William G. Bainbridge, the fifth Sergeant Major of the Army, died November 29 in Palm Bay, Florida.
Bainbridge, 83, was a veteran of two wars, beginning his career in 1943 as a draftee, and retiring in 1979 after four years as the Army’s senior enlisted soldier and primary noncommissioned officer adviser to the Chief of Staff.
A native of Galesburg, Illinois, Bainbridge’s first unit of assignment was with the 423d Infantry Regiment of the 106th Infantry Division, the last Army division organized for service in World War II.
After deploying into the Ardennes region of Belgium in late 1944, Bainbridge’s regiment was overrun by German forces during the Battle of the Bulge.
Bainbridge was captured and would spend the remaining months of the war in a German POW camp before being liberated by the 6th Armored Division.
Upon returning to the United States, Bainbridge left active duty and joined the Army Reserve. He subsequently returned to active service during the mobilization for the Korean Conflict.
After a series of assignments and promotions in the United States and Germany, Bainbridge became a Battalion Sergeant Major with the 1st Infantry Division, and deployed with the division to Vietnam, where he would become Sergeant Major of II Field Force.
Upon returning from Vietnam, Bainbridge had a series of high-level Sergeant Major assignments before becoming one of the Army’s first Command Sergeants Major in 1968.
Subsequently Bainbridge would become the first Command Sergeant Major of the newly formed Sergeant Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas.
After a three-year tour at the academy, Bainbridge was selected as Sergeant Major of the Army in 1975, and served in that capacity during the chief of staff tenures of General Frederick C. Weyand and Bernard W. Rogers.
Sergeant Major Bainbridge's awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit (with Oak Leaf Clusters), Bronze Star, Purple Heart Medal (with Oak Leaf Cluster), Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal (with Oak Leaf Clusters), Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-North African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Prisoner of War Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge (Second Award).
Bainbridge is survived by his wife of 63 years, Hazel Smith; daughters Kathryn L. Koop and Mary B. Moore, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held today in Palm Bay, followed at a later date by internment with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
ARLINGTON, Virginia (Army News Service, January 29, 2009) — In life, former Sergeant Major of the Army William G. Bainbridge worked to improve the lives of noncommissioned officers under his command. In death, he left a legacy of service to his country, his family and his Soldiers.
Bainbridge is remembered by Army leaders during this “Year of the NCO” as a pioneer proponent of the current non-commissioned officer education system. After Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Bainbridge said: “World War II was won in the pre-war classrooms at the Army War College and the Command and General Staff College. The conflict in the Persian Gulf was won by the NCO Education System.”
Bainbridge passed away in November 2008, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday. In a ceremony attended by his colleagues from across the five branches of the military, Bainbridge's life and legacy were celebrated.
As the bell signaled 9 a.m., Soldiers from The Old Guard carried the casket into the Old Post chapel at Fort Myer, Virginia, for a brief memorial service. The U.S. Army Band “Pershing's Own” played as mourners entered the building.
Bainbridge's career began when he volunteered for the draft in June 1943. His unit was captured in the Battle of the Bulge, and he spent almost four months as a prisoner of war.
Upon his discharge from the Army in 1945, Bainbridge returned to his native Illinois to become a farmer, though a member of the Army Reserve. When the Korean War broke out, Bainbridge returned to active duty in 1951, and he soon decided to become a career Soldier.
In February of 1963, Bainbridge was promoted to Sergeant Major, and was deployed to Vietnam two years later. He was chosen to become one of the first Command Sergeants Major in the Army in February of 1968, serving in that position at Fort Meade, Maryland, Fort Shafter, Hawaii, and Fort Benning, Georgia, among others.
Then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Frederick C. Weyand selected Bainbridge to be his Sergeant Major of the Army in July of 1975. During his tenure, Bainbridge visited troops all over America and the world every year.
“Sergeant Major Bainbridge was well liked and respected,” said retired Command Sergeant Major Jimmie W. Spencer, director of NCO and Soldier programs for the Association of the U.S. Army. “I often heard it said that the next person who said something bad about him would also be the first.”
Bainbridge retired on June 18, 1979, in a ceremony at Fort Myer. After his retirement, though, he was still active in the Association of the United States Army and the Noncommissioned Officers Association.
After the service Wednesday, a procession of more than 20 cars made their way through Arlington National Cemetery to section 59. As a fine mist fell from the sky, the Soldiers carried the basket over the icy ground to its final resting place.
As the flag draping the casket was folded for Hazel, Bainbridge's wife of 63 years, the Army Band played “America the Beautiful.”
“In life, he honored the flag,” Chaplain Lieutenant Colonel Col. Harry A. Rauch III said. “In death, the flag honors him.”
Secretary of the Army Pete Geren was there as well as Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston and several former Sergeants Major of the Army.
After the service, Geren, Preston and the retired Sergeants Major offered their condolences to family members of the man who left such an enduring legacy.
“He left a lasting effect on Soldiers and noncommissioned officer education, his fingerprint is all over many of the programs we have today,” Spencer said. “His influence will be left for generations to come.
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard