. Williamson, who was an antiaircraft gunner, fired at an approaching torpedo plane. Remaining at his station with cool determination, and never leaving his post, he kept firing as the enemy aircraft crashed directly into his gun mount.
For his courage and extreme bravery in the face of this attack, and his actions in giving his own life to help spare the lives of many of his fellow servicemen, Seaman First Class Williamson was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously, as well as the Purple Heart.
In honor of John Leon Williamson’s heroism, The United States Navy commissioned and named a Naval destroyer escort ship after him.
The John L. Williamson was of the John C. Butler class of Navy ships and built by Consolidated Steel Corporation in Orange, Texas and launched Aug. 29, 1944. John’s sister, Madeline Register, christened the ship and the event was presided over by Lt. Commander J.E. Allen. Many of John’s family were in attendance at this honorary event.
John Leon Williamson’s name was further memorialized after the war by having his name carved on the World War II honor roll for servicemen missing in action or buried at sea, at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines. He is survived by four siblings: Odell Williamson, Curtis Williamson and Lois Williamson Little of Ocean Isle Beach and Joyce Forsey of Richfield, Utah.
As in John Williamson’s story, many acts of heroism and unselfish service to their country become forgotten or go untold. As nephew to an uncle I never knew, it is a great honor for me to honor him on Veterans Day by keeping his story alive.