FORT RUCKER, Ala. - Sept. 16, 2005 began like any other day during CW3 James Williamson's deployment in Iraq. However, a seemingly "normal" refuel stop with his co-pilot CW2 Scott Chachere, would begin a series of events that would change his life forever. Williamson would be wounded and he would escape death by mere millimeters.
Williamson received the Purple Heart in front of Family, friends and comrades Dec. 5 at Aviators' Landing for wounds he sustained while deployed with 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C.
The forward operating base on which Williamson and Chachere's helicopter was refueling was hit with mortar rounds so they quickly finished fueling up the aircraft and started back to their home base.
However, since they were the closest reconnaissance aircraft available, they accepted a request to fly around the area to find out who was responsible for the mortar attack.
Not long after beginning the search, Williamson spotted two men running from a mortar tube through an open field.
"I grabbed the controls and executed a hard left turn to climb up and dive back down on them. As I came up on them, they ran into a tree line," Williamson said.
While Williamson was descending toward the tree line, he began explaining the enemies' location to his co-pilot. Then everything went black.
Williamson was shot on the left side of his helmet and slumped over the controls.
"It actually went through my clear visor, went through my hairline, out my helmet, through the top of the aircraft, (ricocheted) off the hydraulic reservoir and embedded in the rotor blade," Williamson said.
Chachere regained control of the descending aircraft and transported Williamson back to the FOB. The next thing Williamson knew he was lying on his back at the FOB where they refueled just minutes before.
Doctors removed helmet and bullet fragments from his face and around his eye, and because of a concussion, he was grounded for 30 days.
"Just three or four months ago, a piece of metal jacket worked its way out (of my face)," he said.
The first request for Williamson's Purple Heart was denied due to missing paperwork, but his wife, Capt. Jennifer Williamson, a Staff Judge Advocate trial defense attorney, was determined to see the medal pinned on her husband's chest.
"It wasn't that big of a deal to me, but Jenn fought to get it approved," James said. "We do that stuff every day over there. It's not uncommon to get shot at. It becomes a routine thing."
Even after two years, Williamson, who is a Training and Doctrine Command Systems Manager armed reconnaissance helicopter standardization instructor-pilot here, remains modest about his injury and receiving the honor of the Purple Heart.
Jennifer said her husband didn't want to make the ceremony a big deal. "I thought it was important though," she said. "Five or ten years from now, he can tell (his son) the story and show him the award that he definitely deserves. I want to make sure he was able to share this with Max and explain his middle name."
The Williamson's named their 15-month-old son, Maximus Chachere Williamson, after his co-pilot.
"(Max) wouldn't be here if it weren't for Scott," James said.
James' parents, Ella and Mel, made the journey from Big Springs, Texas, to see their son receive the medal.
"This is so awesome for us ... and it's a great achievement for him," Ella said. "He's achieved so much in his short life. He's been in (the military) for (19 years). He left us at 18 and I can't say there's been a time that we've been more proud of him. He's very dedicated to his career. He's a wonderful husband and father. We raised a good one."
First Sgt. J.D. Summers, who deployed with 1st Squad., 17th Cav. Regt., came to the ceremony to congratulate James.
"He's always been a go-to guy, he's level-headed and above all that, a great friend," said Summers, now with B Company, 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment.
Other Soldiers who deployed with Williamson came to his Purple Heart Ceremony including his squadron commander Lt. Col. Frank Muth. Also, in attendance was Medal of Honor recipient retired Lt. Col. Bruce Crandall.
Muth praised James' abilities and dedication to the unit during their deployment and attributes those qualities to the reason he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal, both for valor.
"I'm honored to be here today. He's a phenomenal pilot, warrior, Soldier, officer, husband and father, and I'm just glad to be able to call him a friend," Muth said.
Gen. George Washington first presented the Purple Heart to three Soldiers during the Revolutionary War before the medal was officially recognized after World War I, according to Maj. Gen. Virgil L. Packett II, U.S. Army Aviation Warfighting Center and Fort Rucker commanding general. Packett presented the Purple Heart to Williamson during the ceremony.
"From those roots ... (we have) the recognition that we give for the Purple Heart. The Purple Heart is for the sacrifice, the blood that we shed for one another, our country, the pride in our country and what we stand for," Packett said. "It's a very coveted and remarkable medal that's earned by few who demonstrate that degree of dedication and that level of sacrifice for our country."
After hearing the kind words from the commanding general and Muth, James who was filled with emotion, thanked everyone - Packett, his parents, his wife and the Soldiers he deployed with and told Crandall it was an honor to receive the award in his presence.
"For two years, I pretty much wrote it off. That's just the way I am," he said. "But Jenn, my best friend, had the tenacity to keep fighting for it and made it happen."