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World War II hero is turning 100

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HappyBirthday STOCK

From Enterprise Staff

Ellis “Willie”  WilliamsonEllis “Willie” WilliamsonEllis “Willie” Williamson will celebrate his 100th birthday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Onalaska Fire Station located at 181 Old Groveton Rd. in Onalaska and is inviting everyone to join him in the celebration. Lunch will be served at 11:30 and will consist of fish, chicken strips, potato salad, beans and all the fixings, with birthday cake to follow.

Williamson served in the 397th – 599th Army Air Corp of the U.S. Air Force as a staff sergeant flight engineer/gunner. Hailing from Gallatin, Texas, Williamson was born April 16, 1923 and graduated from Gallatin High School in June 1941. He reported for duty to the Army Air Corp in Houston in February 1943 and went on to Kessler Air Force Base in Mississippi for basic training, then Fort Meyer, Fla. for flight training, gunnery and aerial gunnery training.

In mid-1944 he shipped out with the 397th BG to Rivenhall, England until D-Day and was then based in Dreux, France. He was assigned as a flight engineer/gunner on a B26 marauder bomber and his duties were to double check the ground crew’s preparation for light, make sure the gas tanks were full, battle damage repaired and then man the top turret as gunner.

Williamson shared stories of some of the events that occurred on his missions. Of the mission over LeHavre Submarine Station, he said, “Ours and 11 other planes went with no bombs or escorts to attract gunfire so other bombers could bomb the submarine station. It was a very eventful day. Fighter planes were everywhere. We were lucky. There were over 100 holes in the plane with no injuries or severe damage. We got back, patched the holes and then went to debriefing. Usually, on a mission a day lasted on average three to four hours.

“On D-Day, we flew two missions with the first one leaving in the dark before sunup. I manned the top turret, could not see the water, but saw the flashes of the battleship’s guns on this mission to bomb Normandy Beach. We would normally fly at 12,000 feet but that day came in at 6,000-7,000 feet. We could see the anti-aircraft guns on the ground firing when our plane tilted. When we turned around, I could see the beach live with fire everywhere. We made it back and reloaded for the second mission around 2 p.m., bombing roads and tanks.

“My last mission, the 65th, before shipping home, I never made it,” he said. “On Dec. 24, 1944, I was to be on a ship, headed to New York for New Year’s with my fiancé. I was all packed and all my belongings had been loaded on the ship. On Dec. 23, 1944, it was to be my last and final mission to complete my tour of duty. Sixty-five missions but I only made 64½.

“The Battle of the Bulge was raging, the air cleared and everything that could fly was in the air – including the Luftwaffe. The 397th target was Eller Bridge, to cut the enemy supply line from the Bulge. Flying under clouds at 8,000 feet the flak was intense. The plane’s left engine was hit, landing gear was tangling down. A shell exploded in the compartment behind the engine, starting the fire in the oil tank and oil lines.

“I got out of the turret, pulled the fire extinguisher, but was not enough to put out the fire. The waist gunner had been shot in the stomach but was still alive. The tail gunner and I tied off his rip cord and threw him out the Bombay door. The pilot gave the orders to bail out. The tail gunner went out the waist window, the bombardier was coming from the nose of the plane, the pilot was standing in the door of the radio room and the co-pilot was at the controls. Those were the positions of the crew when I bailed out. The co-pilot was in the prison camp and they found the bodies of the pilot and bombardier in the wreckage of the plane. Three of us survived and three perished with the plane.”

William was a prisoner of war from Dec. 23, 1944 until he was liberated at the end of April, 1945.

“We jumped at approximately 7,000 feet, never having parachuted before. After bailing out of the plane, the parachute opened immediately. I was looking for the plane but never saw it again. Landing in deep snow, I was taken prisoner by German soldiers immediately. I had hurt my knee and one of the German soldiers carried my parachute for a while. They asked me if I had a gun. I took my .45-caliber pistol out of my flight suit pant leg, put the clip in my pocket and gave them the gun.

“I was taken to Bitburg, Germany, a German outpost and held in a basement until the American planes stopped bombing, two hours after capture, then taken to a farmhouse where they left my gun on the windowsill and left me alone for 30 minutes. They came back and took me to a store-like building and met up with a ground soldier who was also captured. Sirens started for an air raid. The Germans took us to the basement again to keep us safe. After it was over, we and the German soldiers helped all the people that were hit by the bombs. Then everyone disappeared.

