Samuel Tankersley Williams

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Samuel Tankersley Williams
Samuel Tankersley William.jpg
Born August 25, 1897
Denton, Texas, United States
Died April 26, 1984 (aged 86)
San Antonio, Texas, United States
Buried Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, Texas, United States
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1916–1960
Rank US-O9 insignia.svg Lieutenant General
Unit USA - Army Infantry Insignia.png Infantry Branch
Commands held 378th Infantry Regiment
26th Infantry Regiment
25th Infantry Division
XVI Corps
IX Corps
Fourth Army
Military Assistance and Advisory Group, Vietnam
Battles/wars Pancho Villa Expedition
World War I
World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
Awards Distinguished Service Cross
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Purple Heart
Soldier's Medal
Bronze Star

Lieutenant General Samuel Tankersley Williams (August 25, 1897 – April 26, 1984) was a senior United States Army officer. Williams became prominent in army history for being reduced in rank from brigadier general to colonel, and then resuscitating his career to again advance to general officer rank. He also commanded the 25th Infantry Division during the Korean War and served as commander of Military Assistance and Advisory Group – Vietnam, the predecessor to Military Assistance Command – Vietnam.


Early life and military career[edit]

Williams was born on August 25, 1897, in Denton, Texas. In May 1916, he enlisted as a private in the Texas Army National Guard and took part in the expedition against Pancho Villa. Having claimed an 1896 date of birth in order to meet the minimum age for a commission, in August 1917, four months after the American entry into World War I, Williams completed the officers training course at Camp Bullis, Leon Springs, Texas and received an appointment as a second lieutenant in the Infantry Branch of the Officer Reserve Corps.[1][2]

From 1917 to 1919, Williams served with the 359th Infantry Regiment, part of the 90th Infantry Division, in France on the Western Front. He took part in offensives including the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and Toul Sector, receiving a serious wound while serving as a company commander.[3][4]

Between the wars[edit]

After the war ended on November 11, 1918, he remained in the Army. Williams was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Regular Army in 1920.[5] He continued to serve in positions of increasing rank and responsibility in the 1920s and 1930s, including assignments with the 21st Infantry Regiment in Hawaii and the 29th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Williams was also an avid polo player, and was a member of the army team that won international championships in the 1920s.[6]

He completed the Infantry Company Officers Course at Fort Benning in 1926 and the Infantry Officer Advanced Course in 1931.[7] He graduated from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff School in 1936 and the U.S. Army War College in 1938.[8][9][10]

World War II[edit]

During World War II, in 1943, Williams was the commanding officer of the 378th Infantry Regiment, part of the 95th Infantry Division.[11] Williams was in command of the 378th Infantry at Camp Swift, Texas when a member of the organization was tried for the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl.[12] Williams was a member of the court-martial, and growing annoyed with the drawn-out proceedings, suggested that the trial ought to be ended quickly, since the defendant's guilt was not in doubt and he deserved execution by hanging.[13] The nickname "Hanging Sam" attached to him as a result, and remained with him for the rest of his career.[13]

Williams was subsequently promoted to brigadier general and named as the Assistant Division Commander of the 90th "Tough Ombres" Infantry Division, the organization with which he had served in during World War I. Reactivated for World War II, the 90th Division took part in Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Northern France.

The 90th Infantry Division landed at Utah Beach on D-Day+1 (June 7, 1944, a day after the initial invasion).[14] While en route to their landing site, Williams and numerous 90th Division soldiers were on board the transport ship Susan B. Anthony when it struck a mine. Though he did not know how to swim, Williams supervised the evacuation of the wounded and transfer of soldiers to rescue craft, and then on to Utah Beach. He risked his life to venture below deck, overcoming smoke and darkness to ensure that everyone had been evacuated. He was the last one to leave the ship, which was abandoned and sank without loss of life. Williams received the Soldier's Medal for his actions.[15]

Reduction in rank[edit]

Shortly after the 90th Infantry Division began its part in the Normandy invasion, Major General Joseph Lawton "Joe" Collins, the VII Corps commander, decided that the unit was not performing satisfactorily in combat. As a result, he relieved Brigadier General Jay W. MacKelvie, the division commander, and two regimental commanders. MacKelvie’s successor, Major General Eugene M. Landrum, was shortly afterwards involved in a verbal altercation with Williams and requested Williams' reduction in rank from brigadier general to colonel and reassignment to a staff position. By then, the 90th Division was part of the VIII Corps, and the corps commander, Major General Troy Middleton, concurred with Landrum's request, which was carried out.[16]

