Archived Story

Service for fallen soldier a unique experience

Published 8:28am Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Having had the opportunity to speak to several groups of students in Chilton County about the newspaper and my job as a journalist, I’ve tried to be prepared for any question that may come my way.

You know how kids are.

While I’ve fielded many inquiries I didn’t see coming, I’ve never been asked the question I expected to be the most common: “What do you like best about your job?”

I’ve put some thought into how I would answer that question. While there’s a lot I like about working at a newspaper, and The Clanton Advertiser in particular, I know my answer.

The part of my job I like best is how I always get to experience new things.

That’s the thing about writing for a newspaper. Each day brings a world of new opportunities, whether it be simply sitting through a city council meeting for a “hard news” story or hanging out at a stranger’s home while he cooks a delicious treat out of deer meat (then, of course, eating the dish).

I’ve worked at The Clanton Advertiser since December 2006, so one might think I’ve seen and done just about all there is to do here, but that’s far from the case. An example of how there’s always something new to experience was provided last week as I traveled to the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport as the remains of a soldier killed in the Korean War were finally returned to Alabama.

Master Sgt. Olen Berry Williams survived D-Day but not the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in 1950. He was among 2,504 American soldiers declared Missing In Action, and later Killed In Action, following the battle. His remains were buried at the National Military Cemetery in Hawaii until the case was re-opened, DNA samples were taken from relatives and he was identified.

A funeral service was held Sunday, and Williams was finally put to rest alongside his relatives at Evergreen Cemetery in Verbena.

It was gut-wrenching to see an Honors Detachment from Fort Rucker travel all the way to Birmingham to perform a military service for a fellow soldier who passed long ago, and to see the family members who remembered Williams all this time and are glad to have him home.

I found myself wondering about the folks aboard the plane that carried Williams’ remains. Did they know the service was planned and that they would have to wait to unload?

Instead of considering the service an inconvenience, I hope they took a moment to appreciate what Williams, and so many others, have given to build our country into what it is today.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have another opportunity to cover a service like this one, but I’ll always remember it.

Stephen Dawkins is the managing editor for The Clanton Advertiser. He can be reached at

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  • mack13

    As a veteran myself, I do not feel that the Honor Guard that accompanied Master Sgt. Olen Berry Williams was in any way inconvenienced.

    There are few higher honors than that of seeing the remains of a fallen comrade in arms to a proper and fitting place of burial.

    It is a solemn duty that any soldier would be most
    proud to have the honor to perform.

    just my .02,


    (Report comment)

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