In memoriam

Two Friends Who Gave Everything

Note from Justin: This post was originally published in 2020.

On a warm, summer day a 20-year-old, daring American lieutenant climbed into the cockpit of his French designed Nieuport 28, fighter bi-plane to do battle with the enemies of freedom. His mission was to defend against a German attack along the Marne river in northwest France. Engaged by three enemy aircraft, the American pilot was shot down and crashed behind German lines during the Second Battle of the Marne, the last major German offensive of WWI. The fallen pilot’s name was Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son of America’s 26th President, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. The former President was devastated upon learning the news. He grieved until his own death six months later. The former First Lady, Edith Roosevelt, said after his death, “You cannot bring boys as eagles and expect them to turn out sparrows.”

On Memorial Day, I am thankful and blessed for knowing and serving alongside two warriors (and two pilots) that embodied the patriotic, eagle spirit of Quentin and so many others before them. I met these patriots while I studied military science at the University of Tennessee. They became both mentors and friends as I worked to earn a commission as a second lieutenant through the Rocky Top Battalion ROTC program.

Lieutenant Thomas, “T Willy” Williams was a year or two ahead of me in ROTC. I was green–coming into the ROTC program–later than most of my peers. While most ROTC cadets come into the program for 3 or 4 years, I was working toward an MBA, so I needed to complete it in 2 years. In other words, I was playing catch up. Though he was almost a year younger than me, Thomas stepped into the role of an older brother and mentor. He was extremely smart, quick-witted, and he had the heart of a teacher. He was very confident but not arrogant–an important trait for an effective Army leader. He instantly lit up a room and was the life of the party. But Thomas wasn’t just about having fun. He took very seriously his duty to nurture and train Soldiers to make the Army stronger. In doing so, he strengthened the Profession of Arms. I admired Thomas’ entrepreneurial spirit. He was a Tennessean on the fast-track to becoming a highly successful business man and leader of citizen Soldiers. We were both members of the Tennessee Army National Guard. After graduating from UT in 2009, I went to Ft. Huachuca to undergo training as an intelligence officer. Thomas went to Ft. Rucker to become an Army pilot. He died with Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cole on July 9, 2011 when their Kiowa Warrior helicopter crashed during a training exercise in East Tennessee. I’ll always remember his infectious smile, his Volunteer spirit and his kindness.

1LT Thomas Williams

Winston Churchill was fond of quoting the old French maxim, “On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme, meaning, “One leads by calm.” This maxim captured the essence of Trevor Joseph’s leadership style. In ROTC, the fourth year cadets teach the more inexperienced third, second, and first year cadets. Trevor was a year group ahead of me, so he was often in instructor mode when I interacted with him. A West Tennessean, he was extremely intelligent. Contrary to most of our rambunctious peers, he projected a very calming demeanor. He chose his words carefully. When Trevor spoke, you listened. I gravitated toward his leadership style. He portrayed a quiet strength, a maturity beyond his years. In the chaos of war or training for war, you need leaders who are calm under pressure. Trevor met that criterion in spades. He married his high school sweet heart Erin in 2008 after receiving his commission in the Army and graduating UT. He became a medevac pilot. During a tour in Afghanistan, he saved the lives of two Soldiers and was awarded the Air Medal with Valor. He served two tours in Afghanistan and earned the rank of Major. His awards and decorations included the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with Valor, two Army Commendation Medals, Army Achievement Medal, Parachutist Badge and the Senior Service Medal. On September 26, 2019, Trevor died when his Blackhawk helicopter crashed at Ft. Polk, Louisiana during a JRTC rotation. I remember receiving the news from a fellow Rocky Top Battalion alum and being absolutely stunned and crushed. If you were working in a science lab and been charged with creating the profile of an American hero, you’d hope to God you’d end up with Trevor Joseph. Trevor was just the epitome of a servant and shepherd leader.

Major Trevor Joseph

Thomas and Trevor are the best of us. They are both men of faith who volunteered to serve their country during a time of war. I use the present tense to describe them, because for everyone who is in Christ, the grave is not the end. They rest in peace, because one day, the Prince of Peace who defeated sin and death will raise them from the dead. He will bring all of His followers back from the grave (1 Corinthians 15) and destroy death forever (Isaiah 25:8).

They lived their lives fearlessly, willingly facing danger and hardship to protect the freedoms we enjoy. Please pray for their families and loved ones this Memorial Day and every day. May God give their loved ones the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4) and the hope that we will one day be reunited.

And may we be faithful to thank God daily that such men lived among us.

