William Watts ’94 came into the world before the world was aware he was on his way. Medical technology in the early 70’s wasn’t quite as effective as it is today, and Watts’ parents were only expecting to take one son home from the hospital that day. They were understandably surprised when they found out their newborn son, Clarence, would have a twin brother joining him in the world.
“They weren’t prepared for me, they didn’t have clothes, a crib, or a car seat. They didn’t even have a name for me at first,” said William. He and his twin brother, Clarence Watts ’94, also had three older sisters while growing up on Long Island. The brothers, commonly known as the Watts Twins, were inseparable through childhood and spent a lot of the early years together in and around sports.
The twins knew about Syracuse University when they were younger, William recalls it being one of the few schools in the Northeast renowned for both academics and athletics at the time. The Watts Twins knew they were college bound, but the brothers didn’t have their sights set on becoming Orangemen at first.
Saint John’s University was closer to their home, meaning the brothers wouldn’t need to travel far to visit friends and family. More importantly, at least in the eyes of the young Watts brothers, it was closer to the fun, excitement, and nightlife of New York City.
The brothers and their mother took a tour of the university in Queens. During the two-hour tour the boys were increasingly excited about the possibilities that awaited them there. When they got back in the car, however, their mother informed them they would not be attending school there–much to the brother’s surprise.
“Our mom was on top of it. She said that for two hours we asked about living off campus, about the night life and what there was to do for fun. We didn’t ask about academics or anything school related,” said William. While not their first choice, coming to Syracuse gave the Watts Twins the opportunity to experience being on a championship team in college.
The Watts Brothers Come to Syracuse
When the Watts Brothers arrived on campus at Syracuse University, they continued living the life of student athletes. While they wouldn’t be able to spend the evenings in New York City, they both competed on the Men’s Indoor Track & Field team for the university and were members of the 1992 Men’s Indoor Track & Field Team which one several championships at the men’s Big East tournament that year.
“Playing sports in high school was fun, but in college it’s different. At a division one school it’s more like a job,” William said. While he recalls enjoying those times, he said it was also a very humbling experience being among the other athletes on campus during those days.
The Watts brothers both finished their undergraduate degrees in 1994, William in Anthropology and Clarence in Communications. Neither went directly into the military after college though. Their father had served in the military, but long before they came around and neither brother had ever considered military service before.
Both men wound up joining, though not at the same time. William originally enlisted in 1996 and worked in military intelligence for several years and earned the rank of Sergeant before becoming a commissioned officer. Clarence came in more than a decade later after starting a family and learning about the benefits the military extended to family members, and ultimately became a Warrant Officer.
“I loved the Army when I was enlisted, I woke up every day when I was young, motivated, and asking what I could do for the Army that day,” William said. “I was leaving Japan with orders to airborne school, and from there I was going to be stationed in Germany, I was on top of the world.”
From Enlisted to Officer
During a required medical exam for the basic airborne course, William’s dreams of earning jump wings were dashed when an X-ray image revealed he had a strong enough curvature in his spine to be diagnosed with scoliosis. After being a D1 college athlete, William said he felt both confused and defeated.
“It went from being on top of the world that day to being halfway in tears. I just went back to my room and I was distraught,” William said.
While jump school was out of the question, William’s career advanced after he applied to become a commissioned officer. He became an air defense officer, which he admits wasn’t his top choice but a career he made the most of all the same.
William said he’s proud of his military service, but the military was not the same back then. He doesn’t recall too many times in which his race set him apart, but one instance at Fort Campbell, in Kentucky, stands out the most.
“I was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles. It’s about as infantry as you can get with just as much testosterone. When I got there, I had two officers from other sections who welcomed me to the unit. They were nice, and inviting, but when I went in to meet my new boss, a Major, he was just staring at me. His look wasn’t warm and fuzzy, he was just giving me really bad vibes,” Watts recalls.
William said the Major informed him, right then and there, that during his 18 years in the Army, he had never needed an air defense officer, and didn’t see the need for one at that time. He made it clear
“He didn’t ask about my family or anything, he made it clear he didn’t care about me at all,” William said.
Clarence Comes Home
Clarence Watts was deployed to Afghanistan with his unit in 2013, and started having some medical complications that drew concerns. What was intended to be a quick checkup with the doctor turned into an emergency flight to Germany. By the time he landed a few hours later, the family had already been called and alerted; Clarence had been diagnosed with cancer, and the prognosis was not good.
William supported his twin brother through his battle with cancer over the next few years. Since they were both still in the military and stationed apart, the two remained connected through the internet where they played video games together almost nightly.
William said that one night, when Clarence sounded exhausted, he still played with his brother even though William could tell he was drained. A few nights later when Clarence didn’t pick up the phone, William said he knew right then and there what was happening.
William was 11 months into a year-long deployment at the time, but his command sent him home immediately. Thankfully, William arrived home in time to have those final moments with his twin brother.
“I got to the hospital room, and he was asleep, I just crawled into bed with him and fell asleep by his side,” William said. “I woke a little later and he was propped up, just looking down at me.” The twins were able to spend Clarence’s last few days together, with William by his side the entire time.
Clarence ultimately succumbed to cancer in 2015. Their family told William they all felt like Clarence had hung on for as long as he did so he could see his brother one last time.
Service after Service
William retired from the Army a year after Clarence passed. He currently works for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a field examiner near Columbia, Georgia. In his role he works with homeless veterans to help them take care of the financial benefits they receive from the VA.
“I go out and I check on a lot of veterans, especially the ones that are deemed incompetent to handle their own finances. We set them up a fiduciary, a nursing home or an assisted living home, or sometimes their own apartment, it depends on the individual veteran and their needs,” William said.
William has traveled to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and to the top of Mount Fuji, now he seeks to travel everywhere in between. He says that during all of his time, and all of his travels, he has continued to remain impressed with servicemembers, especially the enlisted ones.
“I don’t get star struck with celebrities or big-name athletes. They can score 50 points in a game, and that’s great, but this guy over here is making decisions with lives at stake, they’re getting soldiers back home under some intense pressure,” William said, “You meet people in the military who have worldwide impact with their decisions, and to be in their presence is a great experience.”