• U.S.

National Affairs: Free Speech, Hell!

3 minute read
TIME

Tall, many-talented Alford Joseph Williams has been a baseball pitcher (for the New York Giants), a naval aviator, No. 1 U. S. speed and research air pilot, lawyer, writer. One of his prized possessions is a naval citation in 1929, awarding him the Distinguished Flying Cross: “In his articles written for the public he has shown himself to be a scholar as well as a master pilot, and the beneficial effect on the public mind of his example, his clear exposition and his loyalty to the service has been great, and it has reflected untold credit to the service.”

Lieut. Williams resigned from the Navy in 1930, soon had another commission as Major in the affiliated Marine Corps Reserve. Last week Al Williams had no commission at all. Reason: the Navy had changed its opinion of his writings.

After leaving the Navy, Al Williams continued to fly (for Gulf Oil Corp.). He also continued to write, plugging mightily in his Scripps-Howard newspaper column for a separate air force on a parity with the Army and Navy. The late Brig. Gen. William (“Billy”) Mitchell earned fame and martyrdom by doing the same. But Al Williams, on the Marine Corps’s inactive list, considered that he was writing as a civilian. In a column last February he ripped & tore at the Navy’s sacrosanct Selection Board (for arranging to kick out eight of the Navy’s best flying officers, who had not gone to Annapolis). Last April he received a memorandum from Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington: “Further destructive criticism . . . will be considered sufficient cause . . . that your commission . . . be revoked.”

Columnist Williams continued to demand an independent air force and above all a unified Defense plan for all services, meantime asked by what right the Navy Department (which includes the Marine Corps) undertook to censor his civilian writings. For answer he got a weaseling memo, finding in one paragraph that as an inactive reservist he was not subject to control, in the next that by “custom and usage” he was under the Navy thumb. Replied Al Williams: “I tender my resignation quietly and without publication. . . . My services will always be at the command of the U. S. Marine Corps. And in case of emergency I shall bring with me my two standard single-seater fighting planes . . . and they shall be donated without cost to the Marine Corps or to the United States Government.”

Last week the Marine Corps announced the resignation, said nothing about Al Williams’ offer of himself and his planes. Said Al Williams: “Free speech, hell! That freedom is only for those in power.” But he contradicted himself by continuing to write his mind about air power. On the day his resignation was disclosed, he wrote: “Can’t this gang in Washington devise one single diversion from the death march of Europe? Must we imitate every fatal error to pay the same costly price in blood?”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com