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William Townsley Deuel
24 Oct 1938 – 30 Sep 1966
Hostile death, Vietnam,
aged 27 years
Interment: West Point Cemetery,
West Point, New York

William Townsley Deuel

Class Memorial Pages\G-1 Bill Deuel.pdf

WILLIAM TOWNSLEY DEUEL WAS BORN on 24 October 1938 in Memphis, Tennessee. But from the age of two months, Springfield, Illinois, was his home.

From the very first Bill was exposed to the proud traditions of the Service. In 1942, when Bill was only four, his father, Dr. Thorne Deuel (USMA 1912), an anthropologist, left his position as Director of the Illinois State Museum to return to active duty with the Army Air Corps, a tour that lasted for three years. Dr. Deuel had served as a cavalryman from his graduation in 1912 to 1916 and had flown as a pilot in the fledgling Army Air Corps from 1916 to 1919.

During his father’s absence, Bill began to develop a great love for the outdoors that was to be fostered by years of Scouting, culminating with a summer at Philmont Ranch in New Mexico. Swimming and diving also played a major role in Bill’s youth. From his first high dive at the age of eight, till he was 17, he worked tirelessly on his diving technique, and in 1955 became to state YMCA champion.

In high school, Bill earned his letter as a pole-vaulter, continued to excel as a diver, and, more importantly, met Mary Jean Taylor.

Bill first saw West Point in 1952 when he accompanied his family to his father’s 40th class reunion. It was probably then that the idea of becoming a cadet and making the Service his career was born. After graduation from high school, he attended Braden’s, in Cornwall, with the Military Academy as his immediate goal. While at Braden’s, Bill go permission from the authorities at West Point to use the Academy’s pool and frequently ran to West Point and back for swimming and diving practice. He entered with the Class of 1961 the following year with an appointment from Senator Paul Douglas.

As a plebe, Bill began as a diver with the swimming team, but on the coach’s advice he switched to gymnastics and earned his numerals competing in the rings, parallel bars, and tumbling events. For the next three years, Bill was a standout on the Army gym team, his final, heartbreaking effort in a losing match to Navy in 1961 eliciting a personal letter from General Garrison H. Davidson, then Seventh Army Commander, and former Academy Superintendent. The General wrote:

“I learned of your superb performance against Navy . . .You certainly carried a tremendous responsibility . . . An underdog ARMY team on the verge of an upset victory. That you came through in such brilliant style, under such great pressure, is convincing evidence of your strength of character . . . You gave more than your best when the chips were down, and in the eyes of observers you merited the fruits of your exceptional performance. Congratulations!”

Athletics occupied only a part of Bill’s cadet days, however. He was a conscientious, hard-working student, always ready to lend a helping hand to classmates experiencing difficulties with the academic department. Throughout his cadet days Bill exhibited the same deep inner conviction, capable leadership, selfless application to duty, and humility that marked his career as an officer and caused him to stand out among his peers.

At graduation Bill chose the Infantry, attended Airborne and Ranger schools, and volunteered for duty in Korea. There Bill served with Company B, 2d Battle Group, 3d Infantry. He learned the routine of company-level operations so well that it prompted his commanding officer to remark,

“I may be a captain before you, but you will be a general before I am.”

Somehow, Bill managed to crowd 36 hours of work into 24 and before long was commanding a company as a second lieutenant, a position he held until his rotation to the States eight months later. He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for his exceptional leadership and organizational abilities as a company commander.

Back home, Bill joined the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell and spent two fruitful years there as an assistant operations officer. During this period he also qualified as a senior parachutist. For his superior performance in this assignment he was awarded an oak leaf cluster to his Army Commendation Medal.

While at Fort Campbell, in addition to his other notable accomplishments, Bill succeeded in “extracting Jeannie from the jungles of Chicago,” as he liked to put it, and they were married on 4 April 1964. The young couple quickly won the hearts of a growing circle of friends, and Jeannie adapted quickly to her new role as an Army wife. On 17 March 1965, Matthew William Deuel, “the littlest soldier,” was born to them.

