Warrenville post office at last to bear fallen Army medic's name
Every Mother's Day, Jeffrey Allen Williams and his mom shared a few traditions that tell you something about the young man.
Williams had a maturity beyond his years, caring for his brothers and going out of his way to help his mom live with a congenital heart defect.
So on Mother's Day, he would show his devotion by helping cook dinner and taking mom out on a rowboat at Blackwell Forest Preserve.
Williams also was an extrovert, a football player who liked to imitate "The People's Eyebrow," the signature facial expression of wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
So on Mother's Day, Williams would show his charismatic side serenading his mom with Boyz II Men and 2Pac hits.
"Jeff was just an outgoing, bright guy," Sandra Williams Smith said. "I'm not just saying it because he's my son. He was the best son a mother could have in life."
She will remember their bond during a ceremony in June to rename the Warrenville post office after her son, a 20-year-old Army medic killed by a bomb in Iraq on Sept. 5, 2005.
It's a hometown honor nearly 14 years in the making. It took an act of Congress, President Donald Trump's signature and the efforts of Wheaton Warrenville South High School alumni who revived a request originally made by his mother to designate the Rockwell Street landmark as the Cpl. Jeffrey Allen Williams Post Office Building.
"I'm glad they took this over because they made it happen," Williams Smith said. "The Class of 2003 did it."
Even though she was recently hospitalized and lives in Texas, she would never miss the ceremony to unveil her son's name on the post office at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 8.
"It's a great honor because it's well-deserved," Williams Smith said. "Jeff was a highly motivated person."
In the weeks after his death, she wanted to immortalize her son at the post office, but the proposal eventually fizzled. It's a fitting honor because it's the place where he ran errands for his mom and took the time to befriend the postal workers, making sure they were having a good day and knowing them by name.
"He did a lot to help me because I was always sick," his mom said. "And everybody knew Jeff."
In high school, he was an approachable social butterfly with a "sense of empathy," said Mike Barbier, who played football with Williams.
"If you were a new student at Wheaton Warrenville South, your first friend was Jeff Williams," Barbier said.
Through letter campaigns and petition drives, Barbier, now a Wheaton city councilman, and his classmates enlisted the support of congressional lawmakers to christen the post office after Williams in tribute to his military service.
Shortly after graduation, Williams joined the Army, motivated by a call of duty after the Sept. 11 attacks. Inspired by his mom's heart condition, he also had aspirations of becoming a cardiologist.
He deployed to Iraq in February 2005, assigned to the regimental commander's personal security detachment under the command of then Col. H.R. McMaster, who later became Trump's national security adviser.
"Jeff will be remembered by his fellow servicemen and women as a dedicated, tough and disciplined medic who always put others before himself and was committed to his medical mission and fellow soldiers," former U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren said from the House floor last year as sponsor of the bill to rename the post office.
Williams was killed in action in Tal Afar, Iraq. He was engaged at the time to his high school sweetheart, Stacey Kuhn, who also will be at the ceremony, Barbier said.
"It's surreal. It's all going to hit us on that day," Barbier said. "But right now it doesn't seem real yet."
When she reunites with her son's friends, Williams Smith knows she will show her gratitude with a "big hug."
"I'm just overjoyed with this thing," she said.