Just as U.S. Army Sgt. Eric E. Williams’ goal of becoming a paramedic grew out of his time as a fire explorer at Murrieta Fire Station No. 1, a California Oak tree will now grow there in his honor.
The tree was planted Saturday at the Juniper Street station during a ceremony attended by Williams’ family and friends, members of the Murrieta Fire Department, fire explorers, city officials and Patriot Guard riders.
“I remember the first time Eric and I entered Murrieta Fire Station 1,” said his mother, Janet Williams. “We were there to pick up an application for him to join the fire explorers. Eric brought it home and diligently filled out the form and began his relationship with the Murrieta Fire Department.”
She said he loved coming to the station and working with all the firefighters.
“He had great respect for all of them,” Williams said.
After her son graduated from Murrieta Valley High School in 2002, she said he continued his journey of “doing good things” by attending the Menifee campus of Mt. San Jacinto College to become an EMT. He was then hired by American Medical Response, serving the local area.
“He was working with the firefighters once again out of the station, and they helped mold and shape him,” Williams said.
Eric went on to graduate from the fire academy at Riverside Community College in 2004. He joined the Army in 2007, serving as a combat medic in Iraq and eventually as a flight medic in Afghanistan.
“Our family was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and respect shown to my son by his community and AMR and especially the Murrieta Fire Department when we brought him home this past summer,” Williams said.
Thus, she said she wanted to show her appreciation by planting a tree.
Enter Murrieta firefighter/paramedic Derrick Dellinger, who had been instrumental in providing a Murrieta fire department escort when Eric’s body was brought home in August 2012. He again offered his assistance.
“That idea began as a simple phone call that grew to when, what and where,” Williams said.
She said she immediately thought of Arbor Day, a tradition she witnessed Eric’s grandmother carry out in memory of many others. (Arbor Day is typically celebrated the last Friday of April.)
As for the type of tree, Williams said that was a given: a California Oak was chosen. The tree is indigenous to the area. Plus, Eric had grown up in the California Oaks tract.
Instead of buying the tree as Williams had planned, Jodan Farms of Murrieta donated it.
Still wanting to give a gift, Williams had a flag framed that had flown over the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. in honor of Eric. She presented the flag to the Murrieta Fire Department during the tree-planting ceremony.
As Murrieta fire Chief Matt Shobert accepted the flag, he said: "it will hang for years to come."
Regarding the tree, Shobert said: “As fire chief I am tasked with making a number of difficult decisions on a regular daily basis and when I got the call from firefighter Dellinger a month or so ago that Mrs. Williams had requested to plant a tree in his honor at our fire station, it was the easiest decision I have ever made as a fire chief.
“My office is right up there and I’ll be able to look down on this tree every day. It is truly an honor that you asked us to do this and we are proud to fly these colors and plant this tree in your son’s honor.”
Just before the tree was ceremonially raised by several firefighters and fire explorers, Eric’s mother added some of his ashes. Also, a memorial stone was placed at the base of the tree.
Eric’s widow, Wendy Williams, who grew up in Murrieta as well, said she looks forward to watching the tree grow.
“This is such a huge, huge thing for all of us,” she said. “I am so very proud of him, and so thankful for everything everyone has done in this community, and outside of this community.”
She said she spoke with some of Eric’s Army colleagues, the men and women he had served with in Afghanistan, about the planting.
“I am here with them in my heart and to represent them as well,” Wendy said. “They will be family with me until the day that I die. I wanted to come with them in my heart today.”
Also, in memory of the words Eric lived by, "Do Good Things," a scholarship foundation was recently launched. The Sgt. Eric (Doc) Williams Scholarship Foundation provides recipients with funding to attend EMT training at Mt. San Jacinto College. To learn more about the organization, click here.