The late Beryl Williams was one of less than 400 soldiers who returned home alive from the “bloodiest battle of the Korean War.” His unit started with 3,000 men.
In November-December of 1950, during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, Williams served as a tank gunner in the U.S. Army. His daughter, Pam Glasgow, said he often recalled how difficult wartime was.
According to Glasgow, Williams, who grew up in Asbury and attended Albertville High School, was about 18 years old when he served. Temperatures would reach down to 30 degrees below freezing, which was difficult because soldiers weren’t properly equipped to face the brunt of a harsh Korean winter.
“Many soldiers would fall asleep and literally freeze to death through the night,” Glasgow said. “In order to help each other stay alive, they would all talk to each other and help keep each other awake. One night, my dad said he actually fell asleep, but luckily, one of his buddies was able to wake him up. When he woke up, they had to pick him up because he couldn’t stand — his legs were frozen.”
Because his legs froze, Glasgow said the hair follicles on the lower half of his legs never grew hair again.
When the Chinese entered the war, Glasgow said that’s when Williams remembered the battle growing more intense than ever.
“Not only was he that young fighting in a foreign country, but think about all the other elements he had to face too,” Glasgow said. “It was difficult, to say the least.”
But one thing Williams said got him through it all was “the grace of God” and the photo of his wife, Mattie Ann Wright, he had mounted in his tank. The couple would have celebrated 68 years of marriage in October.
Although he made it home, Williams suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but never went to counseling.
“At that time, you just didn’t go to counseling or do things like that,” Glasgow said.
It wasn’t until he reunited with some of his “old tank buddies” a few years ago that Williams started having nightmares of his time in the Korean War.
“Think about those 36,000 mothers and fathers,” Williams told The Reporter in 2017. “Think about those 36,000 soldiers that weren’t able to make it home. That’s what I think about … I remember watching over the snow covered fields during the day. We knew that they had covered themselves with sheets. I remember watching as they dropped napalm on them, and they would jump up and run as they caught fire. That’s what I think about.”
It was during that time Williams chose to seek help and go to the Veterans Affairs (VA) Center in Guntersville.
“He was such a gentle man — he was a pastor — but he struggled with patience,” Glasgow said of her father. “People saw how he would erupt and knew something was bothering him.”
Glasgow said Williams thought highly of the VA, and others who attended counseling thought highly of him.
After a brief bout with bladder cancer, Williams passed away June 11. At his visitation, Glasgow said a couple of young soldiers shared with the family how he had encouraged them to not conceal their struggles with PTSD. They said Williams always assured them it was OK to talk with someone and reach out for help.
Williams was always grateful for the VA’s services, Glasgow said.
Williams was a man of many talents, but none to the level of his expertise in cars. He loved to restore antique cars and earned numerous trophies in local car shows. IN 2012, Williams’ work on a 1955 Chevrolet was published in “Chevy Classics,” a nationally recognized magazine.
Williams pastored several Primitive Baptist churches in the area for nearly 50 years. He was the father of two children, Daniel Williams and Glasgow; five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
About one year before he died, Williams was awarded the Peace Medal of Appreciation from the Republic of South Korea.
During his battle with cancer, Williams chose to be moved to Shepherd’s Cove Hospice — another place he held “dear to his heart,” according to Glasgow.
He told an interviewer that he chose to live out his final days at Shepherd’s Cove because of the care and support they offer — especially to veterans. Williams was a special guest speaker at a handful of patriotic events hosted by Shepherd’s Cove.
When a veteran dies while under the care of Shepherd’s Cove, Glasgow said hospice workers treat the veteran and his or her family with great respect. Formalities include draping a U.S. flag over the casket, and then they play patriotic songs for the family as the casket is brought to the front lobby. Once there, workers fold the flag, present it to the family and thank the family for the veteran’s service.
“That just meant a lot,” Glasgow said. “Honoring them for everything they do would be an honor for my dad.”
Glasgow was proud of the man her father was, and she said he would always be remembered for his “faith in God and being a loyal servant.”