I always had a picture in the recesses of my mind of the soldier dying for his country. I could see the fireman expiring in a blaze after saving others. Then I saw a banker who saved others and died right before my eyes.
On January 13th 1982 an Air Florida flight crashed off the 14th Street Bridge in Washington DC. It was a bridge I had traveled across many times before during the year I lived in DC.
The entire event was being broadcast live and I sat glued to the TV as the big Boeing 737 slid ever so slowly into the swirling ice cold waters of the Potomac River. Only five people out of the 79 that were onboard that flight survived the crash.
Two of those who survived owe their lives to the heroism and selflessness of a 46-year-old man named “Arland D. Williams Jr.” who was a bank examiner. I did not know his name for twenty years after the crash, but it is a name I will probably never forget.
Because of the heavy traffic around DC and on the bridge that day the emergency vehicles were seriously hindered from reaching the scene. In the interim two TV news copters did the best they could to pull the few people who had made it to the surface out of the water. It was noble effort on their part because the wind driven snow was a screaming polar bear closing in on the prey.
I watched in stark amazement as one copter lowered a small life ring to a white-haired gentleman in the frozen raging soup. He grabbed the ring but then worked it over to another passenger who was then lifted to safety. The copter returned and once again lowered the ring to the gentleman who pushed it over to another passenger yet again. By the time the copter returned for the third time the distinguished gentleman was slipping beneath the stinging waters never to be seen again on that day.
For weeks I could not get that picture out of my mind, but I didn’t want to get it out of my mind. I felt I had witnessed the best example I had seen in my lifetime of perfect and selfless love. I have told this story countless times in my messages as a preacher of the gospel. I still get choked up with emotion and with the same feelings I had when I watched the events unfold before me.
There is an inestimable sense of admiration and respect I feel for Mr. Williams. I often see myself looking and calling for friends and loved ones when I get to heaven. I also see myself asking the Lord for an introduction to Mr. Williams so I can see and embrace one of the bravest men and best examples of love I ever hope to know in this life.
Mr. Williams gave a living and lasting example to me of just what Jesus was talking about when he said…”Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Thank you for this example Mr. Williams.
The 14th Street Bridge has been renamed the “Arland D. Williams Jr. Memorial Bridge.” Several memorials to Mr. Williams have been placed at “The Citadel” in South Carolina which he graduated from in 1957. In His hometown of Mattoon, Illinois the elementary school was named after Mr. Williams in 2003.
Picture credit: Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Best of Archive Series – First Published August 2005
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