While Moab can sometimes feel isolated from the outside world, a legacy of military service unites numerous Moabites throughout history.
Mitch Williams was one Moab resident whose life was shaped by his military service. Williams, the son of “Doc” J.W. Williams, the town’s first doctor, was born in 1916 in Moab. He enlisted in the Army and became a pilot as America was preparing for the beginning of World War II. His eldest brother John attended West Point and became a pilot, and died in a flying accident when Mitch was 12 years old.
In personal remembrances in the Museum’s Oral History Collection, Williams recounts experiences from his time in the service. He served on missions primarily in the South Pacific during World War II. His stories trace times at numerous bases—including memories of the people he served alongside. Once, his plane was shot in the Philippines, and he crash-landed in a rice paddy.
“I had flown 89 combat missions and 252 combat hours,” he reflected at the end of his time in the war. “I wouldn’t have missed this war for the world, but I wouldn’t want to go through it again!”
He moved home with his wife Mary, whom he had met while stationed in Texas, and their young son John. “It seems like I’d never been satisfied with any place we had lived before. When we got back to Moab I knew I was home and I never wanted to live anywhere else”, Williams recalled.
Williams dabbled in the uranium industry as mining boomed, then pivoted to recreational tourism. As Williams saw it, the war even impacted Moab’s history—contributing to the dawn of the tourism industry.
“Before the war, there were no roads or jeeps. The war gave us jeeps and uranium prospecting gave us the roads. The two things made a jeep tour company possible,” he explained. Williams’ tour business eventually included river trips in addition to backcountry Jeep tours. He also used his flying experience: this time taking tourists on scenic flights over the place he called home.
As the community observes Veterans Day, the Museum remembers and honors those who have served. Mitch Williams is one of many Moabites who have served in the United States military. Oral histories in the Museum’s Collection help preserve the wealth of stories from the community’s veterans. Mitch Williams’ story, and others, may be found on moabmuseum.org or by contacting the Museum staff.
The Moab Museum is dedicated to sharing stories of the natural and human history of the Moab area. To explore more of Moab’s stories and artifacts, find out about upcoming programs, and become a Member, visit www.moabmuseum.org.