Lt. Col. Maurice C. Williams, a retired 23-year Army veteran who died of cancer Jan. 26, was buried with full military honors Friday at Arlington National Cemetery.
He was 61. Friends say he wished he could have been sent to the Persian Gulf.
"He would have rather died in the sand for his country," Col. Willie L. Gore said.
About 15 black colonels and a host of other black officers for whom Williams was a mentor attended the special ceremony.
"We are proud of Maurice -- and our chosen profession," said Col. Eugene J. Davis, a District resident on leave from an assignment in Panama. "The military has been good to us, and we have been good for it," he said.
Now they plan to follow Williams's footsteps when they retire, using what the military is teaching them to help make black America a better place.
"He learned to fight in the Army, with his brains as well as guns," said Bernadette Williams, his widow. "When he finished fighting for his country, he came home to fight for the black youth of our area."
Williams had served as director of the Center for Insurance Education at Howard University, and later became the school's director of hotel and motel management. In both positions, he was widely recognized as a mentor for students and a father figure who worked tirelessly to ensure for them a wide variety of job opportunities.
"It was because he cared for people that he joined the military," Bernadette Williams said. "He wanted to serve. At Howard, we had a motto for the kids: ensuring the way. He'd say, 'Now that I have laid out the path, you ensure the way for somebody else.' That was his military training, and he brought it home in a positive way."
Williams, a resident of Hyattsville, served tours of duty in Korea, the Dominican Republic and Vietnam. His military decorations included the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars and the Combat Infantry Badge.
In Vietnam, Williams was a Special Forces adviser to the Montagnards, a group in Vietnam's Central Highlands whose social status was comparable to low-income black Americans. A great mutual respect developed between Williams and the Montagnards who fought fiercely with bows and arrows during the early years of the war.
The Montagnards subsequently code-named Williams "Black Arrow," because of the cultural significance of the arrow as straight, honest and effective.
In 1969, Williams became a professor of military science at Howard. Before his death, he yearned to return to the campus, where his beloved ROTC program again was under verbal attack. He wanted to debate anti-war protesters as he had two decades ago.
"He had a way of using black history to disarm protesters when their arguments centered on why blacks should not fight for this country," Davis said. "He'd point out that the return of black soldiers from war invariably triggered profound social change in this country. He wasn't against protesters. In fact, he'd say we fight so they can have the right to protest."
Although Williams supported President Bush's Persian Gulf policy, he spent many of his last days working at The Way of the Cross Church of Christ in Northeast Washington, where he was a member.
"He fought for his country and for the education of his people, but there was still a void," Bernadette Williams said. So the colonel began writing church newsletters, editing national church magazines and organizing religious conferences.
Suddenly, during a Sunday drive in November, Williams's speech began to slur. A hospital examination revealed that he had a brain tumor.
"He never took a pain pill," Bernadette Williams recalled. "He said he felt no pain. That was the Army in him."
On Friday, his son, Cameron; his daughter, Paige; and stepson, Duan, gathered along with other family members and friends at Arlington National Cemetery.
A rifle squad assumed its position atop a grassy knoll near the gravesite as a horse-drawn caisson carrying Williams's flag-drapped coffin slowly approached. The bayonets of an honor guard platoon glistened in the afternoon sun. An Army band played "America, the Beautiful."
Then came a precision-fired, seven-gun salute. Under a nearby tree, a bugler played taps. Bernadette Williams was presented a folded United States flag.
The black officers who owed their commissions to Williams saluted his widow, then departed, their heads held high.