William Earnest Hensel – Colonel, United States Army

Courtesy of his classmates, United States Military Academy

William Earnest Hensel

No. 13137  •  20 December 1920 – 19 July 1986
Died in Upland, Pennsylvania, aged 65 years
Interment: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia



Combat Infantryman's Badge

Bill Hensel, born in Buffalo, New York, on 20 December 1920, graduated from East High School of that city in 1938 and entered West Point in July 1939. With body and mind driven tirelessly by his spirit, Bill stood in the upper fifth of our class from entry through graduation. Reflecting his tireless approach, in cross-country he won his numerals — the monogram, the Minor “A,” the Major “A” while becoming captain. In his three years of track, his specialty was the two-mile run. So did he early learn how to hang in and tough it out through difficulty and trying situations.

Looking forward to the prospect of fighting with armored units while leading men in the Queen of Battles, he won one of the ten slots in Armored Infantry and took a special course at Ft. Knox after graduation. In May, he joined the 86th Tank Battalion of the 8th Armored Division. Moving overseas with it, he fought through three campaigns in Europe: Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe. On 2 October 1944, he was promoted to Captain. In April he won the Bronze Star; the citation reads in part:

“On 6 April 1945, with complete disregard for his own safety, Captain Hensel went
forward to reconnoiter two enemy towns. He located defenses, enabling the attack to
continue rapidly. During one action he personally captured crews of two antitank

A rapid series of assignments followed the war’s end: 94th, 9th, 1st, and 88th Infantry Divisions. Bill was saddened at having to force Russians — awaiting prison or death — to entrain for the Soviet Union. He also served in the Berlin Command before returning to ROTC duty at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. There he and Virginia Ann Allen were married on 12 August 1949 to begin almost 37 wedded years.

But when the summer of 1950 brought the invasion of South Korea by the North, Bill, anxious to serve in that crisis, arranged assignment to the 70th Tank Battalion which
moved from Fort Knox to the 1st Cavalry Division. Arriving in September 1950, Bill was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment. Very quickly he was made senior advisor to the battalion of unseasoned troops from Thailand. Inspired and trained by Bill to the hard realities of combat, their performance became outstanding. Thailand’s monarch personally conferred on their mentor and exemplar The Royal Order of the White Elephant.

Then serving in succession as 8th Cavalry operations officer, executive officer, and 1st Battalion commander, he was promoted to Major on 12 January 1951. Nine months and three days later, he put on the silver leaves of Lieutenant Colonel. In addition to the Thai decoration, Bill was awarded two more Bronze Stars and the CIB.

Returning home in December 1951, he was assistant G-3 at the Infantry Center, graduated from the Infantry Advanced Course, and became Associate Professor of Engineering Drawing at our Alma Mater. There followed the C∓GSC Class of 1957 before assignment to Land Southeast Europe in Izmir, Turkey. As chief of Organization and Training in G-3 of that NATO headquarters, he won the Commendation Medal.

September 1959 brought duty as deputy director for nuclear logistics with the Defense Atomic Support Agency at Sandia Base, where he was promoted to Colonel in May 1962. That September he returned to Korea as a brigade commander in the 7th Infantry Division. Completing 21 years of service, he retired but found that he did not take well to being a civilian. So he found ways to remain close to the military service for a number of years.

His civilian career was varied and important. From 1965 to 1970 with the Boeing (Vertol) Company in Morton, Pennsylvania, he became manager of systems analysis, working on the problem of helicopter lift in the thin air of high elevations. Arriving in Saigon in 1970, he was manager of facilities engineering at Cam Ranh Bay (now a Soviet Naval Base). In Vietnam he served with his usual distinction, welding a force of Vietnamese laborers, Korean and Filipino group leaders, and American supervisors into an effective, 1,800-man work force. His leadership and training programs improved morale and efficiency; his analysis effected such savings as to qualify the complex for bonuses. He remained in Vietnam until the bulk of foreign military forces
had been withdrawn in 1972.

Then came two years as civil engineer and project manager in the Philadelphia area. But overseas called; so Bill went to Iran as resident engineer and construction manager, building a city to support copper mine employees in the mountains northwest of Kerman in south central Iran. His responsibilities were total — from establishing boulevards to emplacing phones, electricity, and water. Having completed that, Bill became resident engineer and construction coordinator for the
great international airport to be built for Tehran. Working for the Shah’s premier construction company, Bill was the critical action officer for the $850 million project. Architectural design, foundation clearing, and grading work had been completed by late 1978 when sporadic bombings drove many non-Iranians out. But Bill Hensel remained to the bitter end — when all work was suspended as the Shah left the country — and then came home to the peace of Pennsylvania.

Bill is survived by his wife, Virginia Ann, and by his children: Pamela Ann Jones, Susan Gorsky, Kathy Porter, William E. Hensel, and Christopher Hensel. Our nation has lost a fighter of keen mind, as dedicated to his tasks as he was determined to accomplish them with excellence. These traits of strength produced outstanding results in an amazingly wide spectrum of assignments.

Bill’s wife and children have lost a devoted husband and father in this world. This writer and all that learned to know, while searching to understand the warrior, have lost a good friend. He was admired particularly for his engineering and military prowess. A dedicated soldier — devoted to Duty, Honor and Country even more than he sometimes appeared to believe — he gave untiringly and with flashes of brilliance to all of his varied works.

— Classmate Eppy

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