William H. Mays was born in Round Rock, Texas in 1925. When he was about nine years old, his family moved to Austin where he continued to attend public schools until, at age 17, he enlisted for service during WWII. He was in his Junior year at L.C. Anderson High School (the old segregated L.C. Anderson High for Black-only students) when he dropped out, entering active duty in the Marine Corps in October 1943.
He was sent to Monteford Point at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina where he was assigned to the 20th Marine Depot Company. Prior to WWII, there had never before been any Black troop units in the history of the Marine Corps; and William reported in just when large numbers of Black Marines were being formed into Ammunition Companies and Depot Companies, all at Monteford Point, and then deployed to the Pacific Theatre. Depot Companies moved supplies at Forward Area Support Bases, and in combat, performing ship-to-shore movement of essential supplies and equipment, and shore party operations.
William Mays 20th Marine Depot Company participated in the invasion of Saipan, in the Marianas, and was sent ashore on the first day, June 15, 1944. The Company Commander of the 20th Depot Company, Captain William C. Adams later reported, My company landed about 2PM on D-Day on Yellow Beach, supporting 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, 4th Marine Division. We were in the 3rd Wave and all hell was breaking when we came in. It was still touch and go when we hit shore, and it took some time to establish a foothold. These were (the 20th Depot Company) the first Negro troops ever to go into action in the Marine Corps .Private Kenneth Tibbs who died of wounds on D-Day, was the first Black Marine fatality as the result of enemy action in WWII.
The 20th Marine Depot Company was also later committed to action during the fighting on Okinawa. The company was shipped from Saipan and arrived on Okinawa during April 1945 (the assault landings took place on April 1st ).
After V-J Day, and the end of the war in the Pacific, William Mays Company was sent to Tsingtao in Shantung Province, in support of the 6th Marine Division, III Amphibious Corps. Chinese laborers were employed to do most of the work in moving supplies, so the troops of the 20th Depot Company served as security and guards as III Corps repatriated the surrendered Japanese troops and civilians from Northern China back to the Japanese homeland. Upon completion of that mission, the attack transport, USS BOLIVAR (APA-34), picked up the 20th Depot Company at Tsingtao and sailed for San Diego. Upon arrival at Camp Pendleton, California, the company was inactivated and William Mays was among the men discharged there. Those from the eastern United States were sent by train back to Montford Point and by February 21, 1946, the last of the men in the company had all been discharged from the Marine Corps.
William Mays arrived back home in Austin from Camp Pendleton in February 1946. After vocational training, he was employed for two years as a journeyman plumber by Mr. Ernest Money who was one of only two Black Master Plumbers that were in business in Austin during that period. After two years of civilian life, William Mays enlisted in the Army.
He entered active duty on June 11, 1948 and was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington and the 2nd Infantry Division. In Washington, William was married to Ruthie, a girl from back home in Texas (from Hutto). During the two years that he was assigned to Fort Lewis before the Korean War began, their only child, daughter Josephine was born. On June 25, 1950 the North Korean Army attacked South Korea and everyones life changed.
The 2nd Infantry Division was the first division in the United States to be shipped to Korea. Units of the division were moved as quickly as possible and committed to action, piecemeal, upon arrival. Corporal William Mays was in Company I, 9th Infantry. The regiment debarked in Pusan harbor on July 31, 1950 and was quickly deployed to become part of the defenses of the Naktong River Line. On August 11th, Company I was engaged in a combat action for which William was later decorated for heroism and during which he sustained wounds that put him out of the war. His citation for the Bronze Star follows.
The Bronze Star
With V Device
William H. Mays, Corporal, Company I, 9th Infantry Regiment
Award of the Bronze Star Medal
Headquarters 2nd Infantry Division, General Order 83, dated 30 Oct 1950
Distinguished himself by heroic achievement on 11 August 1950 in the vicinity of Pohang-Dong, Korea. On that morning, his company was proceeding to the assistance of another rifle company which had been ambushed and pinned down by the enemy. Approximately two miles from Pohang-Dong his company was suddenly subjected to intense enemy small arms fire. Corporal Mays, a light machine gun squad leader, took cover in a shallow ditch by the road, and his squad took cover on the opposite side of the road. After first trying to locate his squad, he exposed himself to the intense hostile fire, retrieved the machine gun and commenced to deliver fire against the enemy. At the first burst of fire from his gun, the enemy directed the full fury of their attack against his position and hurling hand grenades, several wounded him. Despite his painful wound, and indifferent to the intense fire to which he was subjected, he continued to fire his weapon with devastating effect until his ammunition was exhausted. His determination and unflinching devotion to duty were instrumental in forcing the enemy to withdraw, and allowed his company to proceed on its mission. The heroism displayed by Corporal Mays on this occasion reflects great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States. Entered the military service from Texas.
After the engagement, Corporal Mays had multiple minor wounds from enemy small arms fire and hand grenades, but he had sustained a massive injury to his right foot from one of the hand grenade explosions. He was medevaced back home to Texas for treatment in Corpus Christi Naval Hospital. Months later, when the operations had all been completed, he was missing the big toe, the one next to it, and part of the ball of his foot. Following that, William was sent to Murphy Army Hospital in Waltham, Massachusetts, for more months of rehabilitation.
After his hospital treatment and rehab, William Mays returned to duty at Fort Lewis, Washington. He would serve there for the next eight years, initially in the 1401st Engineer Battalion and later at Madigan Army Hospital in Tacoma, as a wheeled vehicle maintenance NCO. In fact, he would be a motor pool sergeant in every assignment for the remainder of his Army career. One year at Fort Lewis, he was with the post championship basketball team (and he has the photo to prove it).
In 1959 he was ordered to Germany where he served an unaccompanied tour in Frankfurt. Returning to the U.S. in 1961, he was assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas for one year and then in 1962 was sent back to Europe. This time he took an accompanied tour, with dependents, and served from 1962-1965 at Karlsruhe. Knowing that he was approaching retirement, upon their return from Germany, Ruthie and Josephine established a home in Austin while William served out his remaining months with 3rd Brigade, 2nd Armored Division, Hell On Wheels, at Fort Hood.
Staff Sergeant William Mays retired from the Army at Fort Hood, Texas in March 1966 and joined his family at home in Austin. He then found employment with the postal service and worked a second career, all of which was in the Main Post Office, first at the old 9th Street location, and then out at Cross Park Drive when it was moved from downtown. When he retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 1996, he had a combined total of forty-four years of federal service. Last year, William lost his wife Ruthie after 58 years together. He had joined the Military Order of the Purple Heart shortly after our chapter was formed, and this month, Chapter 1919 proudly salutes Patriot William H. Mays. Patriot William H. Mays, a Korean War wounded Army veteran, died October 13, 2011 at age 86.