Eye on KELOLAND: Forgotten hero from the forgotten war


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A military mission during the Korean War, that was kept secret for decades, is finally being made public.

It’s an incredible story of an American hero from South Dakota, who flew a dangerous mission and faced insurmountable odds.

Now there’s a push to award him with the highest and most-prestigious military decoration of all; the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The Korean War is often referred to as the forgotten war.

But one man will never forget it and now he’s able to finally share his story with the public.

He’s retired Navy pilot Royce Williams of Wilmot, South Dakota.

Williams, who now resides in California at the age of 95, recently sat down with John Mollison, host of ‘Old Guys and Their Airplanes,’ to talk about the day, no one ever got to hear about for decades.

It was in November of 1952.

Williams remembers it well.

“One MIG vs one Panther”

Using toy airplanes to demonstrate, Williams and three other pilots took off in a blustery snowstorm to intercept seven Russian MIGs, which was a much more sophisticated airplane than the Panthers they were flying.

It wasn’t long before one of their jets developed a fuel pump problem and its pilot turned back toward the ship with his wingman as an escort.

That left Williams and his wingman to face the seven Soviet fighters as they waited for instructions.

“They said do not engage and so there were my instructions, but I said we are engaged, there is no way I can duck out safely at this point, they are there and I’m going to have to handle the situation,” Williams said. “So when they came in and visibly with all the shooting, immediately maneuvered it was a surprise.”

Williams didn’t hold back. One by one in one of the longest dogfights in American history, he’s credited with single handedly shooting down at least four of the MIGSs, maybe more.

“Got into position for a short burst and shot down number four,” Williams said.

Williams’ plane was also shot up pretty badly, reducing its ability to fly correctly.

But somehow Williams was able to maneuver the aircraft back to the carrier and land it safely.

Because of sensitivities with ongoing Korean negotiations and a risk of accelerating the conflict with Russia, the incident was kept top secret and classified.

Williams was never allowed to speak of it, not even to his wife.

It was only decades later that records became unsealed.

“50 years plus had transpired, the story itself, the encounter was out there, but the truth of the matter remained hidden until I was notified that it was no longer classified, so I told my wife and she said ol’ Royce,” Williams said.

Now many military leaders and politicians believe, Williams was never fully recognized for his acts of valor.

Senator Mike Rounds, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, says his office is helping in the effort.

“Well we are still gathering all the records, but quite honestly, what it looks like if they would have had the information at the time, he probably would have received it back in the 1950’s,” Sen. Rounds said.

Senator Rounds says he’ll be working with the Pentagon and the Department of Navy to gather as much evidence as possible to get Williams the Congressional Medal of Honor.

“This is not something Mr. Williams is asking for, this is something we think he deserves,” Sen. Rounds said.

Williams is somewhat humbled by all the attention he’s receiving now that the records have been made public.

“I was given an awfully good chance to die, but I just did what I thought my purpose and training was for and I think it was probably God driven and protected, I’m certainly not that good I hadn’t said that before, but that’s it, I really feel blessed,” Williams said.

Williams flew over 220 missions throughout his 30 years in the military. He retired from the Navy as a Captain in 1980.

Stay with KELOLAND News on-air and online for an update on the efforts to award Williams the Congressional Medal of Honor.

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