Col. William Richard "Bill" US (Ret.)
78, of St. Petersburg, passed away October 10, 2017. Bill was born
in Manhattan to Edith and Richard Griffiths and attended Brooklyn
Technical High School. Following his graduation from the United
States Military Academy at West Point, Bill served honorably for
28 years as an Army Officer, including as an Armored Division
Officer in command of combat units for two tours in Vietnam. He
earned two Legion of Merit Medals, the Silver Star, three for valor, five Army Commendation Medals, 11 Air
Medals, and numerous campaign and foreign awards. Bill's final
tour of duty was as Director of the Joint Doctrine Center with
independent command at MacDill AFB. Along the way, Bill earned two
Master's degrees and was privileged to serve on the faculty at
West Point teaching military history to the cadets. He also
assumed command of the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry "Quarterhorse" at
Ft. Riley, KS, and completed a tour of duty in S. Korea as an
advisor to the Republic of Korea Army. He was the author of "The
Great War," which is used in text book form at West Point to this
After retiring from the Army, Bill served as an advocate for
veterans at Worknet Pinellas where he worked as the Veteran
Program Manager. He was also the screening committee chairman for
two U.S. Congressmen for appointment of young men and women to
West Point. In addition, Bill served on the board of directors of
the West Point Society, Florida West Coast and CareerSource
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Patricia; his son, Richard
Griffiths; daughters, Leigh Major (Ted) and Suzi Huntsman (Eric);
grandson, Patrick William Huntsman.
Funeral Services will be held at Bay Pines National Cemetery in
Pinellas County, FL, Friday, Dec. 8, 1:30 pm. The family will host
a patriotic Celebration of Life at Tampa Bay Watch on Tierra
Verde, FL, Dec. 9 from 4-7 pm. In lieu of flowers, the family has
requested donations in Bill's memory be made to Tampa Bay Watch (tampabaywatch.org)
where Bill served on the Advisory Committee.
Published in the Tampa Bay Times on Oct. 22, 2017
Taps Memorial Article:
WILLIAM R. GRIFFITHS 1961
Cullum No. 23496-1961 | October 9, 2017 | Died in St. Petersburg, FL
Cremated. Interred at Bay Pines National Cemetery, St. Petersburg, FL
In West Point’s 1961 Howitzer, it was said of William Richard
“Bill” Griffiths that “Rollo,” as he was also known, “… lambasted and cajoled
West Point into submission…as a stepping stone to greater things.” At his 55th
reunion, he recounted his life’s adventures: “A good life, with good friends and
family—what more could a boy from the streets of Brooklyn have wished for?”
Undoubtedly an accurate characterization of how he viewed his life, but an
understatement of the facts. A closer look at the details of his life reveals a
man who achieved what had been predicted.
Born in New York City on May 7, 1939 to Richard and Edith Griffiths, Bill grew
up in Brooklyn, NY and graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School, receiving
an appointment to West Point, entering in 1957. He was a good student and a
dutiful cadet, pursuing athletics and extracurricular activities (Handball Team,
Sailing Club, Glee Club, Debate Club) while making friends with whom he
maintained close relationships throughout his life. Always prudent, Rollo
remained under the Tactical Department’s radar.
Bill’s already well-developed personality matured during his cadet years.
Neither then, nor later in life, did he gladly suffer fools. If you were
disposed to inanity, Bill was apt to tell you so in a few precisely chosen
words. Rough on the outside, there was also a gentle side to Bill. An avowed
Anglophile, he loved English bulldogs (as well as all animals), which graced the
Griffiths’ home over the years. A devoted husband and father and loyal friend to
many, he was quietly generous in helping others. This fact was evidenced as many
inspiring stories about his unadvertised, charitable assistance emerged upon his
During his years at West Point, he gradually recognized that: “…the commitment I
had made on the Plain as a plebe…to service to the nation and its Constitution
became more important and an Army career became more plausible.” More plausible?
With his subsequent graduation from Ranger School as an Armor branch officer, he
attained the rank of full colonel and retired after 28 years. He served two
combat tours in Vietnam and was awarded with some of our nation’s highest
military decorations, including the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars (one with
“V” device), 11 Air Medals, five Army Commendation Medals (one with “V” device),
the Meritorious Service Medal, two Legion of Merit Medals and the Combat
Infantryman Badge. The highlight of his career was commanding the 1st Squadron,
4th Cavalry, his beloved Quarterhorse, at Fort Riley, KS. Staff assignments
included service as director of the Joint Doctrine Center, Office of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff and Independent Command at MacDill AFB, FL, and as advisor to
the four-star general in command of the First Republic of Korea Army.
Bill earned two graduate degrees (M.A. in history from Rice University and a
MMAS from the CGSC) and served as instructor in military history at West Point,
where he authored the textbook The Great War.
“Prepared and Loyal,” his motto, and a copy of the Constitution handy on his
desk, he was a true soldier’s soldier and selfless leader—as one of his company
commanders recalled, “I attribute my successful military career to his
leadership, mentorship and friendship.”
However, Bill would tell you his proudest achievement was his 55 years of
marriage to Patricia and becoming parents of their three fine kids. Pat and Bill
met while he was at West Point and Pat was at Marymount College. With divergent
backgrounds, Pat, the sweet but strong-minded daughter of a Boston brahmin
family, and Bill, the street-smart, hard-headed Brooklyner, were married in
Hawaii in 1962 when Bill was serving in the 69th Armor at Schofield Barracks.
Their wedding was followed by a stylish parade around post with the newlyweds in
the turret of an armored vehicle. Thus, began a time that Bill accurately called
“halcyon.” Living on Mokulea Beach, the family was soon enlarged by a daughter,
Leigh, and a son, Rich. Life was idyllic with great neighbors nearby, including
several classmates, who frequently gathered at the Griffiths’ welcoming home for
respite from their soldierly duties. Pat and Bill became legendary hosts.
The family migrated to various stations of duty and their third child, Suzanne,
was born in Texas. Ultimately St. Pete, FL became their home as they retired to
their “Castle in the Sky.” Bill became a surprisingly competent golfer, enjoying
mightily the camaraderie of his golfing buddies. When he wasn’t out on the
course, he devoted his skills to helping returning veterans find employment in
the civilian world, a very rewarding second career.
Pat and Bill’s life was gladdened by the marriages of their daughters: Leigh to
Ted Major and Suzi to Eric Huntsman. The latter union resulted in the joyous
addition of a grandson, Patrick William, the namesake of Pat and Bill. Bill
happily became the doting grandfather, a station in life in which he truly
On the evening of October 9, 2017, after a pleasant family dinner surrounded by
family, Bill had been highly entertained by the antics of his toddler grandson.
On his way to bed, the old soldier suffered a heart attack and made his way to
Bill was laid to rest at Bay Pines National Cemetery with a large group of West
Point classmates in attendance to honor his life and service. The memorial
service that followed was joyous with fitting tributes to his life’s
achievements and warm recollections of a very lovable guy. And Army beat Navy on
that fine day.
Be Thou at Peace, Rollo. Mission well performed!
— William Esselstein ’61