WwW (Who was Willey)
By MSgt Mark C. Olsen, 177th Fighter Wing
/ Published January 20, 2012
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, NJ -- Who was Master Sgt. William G. Willey?
If you had asked me that question before I wrote this article, the most I could've told you was that in the display case outside the dining hall there is a ginormous trophy named after him that gets awarded each year to a unit member. That insignificant fact barely scratches the surface I was soon to find out. Back when the 177th Fighter Wing was called the 177th Fighter Interceptor Group, several 177th Airmen were honored at the Brig. Gen. Chester A. Charles Competition Formation and Awards Ceremony on June 13, 1982.
One of the awardees was Tech. Sgt. Bill Willey who worked in the Engine Shop and volunteered with the Base Honor Guard. At the ceremony he was dressed up in the uniform of a Minuteman - the first American Soldier and the ancestor of the National Guard - and he was being presented with, of all things, the Minuteman Statue Award. He was receiving the statue for leading the 177th's Annual Toys for Tots drive, which he organized in 1979. Willey's involvement with the drive started when he was cleaning out a closet, discovered a bunch of old toys and donated them to an area hospital. By the time he received the award, Toys for Tots had become a yearly tradition at the 177th. Four years and six days after receiving the Minuteman statue, Master Sgt. William G. Willey died at the age of 44 on June 19, 1986. Five months later, Honor Guard member and now retired Tech. Sgt. Skip Watson took over the Toys for Tots program to ensure that it didn't fade away. That year, more than 3,000 toys were collected and distributed to various organizations and area families. When asked about the program's success, Watson attributed it to Willey's memory and said: "...it will always be Master Sgt. Bill Willey's Toys for Tots campaign." In 1987, the 177th Chief's Council created the Master Sgt. William G. Willey Award to honor his memory by selecting a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer that demonstrated the same qualities Willey exemplified. The Council meets each December, examines the year's nominees and selects the recipient, which is presented during the January Promotions and Awards Ceremony. The criteria are daunting: the individual is judged based on superior performance, community service, professionalism and leadership. A difficult award to receive - certainly; yet, when you think about its standards, this award is really is what being a member of the Guard is all about. While describing his motivation behind the Toys for Tots drive, Willey also helped define the motivation behind the award. "Seeing the smiles on (the) children's faces makes me feel like I've accomplished everything I could possibly want to."