“War Is A Confusing, Crazy-Ass Experience”: From Special Forces In Vietnam To Teaching At West Point

William L. Wilson


William Wilson was born at West Point in 1940. His father graduated from the Military Academy in 1939, and was serving as the coach of the Plebe football team. Growing up, stories of his grandfather, a stagecoach driver and surveyor, nurtured his adventurous spirit. Attending West Point was natural for him, and he entered the Academy in 1959 with the Class of 1963. Entering West Point, he soon learned that one of the high ranking officers, John Jannarone, was his father’s tent-mate during training in the mid-1930s. On the military side, his Tactical Officer, having served on the Czech border with 2nd Cavalry, inspired him with stories of the Cold War. Based on the example set by his Tac, and the expectations of facing down the Russians at the Fulda Gap, he chose to branch Armor upon graduation. His first assignment was with 1-34 Armor at Fort Lewis, and he had a wonderful experience, calling it supportive, encouraging, and positive. He then transitioned to Special Forces, eventually serving with 3rd Group, 5th Group, and 6th Group. In 1965, he deployed to Vietnam, where he was assigned to the I Corps region. During his tour, he worked with the Montagnards, and with an Australian contingent. After returning from Vietnam, he was accepted for a teaching assignment at West Point, and he joined the Department of Military Psychology & Leadership, which he described as a creative and fun department. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his experiences at West Point, competing on the football and track teams, and getting married 10 days after graduation. He discusses his deployment to Vietnam, describing a typical patrol, ceremonies with some of the indigenous villagers, and particular hazards he encountered. He addresses some of the disturbing events he witnessed, observing that “dealing with trauma causes reflection.” He reflects on his time teaching at West Point and some of the issues the Academy faced during his tenure, such as the introduction of women into West Point, and transitioning the leadership style into a developmental process under the Cadet Leader Development System (CLDS). Finally, he explains what West Point means to him.


name William L. Wilson
institution USMA
graduation year 1963
service Armor / Special Forces
unit 1/34 Armor; 6th Special Forces Group; 5th Special Forces Group
specialty Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership
service dates 1963 1992