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Joe Galloway: General Sam, We Hardly Know Ye
Joe Galloway: General Sam, We Hardly Know Ye

 
About the Author

Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and a nationally syndicated columnist. One of America's preeminent war correspondents, with more than four decades as a reporter and writer, he recently concluded an assignment as a special consultant to Gen. Colin Powell at the State Department.

Galloway, a native of Refugio, Texas, spent 22 years as a foreign and war correspondent and bureau chief for United Press International, and nearly 20 years as a senior editor and senior writer for U.S. News & World Report magazine. His overseas postings include tours in Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Singapore and three years as UPI bureau chief in Moscow in the former Soviet Union. During the course of 15 years of foreign postings Galloway served four tours as a war correspondent in Vietnam and also covered the 1971 India-Pakistan War and half a dozen other combat operations.

In 1990-1991 Galloway covered Desert Shield/Desert Storm, riding with the 24th Infantry Division (Mech) in the assault into Iraq. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf has called Galloway "The finest combat correspondent of our generation -- a soldier's reporter and a soldier's friend."

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January 7, 2004

[Have an opinion about this article? Visit the Joe Galloway discussion forum.]

RICE, VIRGINIA - Samuel Vaughan Wilson stares intently at the television news from Iraq. American infantrymen are kicking in a Sunni Muslim family's front door, yelling and screaming and manhandling the father. Wilson grimaces. "This isn't counter-insurgency," he says. "This is not the right way to do this."

Sam Wilson knows counter-insurgency. He invented the term and wrote the Army's first manual on how to do it. A protege of Maj. Gen. Edward Lansdale, the legendary anti-guerrilla warrior, Wilson was the leading proponent of counter-insurgency in what he called "a political struggle with violent military overtones" in Vietnam, circa 1964-1967.


Lt. Gen. Sam V. Wilson in 1973.

"General Sam," as he's fondly known by his neighbors in this tiny community 55 miles southwest of Richmond and by his students at nearby Hampden-Sydney College, has retired from three professions and, at 80, says he's busier than he's ever been.

He sits on the porch of his rambling 3-story home looking down on Frog Hollow Lake and tells of a life of adventure, danger, opportunities and service to his country. Few of his countrymen know his name, much less his story, but with Americans battling insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and hunting terrorists on every continent but Antarctica, it's time that America knew Sam Wilson.

As a 16-year-old farm boy in June of 1940, he was listening to the radio late one Sunday afternoon. He heard a rebroadcast of English Prime Minister Winston Churchill's famous post-Dunkirk speech: "We will fight them on the beaches, in the fields, on the landing grounds, in the streets, in the hills - we will never surrender!"

Late the next day, Sam began jogging the seven miles to town through a heavy rain. Down the dirt lane that led from his father's tobacco and corn farm, making a right turn on the county road, passing through Pete Clark's woods and on to Farmville and the National Guard Armory on the courthouse square. It was drill night, and Wilson enlisted on the spot. "I added two years to my age to qualify and they weighed me in dripping wet at 139 pounds and I was in the Army, as a private," Wilson says.

Thirty-seven years later, in August 1977, on the day he retired from the Army as a three-star general, Wilson had his brother drop him off at the same courthouse square. He taped his retirement medal to a plain granite and bronze monument that bears the names of 50 local sons, many of them his buddies in that National Guard outfit, who never came home from World War II.

Then Wilson began walking the seven miles home to the old farm house in rural Prince Edward County where his brothers Billy, John, and Jim and Sam together own almost 2,000 acres and where they would grow old together. A much-loved older sister died two years ago.

"It took me one hour, 32 minutes back in 1940," the general says. "It took almost three hours in 1977." Local citizens who had heard of Sam's last march lined the roads and the crossroads to cheer him on and shake his hand and welcome home a favorite son.

In his 37 years in the Army, Wilson was briefly in the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency; then a 19-year-old 1st lieutenant assigned as chief reconnaissance officer with Merrill's Marauders in Burma; a CIA spymaster in Berlin; one of the founders of U.S. Special Operations forces and one of the authors of the concepts for their employment; a political-military specialist with the rank of Minister at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon; chief defense attache at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow; the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; and the deputy director of the CIA. Later, he helped create the Army's top secret Delta Force.

Sitting on a remote mountain ridge in Burma in 1944, Wilson listened as a radio operator tuned in Radio Moscow's war reports while a fellow Marauder who spoke Russian translated. He was fascinated by the bravery and sacrifices of the Russian people in fighting the Nazis, and he resolved one day to learn the language and study the people.

The Army tried to send him to West Point in 1945 but Wilson couldn't pass the physical because of lingering health problems from his service in the tropics _ typhoid fever, malaria, amoebic dysentery. Instead, he went to Columbia University and began five years of intensive study of Russian there and in occupied Germany.

That was the first of eight languages he would master, among them French, German, Spanish, the Kachin dialect of Burma, and Mandarin Chinese.

By 1955, Wilson was wearing two hats in Berlin, the front line of the Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. His cover job was at the Office of Military History. His real job was as a CIA spymaster. Wilson ran a ring of 18 "ladies of the evening," most of them young German women from the eastern part of the country who hated the Russians since the conquering Red Army in 1945 stormed, raped and pillaged its way into Berlin in 1945. Their targets were high-ranking Soviet military officers based in East Germany.

His greatest coups are still classified, but what Wilson calls some "gloriously successful" operations caused the Soviets to send over a false defector whose assignment was to kill or maim the young American Army major. "He came at me with a fist full of razor blades sticking up between his fingers," Wilson recalls. "I kicked him in the groin and caused him some real damage."

Almost hidden in a dark hallway hang photographs of the famous and powerful, all warmly inscribed and signed to Sam Wilson by Ed Lansdale, Cyrus Vance, Al Gore, George H.W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, William C. Westmoreland, Gerald Ford and the late CIA Director William Colby. There's also one from filmmaker Oliver Stone.

After he came home to Virginia, Wilson began teaching classes on Leadership, U.S. foreign policy and national security, and one on U.S. national intelligence that Hampden-Sydney students still call "Spying 101."

In 1992, Wilson was named president of the private all-male college, and he did that job for eight years. He retired again in 2000, but continued teaching. He now teaches three classes a week, including an advanced seminar on leadership and ethics and "Spying 101." He tries to limit enrollment: only ten students in the leadership class and 15 in "Spying 101." Hundreds apply for the coveted spots in General Sam's classes each semester.

"I can't retire," Wilson says. "A lot of young men seem to be counting on me. Somehow I find things to say and do with them that they perceive as meaningful. And I get letters from their parents asking: 'What on earth have you done to my son? He's a completely changed individual.' "

His leadership class at Hampden-Sydney, scheduled every Thursday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., is often extended by the students until midnight. Before the Thanksgiving break, with the class scheduled to close at semester's end, the 10 students stood and asked Gen. Sam if he would please continue the class throughout the spring semester, even if it meant they received no credit for the extended session.

"They really get turned on," the general says, adding, "They put in more time, energy and attention than I require and I really have to work hard to stay ahead of them. This defines fulfillment to me. I look forward to going to work every day. Everything I have ever done comes into play. To them I am a grandfather figure, and grandfathers aren't nearly so forbidding as fathers."

Sam Wilson, the Sage of Frog Hollow Lake, will continue marching, as befits an American hero whose deeds are known only by a few old soldiers, a few old spies and, now, by a new generation of young American students.

[Have an opinion on this article? Sound off here.]

2004 Joe Galloway. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.


 



 



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