By Brian Hoyt
Editors Note: I originally wrote this on 9/11, 2007, and added an update in 2016
Navy Lieutenant Commander David Williams served as the department head for the Operations Department aboard USS Nashville (LPD 13) from 1999-2001. In his roll he led over 80 men who he was charged with taking care of, training and inspiring. He did all of that and more.
Lt. Cmdr. Williams was known for his department “all-hands” meetings. Although they were held to discuss important issues and business with his men, they would normally decay into a stand-up routine where he would take good natured shots at us, regardless of rank, and it was always funny. His spot-on impressions of his Sailors, his mocking of the stories we never knew he heard about and his laughter in reaction to others doing impressions of him always created a sense of team, brotherhood and trust. He knew his Sailors.
However, Dave Williams was no pushover. Those who did not perform up to what he perceived to be their best ability were called to task and no one ever wondered where they stood with the ‘Operations Boss’. His trust in his officers and Chiefs was felt throughout the ranks and no one ever questioned his dedication to the Navy and his men. Everybody wanted to be like Lt. Cmdr. Williams and no one wanted to let him down.
At home, his dedicated wife and two children understood that he loved the open sea and loved his job. After graduating from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) he went directly to sea and served aboard three ships before finally being convinced by his family to take a job that was not on a ship, but was in fact in the worlds largest office building; the Pentagon.
Lt. Cmdr. Dave Williams worked for the Chief of Naval Operations (The highest ranking officer in the Navy) and although land locked, he did enjoy his job. The daily grind of the ‘Zoo’ was no measure for Williams’ work ethic and unwavering sense of humor: a must for working in the Pentagon. Adding to his joy was the news that his he and his wife, Sara, were now expecting their third child. A boy, he hoped, to help balance out the two girls that would help their mother gang up on him. In the end, it didn’t matter to him because the only thing he cared more about than the Navy was his family.
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001 all hell broke loose. The nation was under attack and a concerned Sara called her husband at the Pentagon to ask him what was going on. Dave Williams knew he only had a moment to talk to his wife because the entire building was racing to react to the attack. That conversation was cut short.
Lt. Cmdr. David Williams spent his final moments serving his nation at the headquarters of the Department of Defense and the Navy he loved. David Williams was killed as highjack American Airlines flight 77 slammed into the side of the Pentagon.
News of his death spread quickly and within days those of us who were still serving aboard USS Nashville had received the news that one of our own had been killed in the attacks. Those who served with him were shocked, saddened, angry and heart-broken.
Thousands of families lost love ones that day but we lost “Ops Boss” and that was all we needed to know to make this horrific day even worse.
Every year I think of Lt. Cmdr. Williams and how he served not only his nation, but a team of Sailors who are better people for having served with him. Before he left USS Nashville, Williams wrote me a letter of recommendation for the Navy’s officer program. In 2002 I submitted that letter with my application. In 2003 I became a commissioned Naval Officer. I know in my heart that Lt. Cmdr. Williams, given the chance, would have been proud of me… but would not have missed the opportunity to give me a little hell, do his impression of me and remind me of where I came from. Every year about this time I think of that and I think of David Williams and I am sad but grateful for having served with him.
In the spring of 2016 my family visited Washington D.C. During our trip, we spent the day at Arlington National Cemetery. It was an important for us, as parents, to take our children to this sacred place.
Near the end of our visit, we took a walk in search of David Williams’ gravesite. He is buried in an area designated for those killed on 9/11; Section 64. The area overlooks the Pentagon.
It was an emotional visit, but I left with a feeling that I was finally able to pay my respects in person and I am thankful that my family was there with me.