After his reduction in rank, Major General Henry Terrell, Jr., who was acquainted with Williams from Terrell's time as commander of the 90th Division, requested Williams as Terrell's Training and Operations officer, G-3 for XXII Corps, planning and overseeing execution of missions in the European Theater of Operations (ETO).[17]

In the fall of 1944, after Williams had been reduced in rank, the recommendation to award him the Silver Star was approved. He received the award for heroism performed on June 15, 1944, when he assisted in maneuvering and positioning lead units of the 90th Division during an assault on Gourbesville.[18]

Near the end of the war, Williams served as the XXII Corps Chief of Staff.[19]


In 1946, a year after the war ended, Williams was appointed commander of the 26th Infantry Regiment in West Germany, also serving as acting commander of the 1st Infantry Division.[20]

From 1950 to 1952, Williams served in the Operations and Training Office of the Army Field Forces, at Fort Monroe, Virginia. In 1951, he was promoted again to brigadier general.[21][22]

Korean War[edit]

From 1952 to 1953, Williams commanded the 25th Infantry Division in the Korean War, earning the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star and receiving promotion to the two-star rank of major general.[23][24]

Post-Korean War[edit]

Williams commanded XVI Corps in Japan from 1953 to 1954.[25][26] From 1954 to 1955, he led the IX Corps and deputy commander of the Eighth Army in South Korea.[27][28] From January to September 1955, he commanded the Fourth Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, receiving promotion to the three-star rank of lieutenant general.[29][30]

Service in Vietnam[edit]

From 1955 until his 1960 retirement, Williams commanded the Military Assistance and Advisory Group – Vietnam, the first officer assigned to this position after its predecessor unit, Military Assistance Advisory Group—Indochina was reorganized.[31][32][33][34]

In 1957, Williams filed a second request for a correction to his personnel record after an earlier request had gone unanswered. It was granted, and adjusted his birth date to 1897. As a result, his mandatory retirement date was advanced a year to August 1959. He received two waivers to serve in Vietnam past his mandatory retirement date as the result of the positive relationship he had fostered with South Vietnamese authorities, who requested to continue working with him.[35]

Retirement and death[edit]

Williams lived in San Antonio, Texas, during his retirement.

He died there on April 26, 1984 and was buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, Section Ai, site 646.[36][37][38][39]

Awards and decorations[edit]

Williams received the Distinguished Service Cross, multiple awards of the Distinguished Service Medal, two awards of the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Soldier's Medal, the Bronze Star, and two awards of the Purple Heart.[40][41]

Citation for Distinguished Service Cross[edit]

The President of the United States of America, under the provisions of the Act of Congress approved July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Major General Samuel T. Williams, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division. Major General Williams distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of Chu-Dong, Korea, on the morning of 15 July 1953. On that date, General Williams was advised of a large-scale enemy attack consisting of six hostile divisions and extending the width of the corps front. He immediately contacted all available sources of information in an effort to coordinate the defense. The reports he received were confused because of the scope of the battle, and General Williams realized that only through personal observation would he be able to secure the data he needed. Consequently, he flew in a helicopter to the scene of the battle. Dipping repeatedly to within a few feet of the hostile positions, General Williams noted the disposition of the foe without regard for the heavy fire directed against his craft. At one point, a bullet ripped through the plastic canopy of the helicopter, narrowly missing him. However, even this did not cause him to turn back. Instead, he passed again and again over the battle area until satisfied that he had gathered sufficient information upon which to base an effective defense. Only then did he return to his command post to plan and coordinate a counter operation which substantially reduced the fighting potential of the hostile force through the tremendous casualties they suffered.

General Orders: Headquarters, Eighth U.S. Army, Korea Order: General Orders No. 710, (July 30, 1953) Action Date: July 15, 1953 Service: Army Rank: Major General Division: Commanding General, 25th Infantry Division[42]


Williams’ papers are stored at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.[43]

He was the subject of a biography, 1990’s Hanging Sam: a Military Biography of General Samuel T. Williams from Pancho Villa to Vietnam, by Harold J. Meyer.[44]


