Phillip Williams is the founder of Chess for Vets, a chess club that meets every Wednesday at the American Legion Post 135 on 1108 Bull St from 5 - 7 p.m. The club is free and open to anyone who wants to play on a Wednesday evening.
Originally from Kentucky, Williams spent 13 years in the U.S. Army as a combat tanker. In 1986 he arrived in Savannah out of active duty and began serving in the National Guard as a draftsman, until being promoted to a construction inspector.
He started the club after playing chess with his friend Kiettisak “Fan” Bennett, who served as a drill sergeant in the Army.
Both men are members of the American Legion and are a part of The Society of 40 Men and 8 Horses, commonly known as “The Forty and Eight.”
The society is a non-profit organization and honor society for American Veterans that was founded in 1923 after World War I. It supports several charitable causes, including child welfare and providing scholarships for nurses.
It was through joining The Forty and Eight that Bennett and Williams met.
Being a realtor, Williams was assisting Bennett in selling his home in March. At the time Bennett was suffering with PTSD.
“He [Bennett] knew me, so I helped him sell his house, and he had gone through a rough patch in his life,” explained Williams.
Soldiers that Bennett had been in charge of were killed in Afghanistan. While in the process of helping Bennett sell his house, Williams began playing chess with him. Something that helped Bennett work through a difficult time.
“We started playing chess while I was selling his house, and then one day he texted me saying these games really helped get his mind off of things,” said Williams.
Not long after, Williams realized that if playing chess could help Bennett, it could help other Veterans struggling with PTSD.
“With chess you can plan and you can strategize everything with that board. At the same time, you can concentrate more on what you are doing in that moment,” explained Bennet.
According to Bennett playing chess provides a way for him to feel grounded, and allows him to live in the present.
After pitching the idea to The American Legion at Post 135, Williams was able to secure a place and time for the club.
“I had a venue and a willingness so I decided to go for it, and see if I could do something good,” said Williams.
The club has only been around for a month, but has already begun to attract players who are veterans and non-veterans.
Although the club’s goal is to help veterans with PTSD, it is also open to anyone who just wants to come out and play.
“I want to support veterans with PTSD. That interaction with them, not only helps to keep their mind off of what they went through, but maybe a relationship or two is developed and they feel like they have somebody to talk to if they feel like they’re going off the edge.”
This sentiment is shared by Bennett who encourages anyone to come out to Post 135 on Wednesdays, especially veterans struggling with PTSD.