“I Wanted to Fly”
A visit with
John and Mickie Williams

by Bill Weaver
photo by George Bredewater

I could fly an airplane before I could even drive a car,” says John Williams as we sit with his wife, Mickie, and George Bredewater at the Brown County Public Library. That plane, the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, was one of the most formidable fighters of WWII.

The day is one of those warm sunny autumn afternoons that brings visitors out to Brown County.

Williams, who grew up in Washington, Georgia, joined the Army Air Force after two years at the University of Tampa.

“After boot training I went through my pilot’s training in Alabama and Mississippi. Then they shipped me to California for training in P-38s. The whole time I was in the Air Force I wanted to fly the biggest thing they had…so they sent me to fighter school,” he laughs.

The irony is that “I didn’t see a Japanese fighter the whole time I was over there,” he says. Pilots were reassigned to bombers, supply, and transport planes. “I talked to the Operations officer and said, ‘I’m trying to get up to Tokyo.’ He says, ‘You can get a ride on a B-29.’ Well, that was fine with me. They rolled the plane out and I climbed in with three foot-lockers of squadron material. I was transferring the 78th squadron up to Japan—on paper! That’s how I got into Japan. I was there for about six weeks. It was interesting to see.”

And sobering.

“Oh gosh, it was obliterated, except where the Imperial Palace was, that was spared. The rest of the city was completely destroyed. What they did the winter after, I don’t know.”

Soon after the war, while visiting his sister in Plymouth, Indiana, John met Mary Seip. “I met him on the church steps,” remembers Mickie Williams. “His sister was married to the Episcopal rector and that’s where I went to church.” They were married in December of 1947.

John spent the next year “at Georgia Tech flunking out. I decided I’d had enough of school.” The young couple moved to Albuquerque where Williams made maps for the Forest Service. They returned to Plymouth where John worked in his father-in-law’s lumberyard. Deciding to give school another try, John entered Ball State where he discovered the Industrial Arts. He never looked back. “I gave up flying because of that,” he says.

Upon graduating he accepted a job teaching in Brown County.

“There were ten one-room schools when I came here,” he says. “The principal had the reputation of not doing his job. My first year he was arrested for absconding with a bunch of money. It really took the roof off the house!”

After four years of teaching John was “promoted to principal of Nashville High School.”

It was a tough job. “Brown County schools didn’t want anything to do with the consolidation. The students liked the idea but the adults…they didn’t want any change. Yet, they were glad to get rid of all the one room schools.”

Mickie raised three children, taught kindergarten, and volunteered work at the Brown County Library.

After two years as principal, “I had learned my lesson—don’t be a principal!” Williams laughs. He accepted a position at Starr Commonwealth for Boys in southern Michigan. “It was founded by Floyd Starr for kids that had one offense against the law.”

“It was a difficult place to work,” Mickie adds. “Mr. Starr was interested in the boys but he didn’t know how to educate. He wouldn’t let you do what you needed to do. All that his boys were supposed to do was make wooden bowls for people who donated to the camp.”

After two years they moved to Indianapolis where John enjoyed twenty years teaching architectural drawing at Arsenal Technical High School. “That really settled it for me. That summed up everything I was doing in teaching. I had a good time there because the boys wanted to be there.”

When John retired they decided to move back to Brown County. John came down to build their home while Mickie continued teaching kindergarten in Indianapolis. “There’s a lot of difference now from when we were down here in ’57,” she says. “There were just a few shops then. You’d have a policeman stand in the middle of the street—there were no stop lights—and say, ‘Everybody walk.’ It was fun.”

In his spare time Williams volunteered with the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archeology at Indiana University helping them survey Native American sites in Brown County.

In recent years John Williams has endured three strokes. “The first one ruined my eyesight,” he says cheerfully. “The second one—boom—knocked everything out on the left side.”

Despite it all, and with Mickie’s devoted care, Williams continues participating in the life of his community—and to enjoy the warm Brown County autumn afternoon.