Attack kills honored soldier from Fort Lewis

A Fort Lewis-based soldier who won the Purple Heart on his first tour of duty in Iraq was killed during his second, his California family said Monday.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense reported that three members of a bomb-disposal unit based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, were killed Friday near Kirkuk - the first Whidbey sailors killed in the war.

Army Staff Sgt. Jesse L. Williams, 25, was killed Saturday by a sniper, said Santa Rosa, Calif., Mayor Bob Blanchard, a family friend. Williams, who had been serving in Baghdad, was assigned to the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division based at Fort Lewis, his family said.

Snipers were Williams' biggest fear in Iraq, Blanchard said. The mayor recalled Williams telling him on a recent trip home: "I can fight people eye to eye, but I can't fight back if I can't see them."

Williams left behind a wife, Sonya, and their 11-month-old daughter, Amaya.

The three members of a bomb-disposal unit based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island were Navy Chief Petty Officer Gregory J. Billiter, 36, of Villa Hills, Ky.; Petty Officer 2nd Class Curtis R. Hall, 24, of Burley, Idaho; and Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph A. McSween, 26, of Valdosta, Ga.

The Defense Department did not immediately release the circumstances of their deaths.

Billiter's father, Barry Billiter, said his son had been in the Navy for 15 years and was on his third tour of Iraq. Barry Billiter had been in touch with his son by e-mail and said he did not know how he died.

"He was a wonderful son," he said.

Billiter was married and had one child. His wife is a seventh-grade science teacher at North Whidbey Middle School; pupils were advised of Billiter's death in a written notice Monday morning, The Herald newspaper of Everett reported.

The three sailors were assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit 11.

Hall's sister, Brenda Thiebeault, said the family was not ready to discuss his death.

John Klimko, McSween' youth pastor at Central Avenue Church of Christ in Valdosta, described him as someone who loved to help others and who got along with everyone.

"He studied and was really interested in the ministry," the pastor told The Valdosta Daily Times. "He conducted services for the shut-in and did yard work for the elderly."

"His faith was always important to him," Klimko said.

McSween is survived by his wife, Erin, and daughters Lily, 5, and Gwyneth, 2, of Oak Harbor.

Jesse Williams, who won the Purple Heart after shrapnel struck his arm during a clash with insurgents on his first tour, is now up for a Bronze Star, for rescuing two soldiers from a burning vehicle three weeks ago, Mayor Blanchard said. In that case, the soldier's unit came under attack and a roadside bomb ignited extra gasoline aboard a vehicle in which two of the occupants were trapped, he said.

"He saw the white-hot fire of combat on both his tours. He was right there," Blanchard said. "And you know what? That was Jesse, that's where he wanted to be."

Shortly before he left for his second tour of duty around Christmas, the young soldier spoke before the Santa Rosa City Council to support a proposed memorial to honor men and women who died serving their country.

His father, Herb Williams, who was among those behind the effort, recounted those words Sunday night.

"Jesse thought he would come down and talk about it, and now his name is going to be in it. It's just eerie," the elder Williams told The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa.