Snapshots of service: Veterans Day concert to feature photos of local military members

October 29, 2009 

  • Monday is the final day to submit photos of Beaufort County high school graduates, faculty and staff members who have served or are serving in the armed forces. The photos will be part of the Veterans Day Concert and Celebration at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at the John J. McVey Performing Arts Center at Battery Creek High School in Beaufort. To submit photos, e-mail Please include the person's full name, the high school he or she attended, branch of service and dates served. Details: 843-322-5580.

Patriotism and love of country is a natural part of life for Fran and Emma Williamson, but they don't take it for granted.

Photos of uniformed family members line the walls of their Mossy Oaks neighborhood home. Half of their eight children served in the armed forces, while others married spouses in the service. They have 14 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren, as well.

The family is represented in every branch of the armed forces.

When they heard about the opportunity to share photos to honor veterans, they didn't skip the chance to submit theirs to the upcoming Veterans Day event hosted by four Beaufort County high schools.

Fran, 86, who served for 15 years in the S.C. State Guard, retired as a colonel and was commander of the S.C. State Guard Operations Augmentation Detachment on Hilton Head Island. Fran also served 20 years in the Marine Corps and 10 years in the Fleet Reserve.

While Emma, 82, didn't enlist, she certainly served, working for more than 20 years for the Demosthenes Co. at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. Her first job was sewing chevrons on uniforms. By the time she retired in 1989, she was the only person to sew dress blues for the Corps on the East Coast. Fran joked: "Emma is a First Sergeant around here."

Emma and her two sisters married Marines. Emma had three children, then in 1968 married Fran, a widower with five children. Their eight children graduated from Beaufort High School.

The Williamsons are proud that their patriotism has carried over into a new generation. They enjoy telling stories about the three Purple Hearts son Frank D. Williamson of the Atlanta area received before retiring from the U.S. Army.

They show off pictures of son Walter Gilbert, saluting on his first visit home from Vietnam. Walter was awarded the Bronze Star and now is retired in Hinesville, Ga.

They love talking about how their daughters served, as well. Deborah Gilbert Barreto served in the Air Force, helping with air evacuations of soldiers in Vietnam. Barreto now works as a respiratory therapist in Savannah and lives in the Okatie area.

Then there's Virginia Williamson Shirley, who now lives in Rocky Mount, Va., and has worked as a Navy pharmacist mate for 17 years.

The couple's youngest daughter, Janice DuBay, is married to a Navy captain.

The Williamsons have supported many military groups throughout their marriage. Fran was state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, while Emma was a National Council member. Both have worked in the schools to educate children about their freedom, the military and government documents. They've also placed flags in area cemeteries and participated in every Veterans Day parade since they married.

This year, the Williamsons are hoping to get front row seats at the Veterans Day Concert and Celebration at Battery Creek High School. The event is hosted by Battery Creek, Beaufort, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island high schools.

The final day to submit photos for a presentation during the celebration is Monday. Photos must be of Beaufort County high school graduates, faculty and staff members who have served or are serving in the armed forces.

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