Marine Lance Cpl. Michael J. Williams

Marine Lance Cpl. Michael J. Williams

Died March 23, 2003 serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom

31, of Yuma, Ariz.; assigned to 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; killed in action near Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Arizona native had as strong a will as physique, Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Williams was “a big teddy bear big and strong” with strong opinions to match, his mother said after he was listed as missing in action in southern Iraq. Early on March 29, she got official word that her 6-foot-4, 240-pound son was dead. Officials said Williams, 31, died in a dawn ambush March 23 on the outskirts of Nasiriyah, an embattled town on the Euphrates River. His body was recovered March 28. “Mike is with his Lord and in a much better place,” his mother, Sandy Watson of Peoria, Ariz., told The Arizona Republic. Williams had a successful flooring business in his hometown of Phoenix when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks spurred him to quit and join the Marines. He said he wanted to make a difference in the world. He had dropped out of Deer Valley High School in suburban Phoenix, then earned his diploma as an adult and gone on to Glendale Community College. His comrades in boot camp, most of them 10 years younger, nicknamed him “Pops” and “Omar,” short for “Old Man River.” Williams was a forward observer who carried a 60mm mortar on his back for the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. “I couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s a hero,” said Williams’ fianc�e, Heather Strange of Phoenix. They got engaged by e-mail in January while he was en route by ship to the Persian Gulf. They had known each other for years. They finally declared their feelings for each other over Christmas, his final visit home on leave. En route to Iraq, Williams had an allergic reaction to smallpox vaccine and could have shipped home, Strange said. “He said, ‘I don’t want to leave like this. I don’t want to take the easy way out.’ He’s a very determined person. He does not give up for anything, no matter what. Strange sent Williams more than 75 letters, one for every day he was abroad. She wears one of his dog tags around her neck. Her sister, Lisa, is married to his brother, Joe. All are members of North Phoenix Baptist Church, where Mike Williams was baptized at age 10. Funeral arrangements there are pending. On March 30, 2,400 members of the congregation prayed for Williams, for his family, for 15 other church members serving in the Middle East — and for the Iraqis. “We’re instructed to pray for our enemies,” associate pastor Dick Stafford said. “For the Iraqi people, for their leaders and for the tens of thousands of innocent civilians affected on their side.”

USA Today, Associated Press

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