Gene and Margaret "Mo" Williams
December 8, 1994
Interviewer: Rheba Massey
Gene was 83 at the time of this reminiscence, which he made with his wife, Mo, at his side. He was born in Platteville, Nebraska, and grew up on a ranch at Waverly where he graduated from high school. He was involved with the project to build Horsetooth Dam, but his career with the Department of Agriculture was disrupted by WWII. At the time of the Pearl Harbor invasion, he was traveling throughout the state working with farmers to improve their productivity; and Mo was working at Walgreen's in Fort Collins. Gene soon enlisted in the infantry.
His statement about the war is brief and dramatic: "War is terrible; war is very terrible." He recalls being "out in no-man's land" on several occasions and almost being captured by "the Krauts." Later, while serving in Italy, another dramatic memory is of seeing the Fascist dictator Mussolini hanging on a cross near a church in Milano, Italy. A woman was hung there with him. "He was a little fat, ugly guy and she was beautiful."
Gene's division was the 88th. He recalls seeing General Wolf, a German officer who had just surrendered. From captured prisoners, he got an Iron Cross and other war souvenirs. He was in Italy when the war ended and while returning to the states by ship he gave food to a young Italian stowaway, but when the boat docked in Norfolk, Virginia, the boy was discovered and sent back to Italy.
He was glad when the war was over. Neither he nor Mo recall any particular celebrations in Fort Collins; only that the sound of firecrackers bothered him so much that when a kid threw a cherry bomb at his car, he stopped his car, chased and collared the kid, and discouraged him from harassing any more war veterans. Both recall that Gene had nightmares after his return from the war, but they didn't have any trouble relating to each other. As Mo put it, they were "Just like we'd never been apart. We just started up."
They had corresponded during the war as best they could. She waited for him, living with his mother and still working at Walgreen's. Both her family and his had three sons in the service and it seemed all the young men of her age were missing from the town. She remembers going to Denver to see Ernie Pyle's movie about his experiences in Italy. Gene actually met the famous war correspondent who came into his dugout and said, "Sergeant, this is a hell of a way to make a living isn't it?" They remember when the town had about 12,500 residents and CSU some 1,250 students. He worked with the Department of Agriculture after the war and then in real estate. Gene and Mo have traveled widely, including Australia and New Zealand. When they went to Hawaii, they visited Ernie Pyle's grave and, remembering that Pyle was a good guy, Gene cried.
Gene's conclusion seemed to be that no one wants to fight a war, but Hitler had to be stopped from taking over the world and sometimes you just have to go to protect others back home.
Preserving the history of Fort Collins, Colorado & the Cache la Poudre region