Marvin Williams

Marvin Williams, of Milton, with a shadowbox that contains a flag, medals and honors he earned during a 20-year career in the Navy.

Williams met Brashear, famed Navy diver

MILTON — Marvin Williams never thought a stint in the Navy would turn into a career. It did.

Williams, a 1964 graduate of Milton High School, enlisted in the Navy at age 17 at a time when most felt the escalation of the Vietnam conflict.

“I didn’t want anything to do with college,” he remembered. 

After basic at the Navy’s Great Lakes facility, he spent time at machinists mate school, where he learned about steam engines. He was then sent to school to learn how to service shipboard air conditioning and refrigeration systems.

Williams then served aboard three different ships — the USS Fort Snelling, an auxiliary replinishment oiler and the USS Patterson.

While aboard the Fort Snelling, he witnessed the raising of the hydrogen bomb in 1970 as part of the Palomares incident. An Air Force B-52 and a KC-135 Stratotanker collided off the coast of Spain during refueling. One of the B-52’s bombs was lost in the sea, which set off a furious search. It was found after some two-and-a-half months of searching by Navy personnel, which drew the interest of the Russians at the time, Williams remembered.

While on the mission, Williams met famed Naval diver Carl Brashear, who lost his leg during the recovery effort and was later the subject of the movie “Men of Honor” which starred Cuba Gooding Jr. as Brashear, and Robert DeNiro as Brashear’s instructor.

The Snelling carried a two-man search sub which was deployed every day from the ship during the search. It was one of two subs the Snelling carried. The rear of the ship was sunk to allow for deployment. Too much water and the entire ship may sink, Williams noted.

Duty aboard the oiler was also precarious at times.

The oiler carried 5,000 gallons of fuel and another 2,000 gallons of jet fuel. It featured a number of refrigerated units for supply of troops. It’s crew of 325 would assist in refueling exercises that could take six to eight hours, Williams noted. While a ship would be refueling, food was transferred.

“There were three hoses, 24-inch hoses pumping fuel,” remembered Williams. “Sometimes we’d do it at night — two ships alongside one another, 150-feet apart. That close and it doesn’t take much of mistake to cause a problem.”

The Patterson was his third ship, a fast frigate. He served as senior enlisted advisor to the commanding officer. 

His travels took his across the equator a number of times and featured stops at several ports stateside, as well as Puerto Rico, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the Meditteranean.

Toward the end of his Navy career, Williams trained recruits at the Navy’s Orlando, Fla. boot camp known as NavyWorld. There he trained men and women.

“It was a real challenge,” he said. “I had 80 recruits. There were three companies there a total of six months each.”

Williams was also part of the 1979 All Navy Pistol Team.

Williams’ family has a rich history of military service.

His father, Marvin L. Sr., was a World War II veteran who served in the Army and was part of the D-Day Invasion. His son, Dana L., served four years in the Air Force and his grandson, Barndon, is currently in the Navy.

Wife, Linda (Moore), had a father who served in the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II. The couple also has a son, Shawn.


Chris Brady is managing editor at The Standard-Journal and author of three Vietnam-based books, “Remembering Firebase Ripcord,” “A War We Can’t Forget” and the novel, “We Answered the Call.” He can be reached at

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