Williston Birkhimer Palmer, the former Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and the first Director of Military Assistance of the Department of Defense, died November 10, 1973, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
He was born in Chicago, the elder son of Colonel Charles Day Palmer, whose younger son of same name (Charles Day Palmer, Jr.) also attained 4-star rank, the first pair of brothers in Army history to achieve this distinction. He was also the grandson of William Edward Birkhimer. Graduating from the United States Military Academy in 1919 after an accelerated 3-year course, he missed combat in World War I but saw plenty in World War II.
A Brigadier General commanding VII Corps artillery, he went through the Normandy invasion, the St Lo breakthrough and major battles across France and Germany, as far as the Elbe.
His reputation for demanding high standard of performance by immediate subordinates carried into peacetime assignments. After serving as Director of Logistics, European Command, in 1948, he commanded 82nd Airborne Division in 1950, 2nd Armored Division in Europe in 1951 and X Corps in Korea later that year.
After his old theater Commander, Dwight Eisenhower became President, he was named successively the Army's first Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Deputy Commander-in-Chief in Europe and, in 1959, Department of Defense's first Director of Military Assistance, with the rank of full General, comparable to the chiefs of staff of the three services.
One of his problems in that post was black market scandal involving military personnel in Turkey. When Senators were shocked that some had refused to testify, he countered that Uniform Code of Military Justice gave them the equivalent of Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. “This right has been in the Army for more than 30 years that I know of,” the General said.
In October 1960, on visit to Saigon, South Vietnam, he announced the suspension of military aid to Laos because of the “confused situation” in that country, explaining that “we have not been sure who is responsible for anything.” Two days later the US Embassy in Vientiane said that the announcement had been mistake and made without instructions from the Washington, DC agencies concerned. Assistance, and confusion, resumed.
Although his forebears had seen Army service starting with War of 1812, he was no sentimentalist. A stickler for accuracy and an enemy of waste, as Vice Chief of Staff he ordered the discontinuance of the ceremonial horse-drawn caissons at Arlington National Cemetery. He was overruled and the famous matched gray and black horses remained on active duty.
He never married.
November 11, 1899-November 10, 1973. His brother survives, as does half-sister, Mrs. Eugene L. Coleman. Funeral will be in Ft Myer, Virginia, chapel. Son of Charles Day Palmer, grandson of William Birkhimer, brother of Charles Day Palmer, Jr. (1902-1999). They share a headstone in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery.
Palmer, Williston Birkhimer
Born November 11, 1899
Died November 10, 1973
United States Army
Residence: Washington, D.C.
Arlington National Cemetery Section 1, Grave 339
Buried November 15, 1973
Reviewed by: Michael Howard