“We went with the guard and helped push a truck to a cemetery. We spent our first night there in a small building. The next day was Christmas Eve. The ground soldier and I found half of a sugar beet. I’ll never forget. Christmas Eve dinner was one-quarter of a sugar beet. That would be the last food we got until Jan. 17, 1945.

“We’re now on the way to Koblenz, Germany and we are 15 prisoners. We left there and just started walking, southeast I think, gathering other prisoners as we went. By the 17th of January, we were up to 150 prisoners. On this day we were given one number two can of cheese for two people, one loaf of black bread for three people and one blanket for two people. The other soldier and I cut our blanket in half to share. Before this, the only thing we had to eat was snow, grass, tree bark and anything else we could find on the walk. I went from 180 pounds to 118 pounds in my time as a POW.

“We made it to Nuremburg, Germany and there the food was better. From Nuremburg, to Munich there were 15,000 POWs by now. Americans, British, French, Italians all going now to our final destination – Stalag 7A POW Camp. The ground soldier and I had walked over 400-plus miles in winter conditions. I was not long in the POW camp, most of my time had been walking.

“On or about April 29, 1945, we were liberated by General Patton. He came for a brief speech and we were all anxious and excited. The German soldiers all surrendered willingly. Giving their guns to their captains or commanders, some ran, not many, mostly all were very polite. At this time the Red Cross gave all POWs a postcard to fill out for your family to let them know you were found, freed and alive. Bonfires and great joy.

“It was during my flight back to LeHavre, France to start the journey home when we were told the war had ended. We boarded a Liberty Ship, Troup Carrier for 10 days to New York. I took a train for six days to San Antonio, then a bus to Gallatin. Along my journey home, I met up with my fiancé, Antoinette Lima, married, and later honeymooned in Miami on my R&R from the army. The very day I walked on our porch to see my family, the mailman delivered my Red Cross postcard from the POW camp to my mom.”

Afterward, Williamson was awarded the Air Medal with two silver oak leaf clusters and two bronze clusters and several others. He worked from then on, retiring three times in his life. He retired in 1979 after 30-plus years as a paint salesman with Celanese Coating Co. He retired the second time in 1983 after owning and operating 18-wheelers. He retired for the third and last time in 1990 after seven years in sales at Devoe Paint.

His wife of 45 years, Antoinette, passed in 1990. They had three children, four grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. He remarried Priscilla Carrick and gained two stepdaughters but she passed in 2020.

As for his time in the service, he said, “I wouldn’t give anything for it, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.”

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Local student accepted to Yale


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By Brian Besch
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Two weeks ago, Livingston High School student Mallory Lester learned that she had been accepted into one of the country’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning. She plans to attend Yale University in the fall. A dream for many who excel in academics, the school founded in 1701 consistently ranks amongst the country’s elite.

“When I started in the fall, I only applied to one school,” Mallory said of beginning the college search process. “I got accepted into that school, but I had my eye on this really specific program at that school. It was a scholar honors program, but I got rejected from that in November. I was really scared, because it was my only plan.

“It was pretty late in the process to start looking at more colleges, but that’s when I found Yale. I applied to one more college that I would kind of like to go to, but Yale was definitely always the top choice. I visited all three of my schools and I really liked all of them, so I definitely had a really nice plan B. But it worked out for plan A, so that was really good.”

Mallory was accepted into Baylor in early October. She also applied to Belmont in Nashville, and was accepted there as well.

“My parents and my sister and my grandparents and aunts and uncles all went to Baylor, so I kind of already knew the community established there,” she said. “Especially in the early fall, I didn’t really know what I wanted to major in. I had my eye set on this specific program, because it was interdisciplinary and it let you bring in all these different classes and didn’t make you declare a major. Through the fall and through applying to Baylor and praying and thinking it through, I decided to major in education psychology, which is the study of the education system and how it works with child behavior.

“After I didn’t get into Baylor (the scholar honors program), Belmont has an education studies major and that is why I applied there. I was actually just Google searching for what is the best education studies program in the nation, and Yale came up. I was like, ‘Sure, I’ll apply. I might as well just go for it.’ And here we are.”

Two weeks ago, Mallory received a message informing her of the good news. That Thursday was “Ivy Day,” which typically occurs in late March or early April. It is the day that all Ivy League schools release a list of those who have been accepted. This year, the Ivy League schools received a record number of applications.

