SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — He’s been called the forgotten hero of the forgotten war, but not anymore.
For over two years now, we’ve been following the heroic journey of retired Navy Captain Royce Williams of Wilmot, South Dakota.
Williams is finally being recognized for his valor in the Korean War where he flew a dangerous mission that was kept classified for decades.
“As hundreds watched outside the Air and Space Museum, Secretary of the Navy, Carlos Del Toro, pinned the Navy Cross onto Captain Royce Williams,” John Carrol of KPBS News reported.
The Navy Cross, which was awarded to retired Captain Royce Williams, is the United States’ second-highest military decoration awarded to sailors and marines who distinguish themselves for extraordinary heroism in combat with an armed enemy force.
Williams flew a mission during the Korean War that was kept secret for decades.
The 97 year old, who now resides in California, recently sat down with John Mollison, host of ‘Old Guys and Their Airplanes,’ to talk about the day, no one ever got to hear.
It was in November of 1952.
Williams remembers it well.
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 here 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 MiGs, 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.
But now that his mission has been declassified, he’s been awarded the Navy Cross.
“Our team started working on this project about seven years ago and when we heard about Royce Williams,” Senator Mike Rounds said.
Senator Mike Rounds says Williams was awarded the Silver Star, but after learning of his heroics felt he deserved higher recognition.
He tells KELOLAND News that his flying skills and bravery can’t be overstated.
“Rather than have this what could have been a terrible, terrible situation where we could have had loss of life on the carrier and other parts of the task force this became an incident that nobody wanted to talk about. Russians didn’t want to talk about it because they were defeated and Americans didn’t want to talk about it it was classified, they didn’t want to acknowledge there had been an engagement between Russian pilots and American pilots,” Rounds said.
Rounds and other Congressional lawmakers were pushing for a Medal of Honor, but that didn’t happen, at least not yet.
Don: “So that could happen yet, for a medal of honor?
Mike: It would be great if it did, we were just very pleased to be able to not only acknowledge the facts now that this has been declassified that could be revisited, but the actual story behind it is a lot like a Top Gun story,” Rounds said.
And the Maverick on this mission was Captain Williams.
“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.
Proving it’s never too late to say thank you.
Williams flew over 220 missions throughout his 30 years in the military. He retired from the Navy as a Captain in 1980.