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COLUMN: Mr. Hoyt Williams honored at Wal-Mart Headquarters in honor of Veterans Day

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At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of November, Wal-Mart Headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas rolled out the red carpet for several employees who are also veterans. Among these honored few was Summerville’s own Wal-Mart greeter, World War II veteran, Mr. Hoyt Williams. “It was really nice, we had great seats right up front,” said Mr. Hoyt.

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What advice did Hoyt Williams give Wal-Mart Stores CEO, Doug McMillon, when asked if he had any advice for the audience. “Just hang in there,” Mr. Hoyt answered.

Here is the tribute video Wal-Mart made for Mr. Hoyt for the celebration. Mr. Hoyt was celebrated not solely because he was a Wal-Mart employee but because he was a veteran.

I have a habit of asking anyone that looks old enough to ask, what their service history was during WWII, and as time slips by, there are fewer and fewer to ask. After graduating from Trion High School in 1942, Hoyt Williams joined the United States Army. Mr. Hoyt served as an Army engineer in both the European and South Pacific Campaigns of WW II, serving in both campaigns is rare. He arrived in Normandy D-Day+18. Within three months, the northern part of France was liberated and soldiers were preparing to enter Germany.

Despite half a century of time to soften the pain, when Mr. Hoyt talks about the Nazis, the passion and emotion are as raw as the days he experienced them. He fought through France, Belgium and finished his European mission in Germany. Mr. Hoyt spent Christmas of 1944 in the Ardennes forest at the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive campaign of the war. In this battle alone the Americans suffered some 89,000 casualties and the Germans lost around 120,000. War was war even over the holidays.

Upon returning to the States, Mr. Hoyt wasn’t quite ready for civilian life yet, he caught the next troop train to Seattle en route for the Philippines, where he remained until Japan surrendered in September of 1945. After returning home from that theater, Mr. Hoyt took over his Father’s supermarket in Trion in 1948 where he ran the store for the next 40 years.

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Mr. Hoyt at his grocery store, photo credit: Chattooga Historical Society

Retirement proved to be boring for Mr. Hoyt who has worked since he was old enough to have his own paper route. “I was tired of mowing the lawn… it was time for me go back to work, Wal-Mart said they could put me to work even though I was 70 years old and they did,” Williams said. Mr. Hoyt has been working full-time for Wal-Mart ever since.

On Thanksgiving Day at 4 pm Mr. Hoyt put on his blue vest and was ready for battle again at the age of 93, this time he wasn’t gearing up for the Nazis he was getting ready to greet and calm the massive number of Black Friday shoppers who were set to storm the store at 6 pm. “I am always looking for more hours,” said Mr. Hoyt when I asked him why in the world he was working on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Day, my son and I had to make a quick trip to ‘the Wal-Mart’. It was the first time I have had a chance to catch up with Mr. Hoyt since his trip to the home office. “It was the biggest thing that has happened to me since the War! I have been to Florida a time or two since the War, but that’s it. I came home and went to work…” said Mr. Hoyt.

Wal-Mart has made clear its commitment to hire veterans of all ages. In 2013 Walmart U.S. committed to hiring 100,000 veterans in five years, but McMillon said the retailer accomplished that goal in three years. The company reassessed the goal in 2013 to hire 250,000 by 2020, setting the bar higher. Since 2013, the retailer has hired 153,000 veterans and 19,000 of them have been promoted.

Mr. Hoyt traveled to Bentonville with his great-grandduaghter Kayla Willingham.

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Casie Bryant is the NW Georgia Regional Manager for AllOnGeorgia.

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