During the summer of 1963, Cadet William Ray Black was assigned as the first sergeant of the Second New Cadet Company.
His mission, along with the rest of the cadre of first and second classmen, was to prepare the new Cadets. At that time,
Major General William C. Westmoreland, the academy's superintendent, was spending his last days on the job before taking
over as the commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg. (Several months later he was assigned as the deputy
commander of USMACV and then became the commander in June 1964.) The Class of 1964 and General Westmoreland had been
together for the previous three years and had developed a considerable amount of mutual respect. But then the "Westy
Incident" occurred-it was an event which added a rich chapter to the lore and history of the class.
At about five o'clock in the afternoon of the day before the general's departure, a beautiful day filled with sunshine
and blue skies, Westy (as he was affectionately referred to) was returning home from the library tennis courts on his way
home to the Supe's quarters when he jogged by several stalwart members of the Class of '64 who were resting and sunning
themselves on a set of parade field bleachers that aligned the plain (Bill Black was not in that illustrious group.). As
luck would have it, our classmates failed to see General Westmoreland's approach and did not jump to attention or render
a salute and proper military courtesies. Westy took exception to this state of affairs and promptly "chewed out" our
somewhat dazed and contrite classmates. In a moment, the Supe departed…our classmates resumed the "rest and sun" position...
and the incident was ended.
Or so it was thought!
That night, the "King of Beasts," the New Cadet Barracks Battalion Commander, Dick Chilcoat, received word from the
Cadet Officer of the guard to assemble all first-class members of the cadre (several hundred strong) in Central Area after
reveille. Assembly was at the direction of the superintendent no less.
Dick was more than happy to perform the task. It was to be General Westmoreland's last day at West Point, and he
obviously wanted to extol the virtues of the class of '64. After all, we had been "Westy's Class" because we had been in
residence at USMA during his entire tenure as superintendent.
The next morning, with Bill and his classmates standing smartly at attention in formation, Dick Chilcoat reported to
the Supe as he mounted the stoops in Central Area, "Sir, the Class of 1964 is all present and accounted for!" The
commandant, BG Michael S. Davison, was standing to the rear of the Supe observing intently.
Then, after receiving the report, to the amazement of all present, General Westmoreland proceeded to administer a
ten-minute tongue-lashing to the class about the implications of failing to salute senior officers and a lesson in military
courtesy and traditions. Throughout, all the firsties present stood at attention, in shock and dismay.
At the end of the stern lecture, General Westmoreland saluted, ordered Chilcoat to "take charge," wheeled away, returned
to his quarters, and several hours later departed West Point for his new assignment-all in all, an extraordinary departure
from West Point. BG Davison called Chilcoat forward and asked, "What was that all about?" Dick lamely replied, "I have no
idea, sir; I'll find out."
It wasn't long until the entire story unfolded about what had happened (or failed to happen) on the plain the day prior.
It was clear that General Westmoreland, the soldier's soldier, decided to "leave a mark" on the Class of '64 and capitalized
on the event to "mentor" the class at large. His unusual departure "ceremony" was not just about military courtesy and
traditions-it was about the fundamental truths of West Point and its motto: Duty, Honor, Country. He was building "leaders
of character" even then.
The "Westy Incident" concluded, after much mentoring and coaching by BG Davison, with a Class of 1964 letter of apology
to General Westmoreland signed by Dick Chilcoat, who was also the class president, in which fault was acknowledged and
forgiveness was sought. Indeed, no offense was ever intended.
In several weeks, Westy responded in a short, but gracious letter saying all was forgiven and forgotten.
Forgotten? For General Westmoreland-yes. For the Class of '64-the "Westy Incident" endures forever! For Bill Black it was
another important lesson learned as he finished the summer without further incident and returned to Company F-1 for his final
year at West Point.
Bill was born in Newbern, Tennessee, on 19 April 1942, the son of Marjorie T. Black and O. L. Black. Brother James joined
the family four years later. Bill grew up nearby in Dyer and attended Dyer High School where he established a solid record
of achievement and graduated as the class valedictorian in 1960. Besides belonging to the Cumberland Presbyterian Youth
Fellowship, he had been president of his class and the Beta Club and an Eagle Scout.
Bill secured a congressional appointment from the Eighth Congressional District of Tennessee and entered West Point a month
later. For not having had a military background, Bill performed exceptionally well in "Beast Barracks." His strong character
traits of discipline, devotion to duty, hard work, self-effacement, and good humor served him well. He was cool and confident
under pressure and always remained good-natured and likeable.
Academics presented more of a challenge to Bill than the military and physical requirements. Consequently, he worked hard
at the arduous task of mastering the cadet curriculum. Plebe math was especially challenging, but Bill won out, and as his
grasp of the situation grew firmer, he was able to devote more time to numerous extracurricular activities such as the
Astronomy Club, Debate Council and Forum, French Club, Rocket Society, Bowling Club, Outdoor Sportsman Club, Scoutmasters
Council, Ski Club, Pointer Magazine Staff, and the Protestant Cadet Fellowship Group. To say he was well rounded would be an
Bill was not enamored of the weather at West Point. He often would quote from Robert Service's famous poem about Sam McGee
from Tennessee. Bill was never warm during the New York winters. He lamented often about the hospitable climate of his native
state and rued the day he moved north of the Mason-Dixon line. It was especially cold during "Plebe Christmas" in 1960 as the
Class of '64 was one of the last classes that had to remain at the academy during the holiday season of their plebe year.
