William Edwin Waters – Colonel, United States Army

Courtesy of his classmates, United States Military Academy:

William Edwin Waters
No. 13329  •  16 May 1918 – 15 January 1962
Died in the Panama Canal Zone, aged 43 years
Interment: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

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When Bill Waters' many friends learned that he had passed away in the early morning of 15 January 1962, the reaction among us all was one of shock and disbelief; because Bill was one of those rare human beings whose personal and professional qualities inspired such affection and respect as to serve us as a mark toward which to strive. He represented the kind of officer and gentleman we ourselves wished to be.
These were qualities we could not easily associate with death.

Bill was a man of many talents and a leader in every sense of the word. Possessed of a keen mind, strong physique, and courage born of deep convictions, he had the stability and perception that enabled him to adjust to any situation, becoming, no matter where he was assigned, the man to see to get things done easily and with a minimum of friction. He was an outstanding Army officer, a soldier of the highest order, but also a man of ideas.

During World War II, Bill served as a company commander in the 83d Division, taking his company ashore in Normandy shortly after D-Day. He fought with them through France and Germany and was serving as battalion S-3 at the Elbe when the fighting stopped. But it was at St. Nazaire that Bill performed one of his most spectacular exploits: a feat of soldierly courage and something more. It was typical of him.

Near St. Nazaire, our troops had bypassed a strongly defended, underground fortress, from which the Germans had to be driven. The fortress was so well camouflaged that it was invisible except from extremely close range. There seemed to be no way of taking it but by direct assault and at the cost of many lives. But an alternative occurred to Bill when the fortress commander sent out a request for medical assistance. Keeping his side arms on, and accompanied by two German-speaking orderlies, Bill went in himself to see what could be done by force of persuasion, and, though it looked for a time as if he would be summarily shot, his argument proved the stronger. Reason prevailed, and the fortress surrendered without bloodshed. Bill’s whole life was a testament to the courage and humanity of this act.

Bill Waters was born in Sullivan County on 16 May 1918. A year later his family moved to Indianapolis, the city that Bill was to call home throughout his service career. After high school, Bill  joined the National Guard and entered the West Point Prep School at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. He earned his appointment to West Point though the Army. At the Military Academy his abilities continued to be recognized, and he became second captain and commander of the 1st Regiment during his first class year. Following in his father’s footsteps, Bill selected the Infantry as his career branch, and, after graduation, reported for further training to the Infantry School at Fort Benning. Three months prior to his leaving with the 83d Division for England, Bill married Mimi Meagher at Fort Slocum, New York.

After the German surrender, Bill remained with the occupation forces and wound up in the G-2 section of Headquarters U.S. Forces, Vienna. Returning to the States, Bill was assigned as aide to General Mark W. Clark at Sixth Army Headquarters, Presidio, California. Another series of  assignments took him through the Advanced Course Infantry School at Fort Benning, to Columbia University for his master’s degree in English literature, and to the English Department at the Military Academy. During this three-year tour, Bill distinguished himself as a teacher and was able to prepare and have published some military writing of his own. It was also at this point in Bill’s career that he discovered his second vocation — teaching. Teaching for him was a facet of relaxation and accomplishment, and this precious gift of being able to impart his diligently gathered knowledge to others was appreciated by all he taught. Truly his thirst for knowledge was never ending and presented a challenge that he accepted readily.

At the end of the West Point tour of duty, Bill became a student again, this time at the General Staff and Command College at Fort Leavenworth, and from there once again went overseas, this time as S-3 of the 32d Infantry Regiment. As a Major, he then became the 7th Division’s G-1 under General E. B. Sebree and later under General Carraway. On his return to the States, he became assistant secretary to the General Staff of Continental Army Command, and later Aide-de-Camp to General Willard G. Wyman. On completing his tour with CONARC, Bill entered the Armed Forces Staff College at Norfolk and was subsequently assigned to the Headquarters Caribbean
Command in Panama.

In this post, Bill distinguished himself by his adroit handling of several crises. Notable among these were the invasion of Panama by a band of Cuban mercenaries in April 1959, two major civil disturbances that occurred along the Canal Zone boundaries in November of the same year, and his administration of the massive and intricate relief operation organized after the Chilean earthquakes of June 1960. His work for Chilean relief demonstrated once again his humanity and professional versatility in a job that required him to operate the longest peacetime airlift of its kind ever attempted.

It is perhaps a clue to the basic character of the man that, versatile as he was, he always considered himself first and foremost an Infantry officer. In the days when some of the fainter-hearted were concerned over the future of the Armed Forces, of the Army, of the Infantry, Bill never lost faith and never lost his deep pride in his competence as a fighting soldier. But Bill did not, in fact, regard his duty as being restricted to close order drill and combat techniques, and, though he deferred to no one in these respects, he was as comfortable and as effective in a large staff section or a classroom as he was in the field with troops. Bill Waters was admired and respected by superiors and subordinates alike over a quarter century of various and fruitful endeavor. They looked to him and did not find him wanting.

He is survived by his wife Mimi; sons Bill Jr., John, Robert, James, and Michael; and daughter Barbara, all residing in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

— Roger L. Fisher

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