Dr. Vernon L. Williams grew up in an Air Force family during the 1940s and 1950s. His father, M/SGT Andrew L. Williams, served first in the Army Air Force in 1942 and later retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1964. During World War II, Sgt. Williams served in the Pacific war with the 509th Composite Group, the unit that flew the two atomic bomb missions from Tinian Island in 1945. Sgt. Williams was responsible for the modifications to the bomb bay of the Enola Gay, the B-29 aircraft assigned the first mission to Hiroshima. Later he named his only daughter after the famed aircraft, Enola Gay Williams Boyd. Interestingly, in recent years Enola Gay worked for Boeing Aircraft, the very firm that manufactured the B-29 bearing her name.
During his childhood, Dr. Williams traveled with his family while his father served in assignments in England, Bermuda, Okinawa, Amarillo AFB, Tinker AFB, and Westover AFB before returning to Amarillo AFB where his father retired in 1964. These early years nurtured a growing respect for the men and women who served in the military as the future historian and filmmaker grew up on air bases scattered across the globe. Later he would write of these World War II veterans and produce a series of documentary films about the air war in the European Theater of Operations. Williams eventually would dedicate his career to the preservation of the history of American military history.
Professor Williams’ uncle, S/SGT Harold F. Norris, served as a tail gunner in the 381st Bomb Group at Ridgewell, England, and was killed in the crash of his Flying Fortress, the Dry Gulcher, shortly after mission takeoff. The last flight of the Dry Gulcher is the subject of a 2013 feature documentary film, Dry Gulcher Down: A B-17’s Fiery End Over Shalford Village.
A veteran of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army in the 1960s, Williams returned to civilian life to attend university, the first person in his family to do so. In 1985 Williams received a doctorate in American military history from Texas A&M University. His dissertation focused on the history of the U.S. Navy in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War in 1898 and the years that followed. After graduation, Williams began a long career of teaching and writing military history that continues to this day. His work as a filmmaker began early in his career, with a long list of feature films to his credit, many of which showcase the oral history interviews produced since the 1990s.
Professor Williams has traveled across the United States and throughout England, interviewing the WWII generation. In the United States he has interviewed hundreds of air and ground crews who served in the Eighth Air Force in wartime England. In England, Williams has sought out British family members who lived in the small rural villages that surrounded the American bases during the war. Young boys and girls, together with older brothers and sisters, have detailed their experiences living among the “Yanks” during the war. Using the growing archives and these extraordinary digital video interviews of both the Americans and their British neighbors, Dr. Williams has produced and directed ten documentary films about life in the East Anglia farm lands and the air front that extended from runways across England’s heartland, deep into the darkness that was Hitler’s empire in Europe.
Dr. Williams has taught military history for over twenty-five years. His scholarship and films cover a host of subjects on American military aviation history and much of his research, writing and films deals with the air war and the impact that conflict had on the people of the Twentieth Century, in the United States and in those areas where military power extended beyond the American homeland. He has written numerous papers on the Eighth Air Force and wartime operations in Britain’s East Anglia region. He is currently working on the first book coming from the more than decade long research on the Eighth Air Force in World War II, tentatively titled: Crucible of War: The Anglo/American Cultural Exchange in World War II England, 1942-1945.
Professor Williams is returning to an early study of Lieutenant George S. Patton, Jr. and his experiences on the Mexican Punitive Expedition in 1916-1917. Now almost one hundred years since Pancho Villa’s attack on Columbus, New Mexico, Williams is once again revisiting the story, this time with the benefit of new digital tools that will bring early silent motion picture film and photographs to the wide screen. Long ago Signal Corps cameramen preserved the story on film and others recorded the story of Villa’s exploits early in the Mexican Revolution. Together this vast digitized archive will bring this story of Patton and Pancho to life. The project, already in production, promises to bring new insights into the clash of cultures in the desert country of Northern Mexico as the voices of the long ago reach out to all of us today.
Dr. Williams lives in Abilene, Texas with his wife, Kay, who is a professor of music at Abilene Christian University. They have three grown children and five grandchildren.