“It was at 6 p.m. and since Yale was the only Ivy I applied to, I wasn’t checking all these different things,” Mallory said. “I was just open on my application portal and it popped up that I had a status update. I clicked on it and it was just this video of bulldogs – because that is their mascot – and they were dancing and there was music. I was just really confused, and I thought, ‘I guess I got in, I don’t know. Why are these Bulldogs having a party?’ Then, I clicked through, and it was the whole letter and congratulations, and then it all made sense.”

The accomplishment is well deserved. Mallory has not made a grade lower than an A throughout her high school career. When trying to think back if she had ever been graded lower, she said there may have been something in junior high, but couldn’t recall. She is currently rated at the top of the Livingston senior class, but also participates in extracurricular activities. She is an all-state performer in choir, a cheerleader, and recently won first place for the second time in UIL academic writing competition. She is the student body president, hosts the Lions’ Live News broadcast, is part of the worship team at First Student Ministries and participates in American Sign Language.

Yale University has a 5% acceptance rate, and the application process is a lengthy one. Applicants write eight different essays and take part in interviews prior to being considered. Mallory said she labored over the assignments with editing help from a few family members through much of the Christmas break. Upon receiving her acceptance letter, the university also sent the statistics, claiming that 52,248 applied and only 2,275 were admitted.

The school located in New Haven, Connecticut, does not force students to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year. Mallory plans to take advantage of that by taking courses from different fields of study to determine her path.

“Right now, the plan is to go in studying humanities and psychology, kind of with a certificate in education psychology to study child development and human behavior, but also, the ethical and policy aspect of the education system, so I can use those as a duality for whatever I decide to do when I figure out my career. I’m definitely going to explore a lot my first two years, but that is kind of the main track.”

You may have heard the weather in Texas isn’t quite the same in the northeast, and there will be preparation for cooler days.

“Over spring break, we flew out to Nashville and then flew over to Connecticut to look at Yale and take a tour there. It was probably in the 40s, so it was cold, but it wasn’t like snowy miserable. I know it gets that way. I am definitely not prepared as of right now and I’m not really a cold kind of person. I’ve heard from lots of students at Yale that it’s not bad and you get used to the change pretty fast. I’m also not a 110-degrees type of person.”

The future Ivy Leaguer was quick to give credit to those who helped her along the way. Citing assistance from family and teachers, Mallory is thankful for the success she is now enjoying.

“I’ve really just been reflecting on how my teachers really did prepare me for this. Starting from a long time ago, my sixth grade GT teacher taught me how to do an interview and to look people in the eyes. My seventh-grade writing teacher taught me how to use imagery. I just have all of these people through junior high and high school that gave me all of these skills. It definitely was not a ‘me’ accomplishment by any means. I had so many people read over my essays and write me recommendation letters and help me practice interview questions. It was definitely a God thing and everybody that helped me get here to make me who I am.”

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CASA of the Pines focuses on supporting families during National Child Abuse Prevention Month

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From Enterprise Staff

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and CASA of the Pines is raising awareness of the need for more dedicated members of the community to step up and become CASA volunteers and help end child abuse and neglect through supporting children and their families.

CASA volunteers, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, are everyday people from all walks of life who are recruited and specially trained to advocate for children in foster care and provide a consistent, reliable adult presence for them during a difficult time in their life.

“Our volunteers’ first priority is to keep families together whenever safe and possible,” Natalie Thornton, executive director of CASA of the Pines, said. “Foster care is only a temporary solution to the problems at hand. We need to create long term support networks that work to care for families, make reunification a possibility, and help break the cycle for the next generation.”

CASA volunteers are assigned to one child or sibling group to advocate for their best interest in court, in school and in other settings. They get to know the child and everyone involved in their life, such as their parents and other family members, foster parents, therapists, caseworkers and teachers, in order to develop a realistic picture of the child’s unique situation. They engage those important to the child and family in order to build a network of support around them, so that the family has access to support and resources after the case ends. They make recommendations to the judge overseeing the child’s case, with the goal of ensuring that the child is safe and the family has the resources, support and healthy relationships needed to heal.

Locally, CASA of the Pines served 345 children in the foster care system in Angelina, Houston and Polk counties in 2022. This April, consider stepping up to make a difference by becoming a CASA volunteer. Training sessions are ongoing and available to work around your lifestyle and schedule.

“There is always a need for more CASA volunteers,” Thornton said. “By becoming a volunteer, you can take your efforts beyond just awareness, and do your part to help support children and families in crisis right here in our community.”   