  1. ^ Official U.S. Army Directory, published by U.S. Army Adjutant General, page 810, 1954
  2. ^ Hanging Sam: a Military Biography of General Samuel T. Williams from Pancho Villa to Vietnam, 1990, pages 26-27, by Harold J. Meyer
  3. ^ The National Guardsman, 1955, Volume 9, page 27
  4. ^ Searching For Competence: The Initial Combat Experience Of Untested U.S. Army Divisions In World War II – A Case Study Of The 90th Infantry Division, June-July 1944, Benjamin L. Bradley, 2005, page 9
  5. ^ Infantry Journal, published by U.S. Infantry Association, 1955, Volume 27, page 77
  6. ^ Newspaper article, Sam Williams Won Stars the Hard Way, Denton Record, August 2, 1953
  7. ^ Official U.S. Army Directory, published by U.S. Army Adjutant General, page 810, 1954
  8. ^ Annual Report, Command and General Staff College, 1935, page 6
  9. ^ Official U.S. Army Directory, published by U.S. Army Adjutant General, page 930
  10. ^ Newspaper article, Texans Complete Army War Course, San Antonio Express, June 23, 1938
  11. ^ Newspaper article, Infantry Leader New 4th Army Head, San Antonio Express, June 18, 1955
  12. ^ Gittinger, Ted (March 2, 1981). "Oral History Interview with Samuel T. Williams" (PDF). Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. Austin, TX: Lyndon Baines Johnson Library. p. 4. 
  13. ^ a b "Oral History Interview with Samuel T. Williams", p. 4.
  14. ^ The D-Day Encyclopedia, by David G. Chandler and James Lawton Collins,1994, page 389
  15. ^ Military Times, Hall of Valor, Soldier's Medal citation, Samuel Tankersley Williams, accessed March 26, 2013
  16. ^ Searching For Competence: The Initial Combat Experience Of Untested U.S. Army Divisions In World War II – A Case Study Of The 90th Infantry Division, June-July 1944, Benjamin L. Bradley, 2005, page 9
  17. ^ Biographical sketch, Samuel T. Williams Papers inventory
  18. ^ Military Times, Silver Star Citation, Samuel tankersley Williams, accessed October 4, 2012
  19. ^ Parameters magazine, Book Review: Hanging Sam, 1992, page 107
  20. ^ Newspaper article, Division Told Expect Worst In New War, by Associated Press, Hartford Courant, Sep 12, 1948
  21. ^ Newspaper article, Preparedness Speeded by Streamlined Training, Los Angeles Times, Jun 25, 1951
  22. ^ Newspaper article, With Denton County Men in the Service, Denton Record, February 25, 1951
  23. ^ Newspaper article, Korean Armistice Reported At Least One Week Away, by United Press International, Schenectady Gazette, Jun 16, 1953
  24. ^ Stanford University, Finding Aid, Samuel T. Williams Papers, accessed October 4, 2012
  25. ^ Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College, 1992, Volume 17, page 107
  26. ^ Newspaper article, Denton General Given Command of Army Corps, Denton Record-Chronicle, August 28, 1953
  27. ^ Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of His Time, by Lewis Sorley, 1998, page 131
  28. ^ U.S. Army Japan web site, IX Corps Commanders page Archived 2010-08-24 at the Wayback Machine.
  29. ^ Newspaper article, Army General Gets New Post New York Times, Sep 27, 1955
  30. ^ Newspaper article, Infantry Leader New 4th Army Head, San Antonio Express, June 18, 1955
  31. ^ Newspaper article, Gen. Williams in Saigon Post, New York Times, October 29, 1955
  32. ^ South Vietnam Gets Stronger Army Is The Reason, The Milwaukee Journal, Dec 2, 1955
  33. ^ Magazine article, South Viet Nam: To Eradicate the Cancer, Time Magazine, Feb 23, 1962
  34. ^ Brigadier General James Lawton Collins, Jr., Vietnam Studies: The Development and Training of the South Vietnamese Army, 1950-1972, 1991, pages 1-6
  35. ^ Hanging Sam: a Military Biography of General Samuel T. Williams from Pancho Villa to Vietnam, 1990, pages 26-27, 144, by Harold J. Meyer
  36. ^ Newspaper article, Gen. Williams to Live Here, San Antonio Express, September 1, 1960
  37. ^ Newspaper article, Denton General is Now Retired, Denton Chronicle-Record, September 7, 1961
  38. ^ Social Security death Index
  39. ^ National Cemetery Administration. U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006, Online Database
  40. ^ Military Times, Hall of valor, Alphabetical Index, Recipients of U.S. Major Military Awards
  41. ^ Official U.S. Army Directory, published by U.S. Army Adjutant General, page 930
  42. ^ Military Times, Hall of Valor, Awards and Citations, Distinguished Service Cross, Samuel T. Williams
  43. ^ Register of the Samuel Tankersley Williams Papers, 1917-1980, Online Archives of California
  44. ^ World Catalog entry, Hanging Sam: a Military Biography of General Samuel T. Williams from Pancho Villa to Vietnam, by Harold J. Meyer