SPRINGFIELD – Lester “Skip” Williams was one of three men who helped install the Vietnam Memorial in Mason Square.
As one of the oldest monuments erected while the war was still in progress and one of the only monuments that honors African-American Vietnam veterans in the country, Williams’ legacy will be remembered by the Springfield arts and entertainment community for his philanthropy and dedication to his country.
Williams, who died July 9, had a light-hearted, cheerful personality that was infectious, said William “Billy” Myers, Williams’ nephew and artistic director and chief curator of art for the Soul Gallery in Springfield.
A memorial will be held Nov. 14 at 3 p.m. at the Massachusetts Veterans Cemetery in Agawam. In lieu of flowers, donations to Homes for Our Troops and the National Indian Council on Aging may be made in Williams’ honor.
Born in Springfield in 1936, Williams attended the city’s school and later served in the United States Army during the Korean War.
Eddie Lee was 10 years old when Williams was discharged from the army. They lived on the same street and became like brothers.
“Skip was already hosting a lot of talent shows and concerts,” Lee said. “There was so much talent and it gave artists a platform to sing, dance and show off their talent. So many groups came from all over.
According to Lee, the journey into the music industry brought Williams to the Los Angeles area, where he worked with world-famous artists and as a road manager for Motown band The Originals.
The granite monument began as a kitchen table dream after Williams heard the back to back terrible news that two of his friends, U.S. Army Pvt. Gus Stovall Jr. and Army Spc. Ronald Charles Hurst, were killed in Vietnam.
“Once he learned of the passing of our friends Ronny and Gus, he started to organize more concerts to raise money for the monument, at the time, what we called Winchester Square. That’s where we all hang out and enjoy each other’s company, especially on weekends,” Lee said.
Williams, who once called Springfield a “little Motown,” was inspired to roll up her sleeves and do something big.
Williams collaborated with nightclub owner Richard Sibilia, local promoter and photographer James B. Bradley, and the entertainment community for a series of concerts that were successful fundraisers.
Installed in 1968, the monument adorned with an eagle and wings rising above its head honors the neighborhood’s black citizens and residents who gave their lives in war.
The large stone has a central message, three stars and is followed by the names of Hurst, Stovall, Marine Lance Cpl. David Lee Owens, Army Spc. Norman Carl Farris and Air Force Sgt. James Cecil Starnes.
The monument reads: “In memory of the black men who gave their lives in Vietnam in the service of their country”.
In commemoration of the monument’s 50th anniversary, the eagle’s wings were accented with gold and Mayor Domenic J. Sarno marked June 15, 2018 as “Skip Williams Day” in the city of Springfield.
Williams, who had by then moved to Lancaster, Calif., reunited with her neighborhood pal Lee.
“We were 5 minutes apart,” said Lee, who still lives in Lancaster. “He was the most beloved man I know. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. I always told him that I would give him my congratulations before he passed. From 1999 until his passing, we we have always been close.
Williams was a proud father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle and friend.
In addition to working with veterans, Williams was also an active participant in Native American communities.