Army Maj. Dwayne Williams was one of 125 inside the Pentagon who perished when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the west wing on Sept. 11. Along with the 55 military personnel and 70 civilians killed at the Pentagon, 58 passengers aboard Flight 77 lost their lives that day.
As a mother, Williams thought her own life had ended. It took years of therapy and work on her part to realize that it hadn’t.
Four days after being told that her son was probably among those who had been killed at the Pentagon, Williams was asked to donate blood for a DNA sample. Dwayne’s remains had been flown to Dover, Del., for DNA testing. On Sept. 21, the results came in. They were positive. It was 18 days more days before his remains were released to his family for burial.
Less than a week after the attack, Williams found herself aboard one of three buses taking relatives to the site.
“I came within 150 feet of his office,” she said. “That’s as far as they would allow us to go. I actually went through two difficult periods. The first was waiting to learn if my son was inside the Pentagon. The worst is not knowing. The other was waiting for his remains to be released. I think this, along with seeing the devastation first hand, is why my grieving period lasted so long.”
After seeing the building and watching news programs showing it burning, Williams couldn’t stand to be around fire or heat for a year.
“It was horrific watching it,” she said. “I couldn’t turn my stove on. For a whole year I ate out. If I got into a hot car, I started panicking.”
Williams went through several depressive episodes before she began to heal. She was hospitalized three times and saw psychiatrists and therapists before she realized that she needed to do what Dwayne would want her to -- get on with her life, be happy, help others and continue being a good mother to her remaining three sons -- things she hadn’t been able to do since his death.
“I finally felt that God had a set purpose for me, and that was to impact other people’s lives in a positive way,” said Williams. “I began speaking at schools and churches and traveling to different places, even lecturing on cruise ships, to tell my story of how God had brought me through a very tragic event. This gave me a mechanism to heal and move forward with my life. In the darkest seasons of our lives, God is with us. He never abandons us.”
Her former speech teacher at JSU, Sylvia Malone, taught her how to deliver her speeches and lectures.
The love and support of the city, county and state has played a role in helping Williams heal.
“I’ve felt love from so many people,” she said. “In addition to my reaching out to help other people, I’ve had such a wonderful support system myself. After Dwayne’s death, my cousin by marriage, Emily Lipscomb was with me throughout the ordeal. She sat with me many nights comforting me. Ken Rollins, who is a Vietnam veteran, and Anniston Army Depot were able to get me a piece of a concrete block from the damaged section of the Pentagon. I find that comforting, somehow.”
A year after her son’s death, Williams began work on erecting a monument for him. Her reasoning was two-fold. First of all, it would be a monument to not only honor her son, but to honor all those who have lost their lives fighting for America. The second reason was more personal.
“Dwayne is buried at Arlington, and I can’t go there often to see him,” said Williams. “I needed a place to grieve, so I came up with the idea of a monument for him. I was determined to do it, even if I had to do it myself. But once I attempted to raise funds, the idea mushroomed and I received tremendous help from a lot of wonderful people.”
She credits the city, the county commission and various individuals including Ken Rollins, Lea Fite, Bo Batey and Eli Henderson for helping.
The monument is in the city cemetery off Church Street, just a few blocks from Williams’s home. She wanted it near the road where it can be seen.
After the monument was in place, Williams set out to help students get an education as a way to honor her son. She established the Maj. Dwayne Williams Scholarship at JSU, which goes to ROTC cadets and business majors. She coordinates golf tournaments to help raise funds for the scholarship.
At Kitty Stone Elementary School, she established an award to be given to a fifth-grader who shows good citizenship during the year. Fifth grade teachers choose the students. This year, the award went to Brooke Raulerson, daughter of Derek and Amanda Raulerson.
“I realized one day that this wasn’t the end, that I would be seeing Dwayne again,” said Williams. “And because of his death I’ve been able to fulfill a goal God set for me. I still miss my son. I miss him every day. I can still see his big smile. But I have memories. Many good memories that will sustain me for the rest of my life. I now have a peace.”
Williams said that since she realizes she will see her son again one day, she tries to look at his death in a positive way in order to help herself and others.
“It’s been a difficult journey, but my grief has dissipated over a period of time,” she said. “I have now emerged a different and much stronger person. Hearing taps being played always made me feel sad. There will be tears again this year at the ceremony Wednesday, but they will be tears of joy. Today, when I see men and women in uniform, I thank them for their service.”
Williams said she’s finally come to terms with her son’s death. She keeps herself busy and even wrote a book, “A Hero Named Fish,” which helped her heal. Another thing that helps is remembering the kind of person he was.
“He was the most loving son and such a compassionate individual,” she said. “He was a role model for the other children in the neighborhood. Everyone called him fish. He learned to swim when he was 5 and he loved it. He was a star football player, and they named him the most valuable player in his senior year at Jacksonville High.”
After Dwayne’s death, Williams and Ken Rollins established the Centennial Memorial Park Committee in Anniston. Other members of the committee were Bo Batey, Lea Fite, Eli Henderson, Charles Horton and Angela Banks.
More recently, she established a ministry at NHC Nursing Home, where her husband, Horace, resides. There, she preaches and brings in other speakers and performers, including singers and praise dancers.
Williams received her license to preach at St. Paul Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and First United Methodist Church. Both churches have the same doctrine and order of service; however, since they were from different denominations, she was required to repeat the same requirements such as interviews, testing and licensing school.
“It was a long process,” she said. “I’m very excited about preaching again at the nursing home.”
About a year after losing her son she established a support system for those who are dependent on drugs or alcohol. The group meets at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at First United Methodist Church.
Williams said that all of her sons studied German and, after they graduated, three of them wanted to go into the military. They wanted to serve their country, see the world, and afford opportunities for their parents to visit them. Williams visited Dwayne and his family in Cairo, Egypt, in 1998, when he was stationed at the American Embassy. She’s visited 15 countries and made her 10th trip to Germany last year.
Roy chose journalism for a career. He is public relations director for Holy Family Christian Way School in Birmingham. Roy’s twin Troy is retired from the Army and lives in Belgium where he works in the computer field. Kim retired from the Army and now works for the post office in Sierra Vista, Ariz.
Contact Margaret at firstname.lastname@example.org.