William Fuller Pence – Colonel, United States Army

Courtesy of his classmates, United States Military Academy Class of 1946

William Fuller Pence No.15511 Class of 1946

Died 7 July 1987 in Austin, Texas, aged 61 years
Interment: Arlington National Cemetery


William Fuller (Bill) Pence was an Army brat and was born at Walter Reed Army Hospital on 25 August 1925. His father, Major General Arthur W. Pence, was an Engineer out of the Class of November 1918. Bill moved from Army post to Army post as a child, and ended up attending high school at Bronxville, New York. From there he attended Sullivan's Preparatory School in Washington, DC, before receiving his appointment to West Point.

Entering the Academy on 1 July 1943 with Bill was his brother Arthur W. Pence, Jr. It was then, and is still, highly unusual for two brothers to enter the same Class at West Point and subsequently graduate as Bill and Art did. Bill had no difficulties getting through West Point. He enjoyed cadet life to the extent that was possible. His good sense of humor allowed him to shrug off things that worried other cadets. He was always on hand to help a beleaguered classmate when the occasion arose.

Graduation saw Bill enter the Signal Corps and attend the Signal Basic Course at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. He took time off at Christmas 1946 to marry Adeline (Sug) Hartnell at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on 28 December. His first unit assignment was to a Signal troop with the Constabulary in Germany. In 1949, Bill transferred to the Corps of Engineers. After a tour as a training company commander at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Bill was selected to receive his master's in civil engineering at the University of Illinois at Urban. Nineteen hundred and fifty-four saw Bill in Korea, where he commanded a company in the 73rd Engineer Battalion (Combat) and later commanded a company in the 73rd Engineer Battalion (Constr). Returning to the continental United States, Bill and Sug were assigned to the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, where Bill was assistant professor of Military Science and Tactics. Nineteen hundred and fifty-eight saw the Pences heading for France, where Bill was assigned to the Engineer Supply Control Agency. It was during this assignment that a friend and fellow officer recalls some of the traits that gained Bill such respect and admiration from all who knew him. This friend's hobby was writing skits and playlets to entertain at the officers club. In his words, “Bill, who had two left feet and the worst singing voice I have ever heard, appeared in everything we put on. His boundless enthusiasm and obvious joy in performing infected his fellow performers and also the audience. Everybody had a wonderful time because Bill was having such a good time.”

From France, Bill and Sug returned to Buffalo, New York, where Bill was the Deputy District Engineer. August 1966 saw Bill go to Fort Hood, Texas, with orders to organize train and deploy an Engineer battalion to Vietnam. Under adverse conditions and with every staff section of a corps headquarters looking over his shoulder, Bill deployed his battalion. The Corps Engineer recalls that Bill got the job done without being intimidated and was absolutely unflappable. He never lost sight of his mission and refused to let  minor snags divert him. Bill's S-3 in the battalion recalls that Bill had a unique way of keeping things in perspective. He could recognize talent and was patient enough to draw out the best in anyone who was honest with him. This officer doesn't recall Bill ever raising his voice during those trying times. Bill's unit performed admirably in Vietnam. The following is quoted from a fellow officer, “He received many ‘atta boys' from the brass for the job his guys performed. Bill's boys took a back seat to no one! They were soldiers first, and damn fine engineers.”

Bill returned to the continental United States to become Post Engineer at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. In 1969, he became Engineer, Army Strategic Communications Command. He retired from the Army at Fort Huachuca in 1970. After just a year of being retired, Bill went to work at Arlington Hall Station, Virginia, as Chief Construction Branch. In 1974, he moved to Vint Hill Farms Station, Warrenton, Virginia as Facilities Engineer. Bill finally retired from government service in 1983, and he and Sug settled into retired life in Virginia. In 1985, the Pences moved to Lakeway, Texas, a resort community near Austin. Bill entered into the active social life of the community. He assumed civic responsibilities by being elected to the board of directors of the local municipal water district. An avid and excellent golfer, Bill thoroughly enjoyed his retirement.

Suddenly cancer struck. A year of chemotherapy and radiation treatment failed to control the cancer and Bill died 7 July 1987. He is survived by his wife, Sug, and three sons, William, Robert and Thomas.

Bill Pence was a man who gained the respect and admiration of everyone who had the opportunity to know him. This is evidenced by the responses to requests for input for this article, some of which follow:

“From my association with Bill, I would characterize him as modest and sincere, a true West Pointer in every aspect, epitomizing the motto [Duty, Honor, Country.”

“Bill was intellectual, moral and extremely quick-witted. No, Bill was not perfect; however, he came much closer than most. All my memories of Bill are happy and fond except for his final interment, which for me and for all his many friends, was a very sad moment”

“I admired Bill for his professionalism, his abilities, aplomb, and his singleness of purpose. He constantly amazed me with the depth of his knowledge.”

“Bill Pence, without a doubt, was a wonderful person and an excellent professional engineer, and a distinct credit to West Point, to the Corps of Engineers, and to the United States Army.”

“I want to convey my great regard for Bill and to tell you and Sug and all his classmates what a fine man he was and how much those times we spent together meant to me. My prayer is that someday my friends will remember me in the same way.”

William Fuller Pence was born into an Army tradition, a tradition he upheld and cherished all his life. The West Point motto, Duty, Honor, Country, was his guiding principle at all times; his family knew and understood this. Bill was a dedicated family man, a loving husband and a caring father. There is a consensus description of Bill from everyone who knew him: “He was an outstanding human being.”

The world is a better place because Bill Pence was here with us. We are all enriched for having known him.

1946 Memorial Article Project and his wife Sug.

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