Jack Herman Williams was a young man with a bright future ahead of him. Born on April 14, 1919, in Columbia, South Carolina, he was the eldest son of Ross and Annie Pierce Williams, who raised him alongside his five younger siblings. Jack attended Olympia High School in Columbia, where he was known for his charming personality and beautiful singing voice. His classmates remembered him as a popular student who knew how to treat a lady.
After graduating from high school, Jack clerked at a grocery store in Columbia and earned $780 for 52 weeks of work in 1939 – equivalent to about $15,000 in today’s currency. But the winds of war were blowing across Europe, and Jack was among a group of young men who decided to join the Naval Reserve after a talk with friends.
Jack enlisted on May 29, 1940, and was soon called to active duty. He became a radioman and petty officer third class on the U.S.S. Arizona, one of the most impressive battleships in the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet. Jack served on the Arizona for over a year, during which time he undoubtedly honed his skills as a radio operator and made many friends among his shipmates.
But Jack’s promising life was cut short on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Jack was on board the Arizona when it was hit, and he perished along with 1,176 other sailors and Marines. It was a devastating blow to his family, who were still reeling from the loss of Jack’s father, Ross, just four months earlier.
The Williams family received the official notice of Jack’s death on December 20, 1941. It was a devastating blow, made all the more poignant by the Christmas cards Jack had mailed to his loved ones just the day before he died. One of these cards, addressed to his sister Louise, is now part of the collection at the South Carolina State Museum.
Jack Williams’ death was a tragic loss for his family, his friends, and his country. But his sacrifice, and that of the other men who lost their lives on the Arizona, would serve to galvanize the American people and strengthen their resolve to fight back against their aggressors. In the years that followed, Jack’s memory would be honored, and his family would take comfort in the knowledge that he had given his life in service to his country.