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Springfield veteran Lester 'Skip' Williams remembered in the arts, entertainment community

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SPRINGFIELD — Lester “Skip” Williams is one of three men who helped to install the Vietnam Memorial Monument at Mason Square.

As one of the oldest monuments erected while the war was still in progress and one of the only monuments that honors African American Vietnam veterans in the nation, Williams’ legacy will be remembered in the Springfield arts and entertainment community for his philanthropy and dedication to his country.

Williams, who died on July 9, had a lightsome and joyful personality that was infectious, said William “Billy” Myers, Williams’ nephew and artistic director and chief curator for Art for the Soul Gallery in Springfield.

A memorial will be held Nov 14 at 3 pm at the Massachusetts Veterans Cemetery in Agawam. In lieu of flowers, donations to Homes for Our Troops and National Indian Council on Aging can be made in Williams’ honor.

Born in Springfield, in 1936, Williams attended school in the city and later served in the US Army during the Korean War.

Eddie Lee was 10 years old when Williams was discharged from the Army. They lived on the same street and became like brothers.

“Skip was already putting on a lot of talent shows and concerts,” Lee said. “There was so much talent and he gave artists a platform to sing, dance and showcase their talent. So many groups came from all over.”

According to Lee, the journey into the music industry brought Williams to the Los Angeles area, where he worked with world-renowned artists and as a road manager for the Motown group The Originals.

The granite monument started off as a kitchen table dream after Williams heard the back-to-back terrible news that two of his friends, US Army Pvt. Gus Stovall Jr. and Army Spc. Ronald Charles Hurst, were killed in Vietnam.

“Once he heard of our friends Ronny and Gus passing, he started to hold more concerts to raise money for the monument in, at that time, what we called Winchester Square. That is where we would all hang out and enjoy each other’s company, especially on the weekends,” Lee said.

Williams, who once called Springfield a “little Motown,” was inspired to roll up his sleeves and make something big happen.

Williams collaborated with nightclub owner Richard Sibilia, local promoter and photographer James B. Bradley and the entertainment community for a series of concerts that were successful fundraisers.

Installed in 1968, the monument adorned with an eagle and wings raised above its head honors the Black citizens and residents of the neighborhood who gave their lives in the war.

The tall stone has a center message, three stars and is followed by the names of Hurst, Stovall, Marine Lance Cpl. David Lee Owens, Army Spc. Norman Carl Farris and Air Force Sgt. James Cecil Starnes.

The monument reads, “In memory of the Negro men that gave their lives in Vietnam in service of their country.”

At the 50-year commemoration of the monument, the eagle’s wings were enhanced with gold and Mayor Domenic J. Sarno marked June 15, 2018, as “Skip Williams Day” in the city of Springfield.

Williams, who had by that time moved to Lancaster, California, met up back up with his neighborhood pal Lee.

“We were 5 minutes away from each other,” said Lee, who still lives in Lancaster. “He was the most beloved man I knew. He knew everybody and everybody knew him. I always told him I would give him his braces before he passed. From 1999 until his passing, we were always close.”

Williams was a proud father, grandfather, great grandfather, uncle and friend.

In addition to working with veterans, Williams was also an active participant in Native American communities.