About this time Bill was selected to attend the career course at the Armor School. Bill dug into the mechanics of mobile warfare with characteristic enthusiasm and in his quiet but professional way so impressed his Armor classmates that they spent a lot of time and effort attempting, unsuccessfully, to persuade him to switch branches.

Always ready for a new challenge, Bill volunteered for duty in Vietnam and was assigned as a battalion advisor to the elite 2d Airborne Battalion, Airborne Division, Republic of Vietnam. It was exactly the job he aspired to, one given on a selective basis only to outstanding Infantry officers.

Jeannie left early to settle in Illinois, and Bill proceeded to the military advisor’s course at Fort Bragg. At the conclusion of the course and during Bill’s few remaining weeks in the States, Bill and Jeannie managed a short, fun-filled, second honeymoon at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Bill arrived in Vietnam on 16 August 1966. Shortly before his first contact with the Viet Cong he wrote to a classmate of his desire to get into the field and to become involved in the fighting. It was typical of him to want to be a participant. He never welcomed the role of an observer.

While awaiting his first mission, Bill attended and graduated from the Vietnamese airborne school. Proudly wearing his second pair of jump “wings,” Bill prepared to move to the field. He had already won the respect and admiration of his Vietnamese counterparts.

On 21 September, just nine days before he died, Bill shared the thoughts that guided his actions in life in a letter to Jeannie:

“When I was commissioned, I took an oath to defend the Constitution and our way of life, at the price of my life if necessary. I knew you realized this when you married me. But now that I am on a battlefield and danger is close at hand, fear of death tends to cloud the mind of the non-believer. The strange thing is that fear is the greatest danger of all.

“I believe that we were all put on this earth for a purpose, and our lives will not end until that purpose is achieved. I believe that each one of us has been delegated certain responsibilities. I believe that the important thing is not how soon we can be relieved of them, but how well we manage them until God sees fit to relieve us of them. In your prayers I hope you pray not for our safety, but that we have the wisdom and courage to shoulder our responsibilities.”

On 30 September, while returning from a successful mission, the helicopter in which Bill was riding received heavy automatic weapons fire from the ground. In that one unlucky instant Bill joined the Long Gray Line. He was the only man on the aircraft who was hit. He died as a soldier, in the performance of his duty, supporting the principles he valued. His loss leaves a gap in our ranks that can never be adequately closed.

Among the hundreds of letters received by his wife and family came one from Lieutenant Barry McCaffery, the junior advisor to the 2d Airborne Battalion, written from a hospital bed where he himself was recovering from wounds,

“I must tell you of the affection and respect that Sergeant Ortiz and I felt for our captain. He was a very kind man and a brave and competent officer . . . The captain’s loss stunned the battalion completely . . . [His] sacrifice, I assure you, will not be forgotten by the officers and men of the 2d Airborne Battalion.”

On 10 October 1966, William Deuel was buried in the West Point Cemetery as he had requested.

In November, at a retreat ceremony held at Fort Bragg, Jeannie and Matthew received the honors awarded to Bill posthumously: the bronze Star for valor, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and the Purple Heart. The awards were presented by Lieutenant General Bruce Palmer Jr., Commanding General, XVIII Airborne Corps.

In addition to his wife and son, Bill is survived by his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Thorne Deuel, and an older brother, Thorne. A memorial fund in Bill’s memory has been established by relatives and friends at the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois.

His smile was always genuine,
From boyhood days was always
And yet
It carried a tinge of restraint,
Of disciplined reflection,
As though he saw framework
Beneath his time’s affairs
Asking a price-making demand,
And so,
With quiet courage,
Standing beside young Nathan Hale,
He shouldered a hero’s load.

Written in memory of Captain William T. Deuel
by Gilbert Wright, 9 December 1966

— B.W.C. III
Bong Son, Vietnam

ASSEMBLY, Summer 1967

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