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15352 Simpson, Charles M.
September 11, 1923 - October 23, 1984



Published Assembly Sep '90

Charles Maze Simpson, III No.15352 Class of 1946
Died 23 October 1984 in Boulder Creek California, aged 61 years. Interment: West Point Cemetery, West Point, New York

Shortly after his death, there appeared in Gung Ho magazine "A Tribute to Colonel Charles M. (Bill) Simpson," written by John B. Dwyer. One paragraph of this very fine article epitomized what made Bill such an exceptional individual. It read, "In all, Colonel Bill Simpson was one of the last of that rare breed of soldier-scholar who went into Special Forces early on... and stayed. He was representative of the classic Chinese ideal of the warrior, equally at home wielding a sword or a pen."

Charles Maze Simpson, III, known always to his family and friends as Bill, was born at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey on 11 September 1923. Bill's father was in the Signal Corps and this had a great influence on his activities as he became a teen-ager. He lived in the Philippines from 1937 until 1940, and one of his favorite pastimes was working his own short wave radio. He was probably the youngest "ham" operator in the Pacific at the time. Bill's family returned to the States and he graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, DC. This was followed by a year at the University of Kentucky and then on to Sullivan's Preparatory School before entering West Point in 1943.

In addition to wearing stars, Bill was active in many aspects of cadet life. He served on the Honor Committee and the Pointer staff, and played the Cadet Chapel chimes, as well as being a member of the Radio Club. Commissioned In the Infantry upon graduation, Bill at-tended the usual schools at Fort Benning, Georgia. His first troop assignment was in Germany as a member of' the Constabulary, then with the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, in Vienna, Linz, and Saalfelden, where he consecutively commanded a platoon, rifle company, then on up to battalion S-2 and S-4 and assistant S-3. He returned to CONUS in 1950 as commander of H Company, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne.

Nineteen fifty-two saw Bill in Korea as commander of K Company, 17th Infantry, 7th Division. He gained quite a reputation during that period, not only as a splendid soldier, but as a leader with definite ideas as to how things should be done. From his company, Bill went on to become S-1 and then S-3 of the 17th Infantry. In January 1975, Bill wrote an article in Army magazine about one of his experiences as S-3. The article tells how Bill became an observer on the Army's first night air mission of the Korean War which resulted in the destruction of an enemy ammunition convoy.

Following Korea, Bill returned to Fort Benning to attend the Infantry Advanced Course. He decided to attend the Ranger School out of curiosity about their level of excellence; he discovered that the level of excellence was as high as he'd hoped. Following Ranger School, Bill attended Harvard and received a master's in public administration. From Harvard, he returned to West Point with the Social Sciences Department. It was here that his exceptional intellectual talents had a chance to flourish. After spending a summer at the American University, Beirut, he became associate professor of Middle Eastern History and wrote the first course in Middle East History. Next came the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It was after this tour that Bill volunteered for Special Forces, and his first assignment was to the 10th Special Forces Group, Bad Tolz, Germany, where he spent four years. Two of these years found him in command of the Middle Eastern C Company for Europe. Bill led C Company on training missions to Turkey, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran and Pakistan. It was back to the States in 1963 to the Armed Forces Staff College at Norfolk, Virginia, and then a tour with the Joint Chiefs of Staff J-2 where Bill was principal staff officer for Laos in the National Military Command Center. In 1965, Bill was selected to attend the Army War College, and in 1966 then-Lieutenant Colonel Simpson went to South Vietnam where he served as deputy commanding officer, 5th Special Forces Group (Air-borne). The group was responsible for over 100 camps spread from the DMZ to the Gulf of Siam. Interestingly enough, when Bill became deputy of the group, three classmates were also assigned-- Lea Parmly, Dick Ruble and Tom Huddleston. Tom recalls the visits from Bill to his company in Bien Hoa and how, during these visits, they came to know the soldier side of each other quite well. He remembers Bill as the personification of the military virtues we include in the title "soldier." Bill understood delegation and let subordinates fight their war without oversupervising. However, he missed very little and was right there when requested or when the situation demanded his attention. Bill's crowning achievement during that assignment was bringing the highly effective indigenous Mobile Strike Force from l000 to l0,000 men and making sure they were all airborne qualified. Bill made a combat jump with his 5th Mike Force into Bunard on 1 April 1967, one of his 96 lifetime jumps.

