V-E Day on May 8 marks the 75th anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe. Veterans such as Homer Williamson returned home to start a new life after the war, and in doing so planted the seeds of prosperity for U-Haul®, a product of the peace for which they fought.
U-Haul is celebrating 75 years of service in 2020. WWII Navy veteran L.S. “Sam” Shoen and his wife, Anna Mary Carty Shoen, conceived U-Haul in June 1945 when they recognized a basic need while moving up the West Coast, having abandoned most of their belongings since one-way trailer rentals did not yet exist.
From that idea, an industry was born and a new level of mobility became attainable for every American family.
To commemorate both anniversaries, U-Haul is celebrating former Team Members who served in WWII, such as Wilsondale native Homer Williamson.
Ready to Serve
Williamson was born in January 1924 to Aley and Rebecca Perry Williamson. He graduated from Man High School in 1943 and joined the Army in 1944.
After 17 weeks of basic and field training, Williamson, along with 20,000 other troops, was transported to Europe on the Queen Mary – which had been converted from a luxury ocean liner to a troop transport ship.
Williamson served with the 83rd Infantry “The Thunderbolt” Division L. Co. 330th, part of Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. Williamson served with the 83rd during the Ardennes-Alsace, Rhineland and Central Europe Campaigns. He received a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three stars.
Williamson carried a bazooka for most of the war, and found himself the main target of Germans. “The enemy was looking for bazooka men,” he recalled. “I took that thing from foxhole to foxhole. I guess I was one of the fortunate ones who got to come home.”
During one Ardennes engagement, however, he was not so lucky. He was wounded and sustained head injuries and a concussion during a “rifle match” between eight men of his company and the same number of Germans. Williamson was treated for his wounds, and in less than two weeks he was back on the front line.
By early March 1945, the 83rd crossed the Rhine River. In a 14-day dash across Germany in mid-April, the 83rd set an infantry speed record while crossing four rivers, liberating more than 75,000 Allied prisoners, and capturing almost 34,000 Germans. They climaxed the drive by establishing and holding the only American bridgehead on the Elbe River, the last natural barrier before Berlin, just 34 miles away.
Germany formally surrendered on May 7, and the next day was pronounced Victory in Europe Day. Williamson was assigned to U.S. occupational forces keeping the peace in Linz, Austria, and served through 1946.
U-Haul Dealer of 25 Years
After the war, Williamson came home, got married and started working for his father’s business. He and his wife, Opal, raised two boys and two girls. As his family grew, so did the family business. Williamson became a U-Haul neighborhood dealer in 1970, serving DIY moving customers in Man, W.V., for more than 25 years.
Williamson passed away in April 2016.
The Shoens started U-Haul upon Sam’s discharge with $4,000 of accumulated Navy pay and the courage formed by the cauldron of WWII. With the help of other veterans, the young couple forged their new enterprise from the freedom that victory produced.
Today, U-Haul serves all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces, helping an estimated 11 million families move every year. Williamson is one of the many veterans who laid the foundation for the present prosperity U-Haul enjoys.
U-Haul continues to aggressively recruit veterans and gives them preference in the hiring process, having been recognized repeatedly as one of the nation’s top veteran-friendly employers. U-Haul is also committed to honoring veterans and supporting veteran causes. This is accomplished through direct assistance to veteran groups, as well as participation and sponsorship of Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades, and Pearl Harbor tributes.
These 2020 tributes will peak triumphantly with the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum’s dedication of the renovated Ford Island Control Tower on Aug. 29. U-Haul Pacific Theater veterans’ bios and photos will be displayed in the tower lobby. The tower will offer a new elevator, gifted by U-Haul CEO Joe Shoen, providing public access to the observation deck where America’s lone WWII aviation battlefield can be revered and our heroes remembered.
U-Haul is one of a myriad of companies built by these incredible veterans, who are to be saluted and remembered during this 75th anniversary celebration. Thank you, Homer.
Find more veteran tributes in the History and Culture section of myuhaulstory.com.