Vietnam veteran serves as snack man to troops
September 03, 2007
Bob Williams, 58, says he would re-enlist if he could, but instead he spends his days, and nights, sending care packages overseas.
WESLEY CHAPEL - Every morning at 4 a.m., while the world outside sleeps, Bob Williams is inside a warehouse packaging boxes.
It’s quiet. He sips Starbucks coffee as he carefully weighs and labels each parcel.
On the other side of the world, American soldiers are getting ready for bed. Some of them e-mail Williams.
Dear Bob, we really enjoyed those snacks you sent to our unit. If it isn’t too much trouble, we would appreciate some more.
A former Navy airman, Williams, 58, was discharged after sustaining a knee injury in Vietnam. Still, he continued to meet regularly with the Navy League, a civilian organization that supports Navy service people and their families.
Twenty years ago, when he considered himself financially stable, he started to collect the names of men and women who were deployed overseas.
Then he would contact them and ask them to make a wish list of items they needed, mostly simple toiletries and snacks. With only one name, he sends enough goodies for the person’s entire unit.
He started with five, maybe eight boxes a week. Now he’s sending more than 100 boxes a week. He works out of a private warehouse next door to a U.S. post office.
“I don’t ever want there to be another Vietnam where U.S. citizens don’t support our troops,” Williams said. “If I could re-enlist, I would. This is my way of helping them.”
Williams pays for much of what he sends. He shops at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club for televisions with DVD players, popcorn and a movie to watch.
Some items are donated from companies and individuals such as Starbucks Coffee, Keebler, Mary Kay.Toys for Iraqi and Afghan children are also donated. “I send (the troops) cigars and squirt guns just to enjoy a little downtime in the heat,” Williams said. “But the Navy always gets the biggest guns.”
Different military units are looking for different things. For instance, one favorite among troops at Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, where Williams says it gets “a little nippy,” is an air-activated hand warmer.
Soldiers pass out Williams’ name like candy at Halloween. It’s getting expensive to keep up with the demand. He has a warehouse full of boxes with no postage. Now he has to rely on the community for donations.
Two years ago, local radio and television personality Jack Harris called Williams and asked him to tell his story on the morning show of news-talk station WFLA-970 AM.
Williams has appeared on the show twice since. The most recent interview caught the ear of Carrollwood chiropractor Charles W. Rice Jr.
Rice, who has a practice in the Palms of Carrollwood complex, is now encouraging his patients to donate. Everyone who contributes gets a red, white and blue “freedom” wristband.
“I knew I had to do something,” Rice said. “Parcels just don’t get there by magic.”
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In Land O’Lakes, Williams sits at his desk with a headset taking calls.
“Yes, I received your e-mail. You want to help? Pick up some out-of-date food from Pepperidge Farms? Yeah, the guys love to get that stuff.”
After Williams was discharged from the Navy, he started two companies - American Fabric Filter Co., which makes dust filter bags, and Sifter Parts and Service Inc., which sifts bugs and particles from flour for food companies.
After his two sons were grown, he divided the two companies between them.
Today, he remains a shareholder and uses the fabric company to make khaki bandannas. He sends the bandannas to schools and churches in the community.
With markers, each one is decorated with pictures and words of affection for the soldiers. Once they’re returned, Williams uses them as packing cushions. When they arrive overseas, troops wear them as dust masks.
Williams also has children scribble a message on index cards and attach a penny.
“You can’t imagine how much the guys cherish the pennies,” he said. “They carry them in their wallets.”
Williams still travels regularly to trade shows for his businesses. If he spies anyone in uniform, he asks if they’re heading overseas. He hands them a large Iraqi freedom coin and a business card and asks them to contact him once they get to their destination.
“It’s just very, very fulfilling,” Williams said.
For more information, contact Bob Williams at (813) 991-9400 or e-mail him at .
Donation checks for Williams’ postage can be made payable to “Postmaster” and can be sent to
P.O. Box 7560, Wesley Chapel FL, 33544.
Donations also can be made at Dr. Charles W. Rice Jr.’s office at 13129-A N Dale Mabry Highway.