Leon A. Williams helped to save James E. Darby from drowning, Burrwood, Louisiana, August 14, 1960. In the Gulf of Mexico four miles from shore, a 135-foot supply boat rolled, then capsized and floated in an inverted position, its stern tilted beneath the surface of the water. Darby, 40, a crewman, was trapped in the passageway between the engine room and the living quarters. As water rose there, leaving him only two feet of air space, he beat out signals on the hull. About two hours later, another vessel arrived, and its captain, Williams, 35, was informed by survivors of the overturned boat that Darby was trapped. Observing that the affected boat was gradually sinking, Williams radioed a report to shore, alerting a diver. The diver responded, and Williams volunteered to assist him since he was the more familiar with vessels. Each wearing a mask with a hose attached to an air compressor, and using a length of rope as a guide line, Williams and the diver entered the capsized vessel three times at depths as much as 16 feet below the surface, following different routes. In complete darkness and with various gear floating in the water, they searched without success for the passageway where they knew Darby was located. After the third attempt, they went aboard a similar vessel that had arrived and checked the interior layout. They again entered the water, descended 11 feet, and swam into the ship’s lounge. By feeling, they reached the passageway, located Darby, and surfaced beside him in the air space. Fumes from spilled diesel fuel were strong there, and the surging air pressure affected their ears. So that Darby might have a mask, Williams and the diver returned outside the vessel and surfaced, and Williams gave his mask to the diver. The diver went back to the passageway, aided Darby in putting the mask on, and then led him out of the vessel to safety. Darby, who had been trapped for five hours, recovered completely.
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Leon A. Williams, Sr., of Marrero, La., died on June 13, 2009, at the age of 83. He was a lifelong resident of Marrero.
Williams proudly served in the Coast Guard stateside during World War II. He was awarded the Carnegie Medal, which is reserved for persons acting voluntarily in risking their lives to an extraordinary degree to save the life of a fellow human being. Williams risked his own life to save the life of another who was drowning.
(Edited from an obituary provided by a family member.)