In Keener, Ala., World War II veteran and Legionnaire James B. Williams saw that his hometown comrades were honored with a monument to their service. Remarkably, the 33 men from Keener who served during WWII all returned home safely.
Each of their names is listed on the front of the monument, with a map of the world on the back, with the saying, "No one dies if we don't forget."
Inspired by an article in a magazine urging towns to honor veterans, Williams, a retired machinist, planned and funded the 3,600-pound granite monument single-handedly.
Jean Cinotto, one of Williams' five daughters, said this monument, completed in 2004, showcased her father's love of country.
"He knew that having our country be as great as it is rests on the shoulder of our military. We have to honor these people that will go out and make these sacrifices. We have to recognize that we have such good men and women who will go out and they do it for people they don’t even know," Cinotto said.
Williams had just begun working at a steel mill, which took him from $1.25 a day to 42 cents an hour, when he was drafted in 1942, Cinotto said. He served in the Army, landing on the beaches of Normandy after D-Day. He returned to work at the steel mill when he returned home in 1945. He served again in Greenland from 1950 to 1952 at the beginning of the Korean War.
"It's people that carry the respect forward, not a piece of granite," Cinotto said.
During Williams' life, he lived his patriotism. He took his daughters to the beaches of Normandy when they were children, describing the "phenomenal" acts of the men who landed there, Cinotto said.
"We got a really firsthand look at what these men did. He was very reverent about it, but he also wanted us to understand the sacrifices that have gone into what made this country great. And what made it great were the men that — and he never said it about himself — did so much," she said.
In the 1990s, Williams made an altar honoring WWII veterans for a local remembrance project and visitors began bringing flowers.
"It was very reverent how he spoke about the sacrifices," Cinotto said.
In that vein, the Keener monument has been the site of an Eagle Scout project, and the Williams family continues to serve its country. Cathy Culberson, Cinotto's sister, helps run the Birmingham Veterans Day program. Dominick Cinotto, Jean's son, graduated from West Point and is now in Infantry and an Army Ranger. Another of Williams' grandchildren, Chris Blansett, serves in the Navy. And in Keener, in front of the church, people pay their respects weekly at the monument Williams built.
"In communities like that where everybody stays around, they visit their relatives at the cemetery. I go and visit him. And so he felt like that would be the most respectful place that it could be seen in the most respectful manner, and it’s also there with some of the men who are listed," Cinotto said.
In 2005, Williams passed away, less than a month after attending the Army-Navy football game and visiting grandson Dominick Cinotto at West Point. The Cinottos took the opportunity then to snap a photo of Dominick in his gray cape and Williams in his WWII uniform.
"He was like a rock star. Everybody wanted a picture with him," Cinotto said.
She said she was unable to return to Alabama to see the monument before Williams' death, so the first time she saw it was when she visited for his funeral.
"I was just blown away. I couldn't believe how impressive it was.
"When he died the funeral home had to stay open extra late because the line was so long. ... I knew he was a good man, but you don't realize how people impact other people's lives just by being a good person," Cinotto said.