Quiet lives, earthshaking events
When you’re driving down Main Street in any city or town in America, you probably don’t realize that you are driving within a few blocks of the homes of people whose lives have directly touched some of the most monumental events in the history of the world.
Take Sara Williams and her husband, the late Llewellyn “Ludy” Williams, for example. They both lived most of their lives in the Shenango Valley without any inkling that Ludy would be involved with one of the most earth-shaking events (literally) of all times.
Sara was born in Conneautville, PA, in 1922 to Robert Lee Mason and Mable Wood Mason.
“My ancestors came from England,” Sara said. “My uncle told me that we were descendents of William the Conqueror.”
Her family moved to Farrell a short time later when her father got a job with the Colonial Trust Company, on Broadway at the corner of Haywood Street.
Sara enjoyed growing up in Farrell, even though she had to walk two miles down to Fruit Avenue to go to school.
“In the winter, my dad would flood the back yard and let us skate on it so he didn’t have to take up to Buhl Park,” Sara said. “We were at the top of Park Avenue, which was on a hill, and everybody would come there to sled ride down the hill. It seemed like everybody was at our house all the time because my dad would do things with them. He taught us girls all to dance so we could go to the dances.”
Sara and her sisters had their fair share of chores.
“The three of us had to clean the house,” she said. “Every other weekend it was my turn. My kid sister Margie was seven years younger than me, so my sister Helen would clean one weekend and I would clean the next. But we had a radio right there in the living room so we could listen to that while we were cleaning.”
During the Depression, the sisters couldn’t always have whatever they wanted. Once Sara wanted a new pair of shoes, but her father said no because the shoes she had were perfectly good, and one pair of shoes was enough for anyone. So when she thought no one was looking, she did what she could to scuff up the toes. Unfortunately, her father caught her.
As a child, Sara loved to sing.
“My grandmother was an opera singer, so that’s where I got my voice,” she said. “My Dad had a lovely singing voice, too. He was choir director in church, so when I turned twelve, I was in the choir.”
She met Ludy Williams while she was still in high school.
“He worked at the Gulf station down on Fruit Avenue. I would go in there for gas, and he would always put the gas in and then give me the change back, whether I was driving or not.”
But when he asked her out on a date, she was nervous because he was about four years older than she was. She said yes, but then she stood him up. When Ludy arrived to pick her up, her father said she had gone to the movies with her mother. Ludy asked her father if he could have permission to date his daughter. Her father said yes. And that was not only the start of a romance with Sara, but also the beginning of a close lifelong friendship with her father.
Sara was a member of the first class to graduate from the new Farrell High School in 1940. Then she got a job in the office of the Williams Brothers Coal Yard. She continued to date Ludy until he went into the Army Air Force. They got married on December 21, 1943, in the living room of Sara’s parents’ house, while he was home on leave. They spent their honeymoon in the house of one of her parents’ friends.
“When my husband was gone in the service,” Sara said, “I was an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. I’d go pick up people and take them to their doctors. I thoroughly enjoyed it because I felt like I was doing something.”
Ludy was assigned to the South Pacific as an aircraft mechanic. He worked his way up to be a crew chief (head mechanic) on B-29 bombers, among the largest and most sophisticated aircraft of World War II. With a wing span nearly as wide as a football field, they were powered by four huge 18-cylinder radial engines.
But the B29s were a mechanic’s nightmare because they were rushed into service before their engines could be adequately developed and tested. They had the disturbing trait of overheating and catching on fire. After just 25 hours of flying, or about four missions, five of the cylinders would have to be replaced. After 75 hours, the entire engine was scrapped.
The B29s flew hundreds of bombing missions against Japan, mostly from the islands of Tinian, Guam, and Saipan, where Ludy was stationed. The most famous was the mission of the Enola Gay. On August 6, 1945, it dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
“After he got home from the Pacific,” his wife Sara said, “he told me he had worked on the Enola Gay.”
After the war, Ludy continued to work as a mechanic, first for an auto dealer, and then for Brookfield Dairy. It was a far cry from the work on massive planes and aircraft engines, but he gave it the same kind of commitment.
“He was a really good mechanic so they sent him out whenever a truck broke down,” Sara said. “Sometimes he worked from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. The only time I’d see him is when he came home for supper. But he had Saturday and Sunday off.”
Their daughter Debra was born in 1946,and son Robert (better known as Chip) followed in 1950.
The family made good use of the time whenever Ludy was not working.
“I enjoyed going hunting with Dad,” Debbie said, “and going on camping trips with the family to Cook Forest, Edinboro Lake, and Canadohta Lake. I used to love the campfires and the scary stories.”
Ludy and his father-in-law were the best of friends.
“The relationship between my dad and my husband was wonderful,” Sara said. “They did everything together. They really loved to go hunting and fishing together.”
Brookfield Dairy appreciated the way Ludy worked for them.
“We went to Bermuda once,” Sara said. “They paid for half of it because no matter what they asked him to do, he would do it.”
Ludy was also handy around the house.
“When we moved into our house, the attic was unfinished,” Debbie said. “Dad finished it. He would have to think a project all through before he started. It always turned out beautiful, because he put on all of the finishing touches.”
Sara was a Girl Scout leader for many years. The troop spent a lot of time at Happy Acres Camp between Hartsdale and Jamestown.
“Just getting together was fun,” she said. “My co-leader was Margie Thompson. She had a big house on a farm with a big yard. We used to love going there. We took trips to businesses like Wonder Bread in Youngstown to see how things were done.”
The highlight was she took the girls to the National Girl Scout Jamboree in Washington, DC.
“They toured in their uniforms. We were welcomed everywhere.”
Sara and her family were members of the Farrell Presbyterian Church.
“I’ve always been in church because my parents went. The church in Farrell closed in 1973 so we joined Covenant Presbyterian Church in Sharon. I used to be in the Presbyterian Women of Covenant Church. I’m president of the Ruth Circle. We help with whatever is going on in church. And I’m still in the choir. I have been in it for 73 years and I love it. When I was ill last year I sat down on Sunday. I felt like crying because I wasn’t up there.”
Unfortunately, Ludy and his father-in-law shared not only a friendship, but also a habit that brought them both down. They both smoked heavily, and both died of lung cancer – Robert Mason in 1976, and Ludy in 1983, just one year after he retired from Brookfield Dairy.
You could have known Ludy for years without knowing of his touch with history during World War II. And that’s okay, because as big a moment as it is in history books, it was just one small incident in the lives of Ludy and Sara Williams. Far more significant is the impact they had with the rest of their lives – at work, at home, at church, and in the community.
Sara still lives in Hermitage. Her daughter Debra Bowen has two sons, Daryl and Douglas, and lives in Conneautville. Her son Chip has two daughters, Kristen and Lindsey, and lives in Illinois.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 2, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2008