When reunification is not a possibility for the children they serve, CASA volunteers work to find others that can provide a positive, healthy and loving environment. These can include relatives, friends or other adults that are important in the child’s life – keeping a child connected to their home community.

“We at CASA of the Pines always hope for the day when CASA, foster care and a national month dedicated to child abuse prevention are no longer needed because all children are growing up safe, secure and supported with their families,” Thornton said. “Until then, we will continue to seek more members of the community to join our growing movement so that we can provide a CASA volunteer for every child who needs one.”

If you see abuse, report it to 1-800-252-5400 or go to www.txabusehotline.org. If a child’s life is in danger, call 911. For more information on CASA, visit www.BecomeaCASA.org or www.casapines.org.


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Tribe staying active at state capitol

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Sen. Robert Nichols (center) stands with members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas during Alabama-Coushatta Day at the State Capitol on Feb. 7. Courtesy photoSen. Robert Nichols (center) stands with members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas during Alabama-Coushatta Day at the State Capitol on Feb. 7. Courtesy photo

From Enterprise Staff

Citizens of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas are taking an active role in this year’s session of the Texas Legislature to increase awareness of the tribe and the widespread economic benefit provided by Naskila Casino.

On March 22, Nita Battise, vice-chairperson of the Alabama Coushatta Tribe of Texas’ Tribal Council, testified before the Texas House State Affairs Committee at the Texas Capitol in Austin. The committee was holding a hearing on House Joint Resolution 155 and House Bill 2843, both of which propose allowing destination casinos in Texas similar to those in Las Vegas.

Battise emphasized that any expansion of gaming in Texas should include the state’s three federally recognized tribes, all of which currently operate electronic bingo facilities on their reservations.

“Any gaming compact between the Texas federally recognized Indian Tribes must address the issue of revenue sharing and explicitly provide for zones of exclusivity for tribal gaming operations,” Battise said. “The reason that any revenue sharing with the state must be modest and tribes must be afforded meaningful zones of exclusivity is because tribal gaming operations use their gaming revenue to fund the vital governmental needs of our tribes.”

To her point, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas uses its gaming revenue to improve and provide housing for tribal citizens, assist with medical expenses, support its tribal police and fire departments, assist tribal elders, and to cover post-high school education costs of tribal members. Moreover, a recent study by the Texas Forest County Partnership found that Naskila Casino on the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation is responsible for more than 800 jobs and injects approximately $212 million dollars annually into the economy of Polk County.

Pursuant to federal law, tribes that want to offer Las Vegas-style gaming can only do so if the tribes enter into a tribal-state gaming compact with their state governor. Rep. Mary Gonzalez of El Paso has introduced HJR 156, which would require Governor Greg Abbott to enter into state gaming contracts with the three Texas tribes. HJR 156 has not yet been scheduled for a legislative hearing.

The March 22 hearing was not the only time the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas has made its presence felt at the Texas Capitol this year. The Tribe celebrated its Capitol Day on Feb. 7, inviting legislators to a lunch on the Capitol grounds with the tribal council, tribal citizens and other elected leaders from Deep East Texas. The tribe was recognized in the Texas Senate by Sen. Robert Nichols and in the Texas House of Representatives by Rep. Trent Ashby.

“We are proud to be engaged with our elected leaders at the local, state and federal level,” Tribal Council Chairman Ricky Sylestine said. “Our tribe wants to continue to work with legislators to ensure that we are treated fairly and we can continue to provide a significant economic benefit to our tribal citizens and Deep East Texas.”

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Man in officer-involved shooting incident dead

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By Emily Banks Wooten
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A 66-year-old Livingston man is dead following an officer-involved shooting that occurred Sunday night in the 100 block of Pan American Drive in Livingston. The Texas Department of Public Safety Texas Rangers are leading the ongoing investigation.

Preliminary information indicates that officers with the Livingston Police Department and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of a man displaying a gun outside the Exxon Super Stop Food Mart located at 111 Pan American Dr. Upon arrival, the individual was located and commanded in both English and Spanish to drop his weapon. The individual pointed the gun at officers and was shot by first responders.

Officers immediately began administering life-saving measures until emergency personnel arrived, transporting the individual to St. Luke’s Health - Memorial Hospital in Livingston where he was pronounced dead. The individual was identified as Jose Luis Hernandez.

As the investigation continues, no additional information was available at press time.

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