Bill's greatest achievement was his successful courtship of the lovely Anne Shirley Deubler whom he had met at one of the
Saturday night hops at Camp Buckner during the summer of 1961. They were wed on 31 July 1965.
Branch selection was easy for Bill. Only one branch ever held his interest, and upon graduation, he was commissioned in
his beloved infantry. Being the dedicated, adventurous outdoorsman that he was, he breezed through the Airborne and Ranger
courses. Former roommate, Pat Greaves, recalls an incident in Ranger School: "During the Florida phase (There were three
phases-one at Fort Benning, one in the mountains of Dahlonega, Georgia, and one in the swamps of Florida at Eglin Air Force
Base. Later, a desert phase was added at Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah, which even later was changed to Fort Bliss, Texas.)
the class was formed in a large circle, receiving instruction. Suddenly, a large rattlesnake slithered into the ring. Any
thought that the cadre had staged the event was quickly dispelled when the instructor fled. Everyone scattered except Bill,
who calmly picked up a stick, pinned the reptile's head to the ground, and then picked it up. We all had known that he would
make a great infantryman and that act confirmed it."
Bill's initial army assignment was with the Second Battalion, 501st Airborne Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division
at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He was not there for long, though, for the build-up of U.S. Forces in Vietnam was causing the
curtailment of most assignments in the States and Europe. As a result, Bill was sent to be an advisor to the Sixth Battalion
of the South Vietnamese Airborne Brigade in March 1966. Three months later Anne gave birth to their son, William Geoffrey.
(The middle name was for their good friend, classmate Geoffrey Kleb-in fact, the youngster would always be called "Geof.")
After a safe and successful tour in Vietnam, during which time he was promoted to captain, Bill returned home in April
1967 and was assigned to the Ranger Department of the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning. Those were very busy times,
as the Ranger Department had the important mission of preparing young officers for combat in Vietnam. Bill's experience was
put to good use and his outstanding performance led to his being selected as aide-de-camp to Major General John M. Wright, Jr.,
Commanding General, U.S. Army Infantry Center and Fort Benning, and Commandant, U.S. Army Infantry School. The Blacks were
comfortable and happy at Fort Benning. Bill was enjoying his challenging job and Anne was enjoying teaching school. They both
shared the enjoyment of raising young Geof.
In Southeast Asia the war was raging on and the U.S. troop strength maintained its peak level of just over 540,000 from
early 1968 through mid-1969. Many officers, especially those in the infantry, had already had two tours in Vietnam. The
turn-around time for infantry captains at that time was eighteen to twenty-four months.
Accordingly, after twenty-two months in the States, infantry captain Bill Black had to leave his family at Fort Benning
early in 1969 and return to the combat zone where he joined the Second Battalion, Twelfth Cavalry of the First Cavalry Division.
After a few short weeks as the S-2, he assumed command of Company A, and, while leading that unit against a superior force, was
killed in action on 8 March 1969, just three weeks after his arrival back in Vietnam. Bill was the Class of '64's first victim
Bill's long list of awards, headed by a Silver Star and three Bronze Stars (with "V"), was impressive but was small
consolation for his family, his classmates, and his soldiers. He had been a down-to-earth, easygoing friend to all. His former
roommate, Richard Carr, later recalled: "Billy Ray, as he was known to his friends, was one of those people who dealt with just
what life presented to him. He was a great roommate; easy to talk with, always willing to take time to listen, one who could
laugh at himself or ludicrous situations in a way that relaxed any who were in his presence. Bill was a giver and not a taker;
not a particularly competitive person-which, when you think about it, probably contributed to his really relaxed attitude
amongst so many well-developed egos. He was interested in his friends, especially the love of his life, Anne, whom he saw at
"Billy Ray had a deep, resonating voice with a laugh that seemed to shake his whole body. He had a 'street-sense' about him
that served him well and a basic intelligence that kept him on the straight and narrow. He could be heard engaging in lively
discussion on politics, life, or perhaps the deeper meaning of the latest 'flick' he had seen.
"He was the type of person that you just know would have been a great husband, father, and contributor to his community.
It is tragic that this 'salt of the earth' human being could be taken from his loved ones at such an early age. He enjoyed the
immense private pleasures of Anne and Geof."
At the time of this writing Anne continues to teach school at Fort Benning and Geof had graduated from college with a
marketing degree and is employed in that field in Columbus, Georgia.
One of the last classmates to see Bill alive was Jed Brown, who was on a short break at the Vung Tau R&R site in early
March. Bill was also there for a day before taking over his infantry company, the only day off he was supposed to have for the
rest of his tour. The two had been company-mates in F-1 during their last two cadet years. Among the million things they chatted
about was the recent death of their F-1 buddy, Carl Winter. They
also lamented the loss of several other classmates, including Kirby
Wilcox and Mike Nawrosky, who had also been in the First Cav
the year before. As they sipped their beer there was no way to know that Bill would become the class's seventeenth fallen
warrior only a few days later. And how sad for Jed again a little over a year later when
Alex Hottell perished a day after relaxing over a beer with Jed and Jim Cason in the First Cav's Officers Club tent.
They say, "the good die young." Bill was twenty-six years of age when he died, which was the average age of the twenty-four
victims of the Class of '64 when they died. His devotion to West Point and the precepts of "Duty, Honor, Country," to which must
be added "Family," framed his life. Bill left behind a personal touch and many fond memories that still warm those who knew and
loved him. His every action reflected great credit on himself, his family, his alma mater and his country.
Spring was just around the corner when Bill Black was laid to rest in the West Point Cemetery.
~ Fallen Warriors The West Point Class of 1964 by John Murray