Michael Wayne Williams was born on March 31, 1951, to Robert and Margie Williams in Davenport, Iowa. Williams graduated from Davenport West High School in 1969. Shortly after graduating high school, Williams joined the United States Navy to serve during the period of the Vietnam War.The Navy was involved in various missions in this Southeast Asia conflict from 1950 to U.S. troop evacuation from Saigon in 1975.
The U.S. Navy performed a wide array of missions in the Vietnam War. In the air, it was a key partner with the U.S. Air Force during the Rolling Thunder and Linebacker air campaigns against North Vietnam, and in other air operations in Laos and Cambodia. On the coast, it developed a highly effective blockade to prevent the resupply of enemy forces by sea engaged in naval gunfire support missions against enemy targets in the littoral areas of Vietnam, and provided amphibious transport for Marines operating in I Corps. On the rivers, it stood up several task forces designed to protect commercial traffic, assist allied ground forces in pacifying these areas, and interdict enemy troops and supplies moving on these inland waterways. The U.S. Navy also supported the war effort with a massive sea and river logistics operation, built and managed shore facilities throughout South Vietnam, and provided extensive medical support for the allied military operation.
Williams served the Navy in the support role of a molder during these operations in Vietnam. Molders were responsible for ensuring that the U.S. Navy ships were never at a loss for repair parts during their missions. “Navy molders operate foundries where molten metals are formed into repair parts of all shapes and sizes for a variety of uses.”3 This process involved backbreaking work in the blisteringly hot foundry as molten-hot metal was poured into the molds created by the molders to form metal repair parts.
In order to become a molder, Williams was taught to master the skills necessary to work the foundries responsible for creating the Navy’s repair parts, including “metallurgy, basic blueprint reading, and how to mix sand for the molds. Once the basics are learned, more time is spent in the foundry, learning to make molds, mixing metal alloys, and cast metal.”4 This training outfitted Williams with the skills to keep the fleet running during its operations in Vietnam.
Knowing how to keep the fleet running was one matter, but actually displaying the skill to operate the Navy’s foundries was another altogether. In order to successfully work the foundries and create repair parts that would be of use to the Navy, Williams had to work his craft with exacting and flawless skill. “Using broad, flat shovels and large mixing machines, different kinds of sand, dyes, and compounds are combined in large metal bins… sand is placed around the mold to be cast as a protectant, pounded around the pattern as tightly as possible. The slightest imperfection in the process can make the final product structurally weak.”It was Williams’ duty to ensure that the molds and casts produced by his work were usable to repair the fleet. As evident by his achievement of the rank of Molder 3rd Class Petty Officer, a leadership role in which he would have guided his junior Molders, Williams was shown to have excelled at his responsibilities.
Williams ended his service in the Navy after the Vietnam War’s conclusion in 1975. After his service, Williams primarily worked for Luxury Limo as a chauffeur. Much of his time was spent playing basketball with his friends, reading, listening to rock and roll, and cheering on the Iowa Hawkeyes and Chicago Cubs.
Williams tragically passed away at the age of 55 at Genesis East Medical Center in his native Davenport on July 14, 2006. He was survived by his mother, brother, two sisters, and several nieces and nephews.The remembrance on his headstone reads, “BELOVED SON AND BROTHER.”
Hayes, Randy. “No Wooden Spoons for Navy Molder.” Citizens’ Voice. August 6, 1981.
“Michael Wayne Williams.” Quad-City Times. July 17, 2006.
“Michael Wayne Williams’ Memorial.” Veterans Legacy Memorial. Accessed March 13, 2022.
“Navy Ranks & Insignias.” Military Benefits, 2022.
“Operations.” Naval History and Heritage Command, May 10, 2019.