“We came here to thank God that men like these have lived rather than to regret that they have died.” – George S. Patton (honoring the fallen at a memorial ceremony in Palermo, Italy 1943)


12 comments on “Two Friends Who Gave Everything

  1. Thanks for sharing, almost 9 years later it doesn’t get easier but talking about how incredible he was always warms my heart. Miss him every day. Thank you for writing this piece and glad he had a lasting imprint on your soul and so many others!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wynne Empson

    I visited Thomas grave last August with my son and Thomas fiancé’ at the time of his death. He was in my son’s wedding, Jackson Lane on 7/2 and was killed the following Sat.
    We sat at his grave for 2 hrs and talked about stories each of us had not known about,. We laughed,, we cried and we were somber.- .as the sun set across the sky it just added to the peaceful spot, but yet sad, where Thomas young life was laid to rest. No way could it have been 8 years at this point . With visions still so relevant in our minds of the day he was escorted on a Amish horse drawn carriage With the American flag draped, and the people who loved him, following the carriage with the Scottish bags pipes sounding out Amazing Grace- A sight that will never go away. As I watched my son with tears in his eyes cast the shovel of dirt and pass it/ I felt my head about to explode with one of the saddest things I had ever witnessed..

    To say he was the life of the party according to my son and Nikki his fiancé’ , a understatement / It’s been nearly 9 years and he still remains in our hearts always – and especially thought of this past week of Memorial Day. He grabbed my heart in the short time I knew him before his death., but Nikki and I remain bonded all these years latter because of his death and how it pulled us together as friends during the time following..
    My Sponsor Corp days at UT in the late 70’s will always be some of my greatest memories there- other than camping in the rain / but I’ll have to admit, shooting blanks in a M 16 was pretty cool, until they also made us clean it- 🙄 I am grateful for the wonderful friends I made – knew I never wanted to be In the real Army after the field training experience and getting stuck on the repelling tower- so I married a UT cadet For 18 yrs- and sent my Army ROTC son to Afghanistan twice –
    I ended up with supposedly with some moonshine of Popcorn Sutton’s last brew, that Thomas owned – Nikki did not want to take to NY when she moved- so I had been the keeper until a big group of Thomas friends were to share at a UT fb game- but seems that never happened with their deployments and military assignments – so Jackson is or WAS the owner- on my way out of Knoxville I told Jackson I nearly stopped to pour some at the base of the memorial sign at the bridge on Westland with his name / found it rather numerous when Jackson said “oh no mom, Thomas would never want you to waste good moonshine! And yes that was probably true! Where that moonshine ended up, I just hope Thomas was satisfied.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brandon

    Amazing write up on Thomas. He was a great man and friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Susan Tutt

    Such a wonderful tribute! We should, indeed, be grateful that men like this lived! Thank you for expressing this so well!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Peter Joseph Sr.

    Thank you so very much for your sincere reflection of both Thomas and our son Trevor. Hearing such comments gives me such joy as we continue to grieve our loss. God Bless you on your journey through life.
    With a grateful heart

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the kind note, Peter. I’m so thankful the Lord made our paths cross. You and Nancy raised an excellent and outstanding leader and Soldier. Praying for you and your family.


    • Wynne Empson

      My son Jackson Lane also friends with Trevor and in his commissioning class at UT- I am so sorry for the lose of your son, I was at the UT game last year where they presented your family/ and it brought sadness to my heart- I know My son thought so much of him- I can’t say myself or Jackson’s wife is sad that he’s out of the Army – it is obviously a mother/ wife worst nightmare- what a beautiful son you had. I was trying to work with Bill Haslam to get a flyover for Thomas at a UT fb game after he was killed but it was during all the athletic director mess and it was just hard to accomplish- maybe we can work on that again for both boys and Veterans Day – however I don’t know if we will have a stadium this year with people or not. God Bless you and the giving life of your son. I am a nurse so I understand his role..

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Debbie Hamilton

    My husband and I loved Thomas so much. We talk about him often and still cannot Fantom that he is gone so soon. We talk about how he laughed and joked. We talk about how we can still hear him talking and the way he would say things. He would text us on our cells and let us know he was flying over our house. He would drop by our house and open the pantry to see what I had to eat( I loved this snd encouraged it) He was a very smart young man! It still hurts that he is gone too soon. We will always love him ! Always miss him ! Always cherish the time we had ! He was our co-worker Realtor friend and our personal little buddy ! Fly high little Buddy! ❤️ 🇺🇸

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kenneth Barnes

    I was blessed to have known Thomas, such a great young man and friend. I did not know Magor Joseph, but I’m sure I would have said the same about him. God bless and may they R.I.P.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Elaine Fulton

    My heart ❤️ is full.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Therese Sipes


    Liked by 1 person

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