Friday, May 24, 2024 May 24, 2024
79° F Dallas, TX

Q & A With Major General Jim Williams

The commander of the 4th Marine Division, one of the largest military units on the planet, retires to Lake Highlands.
photography by Nick Prendergast

Q: Early on, you worked in the White House as a Marine military social aide. Tell us something about Ronald Reagan most people don’t know.

A: Reagan didn’t like Henry Kissinger. Kissinger had assumed Reagan would make him his secretary of state. But Reagan had read Kissinger’s earlier writings, and he felt that his chest thumping about American willingness to take casualties helped get us stuck in Vietnam, and he never forgave him for it. Reagan didn’t want him in his administration.

Q: You liked working in the White House?

A: I absolutely loved it. I love being in the middle of things, seeing how they really work. I was there when the Desert One mission to save the Iranian hostages went bad. I was there when Reagan was shot. Actually, I was at my quarters, fixing a carburetor on my kitchen table, when it happened. But I got over there in time to watch Alexander Haig say he was in charge.

Q: But then you just gave it up, resigned your commission and moved to Dallas.

A: I’d fallen in love with Maria. She was a schoolteacher in Dallas. We’d gotten married, but she didn’t want to give up her job. I was supposed to start graduate school in another year. I didn’t see the point in giving all my money to American Airlines, so I came here and got a job­—three jobs actually.

Q: What were they?

A: My first job was with RGIS, Retail Grocery Inventory Service. I got to go all over town, inside every store, and see it tick. In six months, I knew the city better than most people who’d lived here their whole lives. I also worked for the Wadley Blood Bank. My third job was Marine Reserves.

Q: You’re retiring from the Marine Corps after more than 30 years. What was your biggest disappointment?

A: When my unit got activated for Desert Storm. We got split up into three groups. One group got sent to invade Kuwait, while one group stayed on the West Coast. I got sent to South America for counter-drug operations. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to war. But we saw a lot more combat down there than the guys did who went into Kuwait.

Q: Von Clausewitz said war is diplomacy by other means. How does that relate to Iraq and Afghanistan?

A: Now it’s the other way around. Diplomacy is war by other means. It means that it is no longer up to the world leaders and the guys on top to figure out how to end fighting. The guys on the ground have to do that job. In Iraq, I told them they need to get out of their vehicles and get to know the locals one on one. They say talk is cheap. Yes, but it’s also cheaper than bombs, bullets, and human lives. The best way to know your enemy is to talk to them.

Q: Now that you’re a civilian again, what are your plans?

A: I’ll go back into business. There’s some defense consulting work and foundation boards I’m on. But I intend to work at getting the government to do the right thing for its wounded vets. There are about 300 million American citizens right now. I’ll be just one in 300 million, but I’ll make sure my voice is heard.

Q: Any plan to move out of Lake Highlands?

A: Absolutely none. We like the established atmosphere—trees, great neighbors. It’s a great place to grow up. Right now, the Greatest Generation is moving on, and what’s replacing them is the young Gen Xs and Gen Ys. They’re moving into the neighborhood now, and I think it’s great.