Next for Bill was a tour at West Point as the senior tactical officer in the 4th Regiment, USCC. A classmate recalls that Bill was a great conservative in preaching the military values they were trying to get across but a great advocate of change in the traditional systems. He did all he could to revise the plebe system, the bluebook and cadet regulations, and the system of punishments and rewards so that they would have more impact on modern cadets who were then entering the Academy.

Following his tour at West Point, Bill became commander of the 1st Special Forces Group on Okinawa He followed a classmate, Bob Rheault, who took command of 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam. It was understood that in a year Bill would again succeed Bob as commander of the 5th. However, in August seven members of the 5th Special Forces Group, including its commander, were detained for investigation by the Military Advisory Command Vietnam as a result of the disappearance of a South Vietnamese double agent. Bill Simpson rushed from Okinawa to Vietnam to help plead the case for his very close friend, Bob Rheault. His defense of Bob's actions to General Abrams was lucid and articulate. Not only did he defend Bob in Saigon, but he flew back to Washington to do the same there. Bill paid a high price for his loyalty to Bob, the Special Forces and his own principles. Instead of being given command of the 5th Special Forces Group, Bill returned to teach at the Army War College. He retired alter this assignment in 1973 with the rank of colonel. That his defense of a friend and his own principles cost Bill his chance at stars is a moot point. However, a great many of his contemporaries and classmates feel this was the case. Without a doubt he was one of the most talented men in the Army, with that rare combination of the ability to lead men in combat plus exceptional intellectual capacity. His talents were particularly valuable in Special Forces where the "book" had not been written and innovation and creativity were needed. It is widely believed that most of the new initiatives developed during his years in Special Forces were his. There are more than just a few who consider Bill Simpson to have had the finest "military mind" of his generation. While on active duty, Bill received the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars for Valor, Purple Heart, four Legions of Merit, Army Commendation Ribbon, five Air Medals ... Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Thai and Indonesian jump wings; and two awards of the Combat Infantryman Badge (for Korea and Vietnam).

Following his retirement, Bill joined the BDM Corporation, a Washington "think tank," where he could turn his intellectual and writing ability loose. In his seven years with BDM, he specialized in Communist ground forces doctrine and practices, contributing scenarios ranging from those in the Warsaw Pact/NATO, around the periphery of the Soviet Union to Soviet/PRC conflicts in Xinjang to Manchuria. He also prepared technical reports involving such diverse subjects as weapons systems, ground launched cruise missiles, the vulnerability of the US light division and modification of the M-60 tank. One of his major works was "World Power Structure in the Year 2000," to include US, Soviet and Chinese forces. During this period he served as deputy director of the Senior International Joint Intelligence course conducted by the Defense Intelligence Agency. The ten-week course taught senior officers from 14 countries the details of the conduct of operations of national level joint military intelligence.

In 1981 Bill left BDM to write his book, Inside the Green Berets, the story of the US Army Special Forces. The book was published in 1983. Bill had started on two more books. One, Tales of the Green Berets, was to include exclusively Special Forces battles of A Shau, Due Co and Plei Me. Another was in collaboration with a former Special Forces captain,

In 1984, Bill learned that he had cancer of the lung, spleen and brain. In a letter to a classmate, he expressed high hopes of winning this battle, but it was not to be. Bill Simpson died at his sister's house in California on 23 October 1984. He is survived by four children, Margaret, Elizabeth, Charles and Angus.

Bill Simpson had that rare ability to lead inspirationally in the field, gaining and holding the loyalty and devotion of his men. He also had the intellectual capacity for important study, research, teaching and writing; a constantly questioning and searching mind; and the imagination to develop and try new ideas even when others scoffed. He was a warm and caring friend and a devoted father,

In December of 1987, when the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) moved into its new headquarters at Fort Lewis, Washington, certain buildings and roads were named in honor of outstanding Special Forces soldiers. Road #6 in the 1st Special Forces Group Compound at Fort Lewis was designated Simpson Street in honor of Colonel Charles Maze Simpson, III. Bill felt an exceptional sensitivity for three events in his life. He loved the sight of his children gathered in his house, the steel in the eye of a Special Forces trooper, and good news about a West Point classmate.

It just could be that in that "Long Gray Line" there is a proud soldier wearing a Green Beret. "Well Done, Bill; Be Thou At Peace."

1946 Memorial Article Project and his son Angus

Personal Eulogy


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