Arlington foreman calls cemetery home

Courtesy of the Pentagram

As darkness spreads across Arlington National Cemetery they come out in the thousands. Their lights flicker like stars fallen from the night sky as they dance from headstone to headstone.

These are not the spirits of the men and women buried at the cemetery, but fireflies, which visit the sacred grounds each spring and summer.

“I don’t have any ghost stories, but being from California I never had any experience with fireflies. When I first moved in I would go out at night and see all these lights going on and off above the tombstones — I didn’t know what to make of it. Finally it dawned on me that they were just fireflies,” said Bill Williams, general foreman for ANC, who has lived at the cemetery 4 1/2 years.

Williams came to Arlington National Cemetery from Sicily. As the general foreman, he was given the option of living in a house on the cemetery grounds, where he would pay fair market rent value, or renting or buying a house in the surrounding community. When he considered the prospect of living in a cemetery, the bachelor said, he was concerned about how it would affect his social life.

He said that when he started researching how much it costs to buy or rent a house in the local area, the house in the cemetery seemed like a great deal.

Although he never thought he would live near a cemetery, much less in the middle of one, Williams said, he could not be happier with his decision.

“I like living here because it is very peaceful, I have a great view and my neighbors are quiet,” he explained.

As far as his social life goes, living in the cemetery has helped it more than it has hurt it, because it is a great icebreaker when he meets people, he said.

Most people do not believe him when he says he lives in the cemetery — they think he is joking with them, he said. That is until he shows them his drivers license which has “Lodge 2, Arlington National Cemetery” as his address. It is at this point that people start believing him and asking him if they can see his house.

“When people visit for the first time, they wander all over and are awestruck that somebody could live here. People always ask me the same type of questions. Are there ghosts? Do you get scared? What’s it like?”

Williams said he does not get scared, although when he first moved in he would get up in the middle of the night and peek out of the window. “My main concern wasn’t spirits, but people who might jump over the wall. What I found out is people respect this place and don’t do that.”

Every once in a while, he said, tourists go up to his house, knock on his door and ask if his house is a museum. Although tourists sometimes go to his house, pizza delivery is out of the question.

On the two occasions he tried having food delivered, he said, the restaurant thought he was calling in a prank. It is also a challenge getting a taxi to pick him up at the cemetery.

Despite such annoyances, Williams said he feels he has the best of two worlds. “I have the convenience of the city and the solitude of the country.”

He grew up in southern California, and after graduating high school, he spent three years in the Army as an infantryman. He said his service time was spent bouncing between Fort Ord, Calif., and South Korea.

Shortly after leaving the Army he got a federal job on a Marine base in Barstow, Calif., as a  water-treatment-plant operator. A year later he moved to Norton Air Force Base in San Bernadino, Calif. He eventually became the foreman at the waste plant there. After 14 years at the plant he was hired as a utilities director on a Navy Base in Sicily where he spent four years.

As the ANC foreman, Williams said his people are the one’s behind the scenes who are responsible for ANC running as smoothly as it does. He said he is responsible for making sure the graves are dug and presentable for the families, for the upkeep of the Columbarium and the Kennedy grave sites, and for setting up for Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Easter sunrise services. He is also responsible for making sure the Tomb of the Unknowns is maintained.

Out of his 25 years of government service, Williams said his job at ANC is by far his most interesting.

He said he loves to travel, play golf and tennis, bike ride and garden.

His travels around the world have taken him to locations such as Turkey, Greece, Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Egypt, Japan, Panama, Mexico, Austria, Germany, Thailand, Laos and several Caribbean islands.

After he retires in five years and his salary is cut in half, he said, he will start spending more time traveling around the United States.

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