Williston Birkhimer Palmer
Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1919
Engagements: • World War II (1941 - 1945)
Williston Birkhimer Palmer
Williston Birkhimer Palmer was born in Chicago, IL, on 11 November 1899, the oldest son of Colonel Charles Day (U.S. Military Academy Class of 1888) and Edith B. Birkhimer Palmer. Edith died at the young age of 25, on Williston's fourth birthday. His maternal grandfather, Brigadier General William E. Birkhimer (USMA Class of 1870), was a Medal of Honor recipient as a U.S. Army Captain during the Philippine-American War.
Palmer was a cadet at the USMA from 14 June 1917 to 1 November 1918, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to Second Lieutenant, Unassigned. He then served at the USMA, as a student officer, from 3 December 1918 to 11 June 1919, when he graduated number 40 in his class.
In the USMA's Howitzer Yearbook, the following is excerpted from the text accompanying his photo: "W. B., Bill GENIUS! Spell it in large capitals. When I go to Heaven I expect to find Williston B. Palmer ahead of me at the gate, B. S.-ing his way past the custodian of the keys, good old St. Peter."
He was enroute to France from 13-20 July 1919 and was assigned to Field Artillery on 21 July. Palmer was on observation tour of Belgian, French, and Italian battle fronts and visited the Army of Occupation in Germany until 17 September, then enroute back to the U.S. until 26 September. On 1 October 1919, he reported to Camp Zachary Taylor, KY, as a student officer at the Field Artillery School. Palmer missed combat in World War I, but saw plenty of action in World War II.
Side Story 1
Ireland had a neutral status during WWII. At the time of the incident related here, 15 January 1943, America's involvement in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) was still ramping up. Ireland was still nervous about the possibility of an invasion, for offensive or defensive purposes, from either Germany or Britain, respectively. So the sight of a B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber in the skies over the west of Ireland, especially one flying low over an ancient market town like Athenry that proudly traces its heritage back to the thirteenth century, wasn't just curious - it was a frightening sight.
The plane circled for quite a long time because it was actually lost and didn't have a clue where it was, having veered off course from Gibraltar. The plane was running low on fuel and the pilot was searching for a suitable landing spot. But to prevent invasion via planes, Ireland had spiked its many fields, including those famous Fields of Athenry. But the pilot eventually spotted a small tract of land that might be suitable. It almost was.
The pilot, Captain Thomas M. Hulings, nicknamed Stinky, descended down to a small field on the site of the Agricultural College where he made a belly landing on the soft ground. The plane crashed through a stone fence into another field and stopped just before hitting a stand of trees. Fortunately, crew and passengers landed without injury, but the plane was irreparably damaged.
Of course, locals (primarily agricultural students) flocked to the scene but the Local Defense Force quickly surrounded the plane, rifles at the ready. A brief but tense standoff ensued, until the Irish Army realized they were Americans and the Americans discovered they were in Ireland. The day turned into a kind of Irish-American celebration.
On board this aircraft were: General Jacob Loucks Devers; Lt. General Edward Hale Brooks; Brigadier General (later 4-star general) Williston Birkhimer Palmer; Major-General Gladeon Marcus Barnes; Brigadier General William T. Sexton; Major Earle L. Hormell; Captain (later brigadier general) James K. McLaughlin; and Captain Thomas M. Hulings (the pilot). Their mission was to assess the American bases from the States to the ETO and make recommendations to the Army (the Air Corps was then part of the Army). Prior to their arrival in Ireland, toward the tail end of their mission, they had assessed supply or combat operations in South America, Africa and Gibraltar. Their assessment would affect the course of the war and their individual contributions, becoming commanders of various fronts in Europe, would have an even bigger impact.
As a Brigadier General commanding VII Corps Artillery during 1944-45, he went through the Normandy invasion, the Saint-Lô breakthrough and major battles across France and Germany, as far as the Elbe. After returning to the U.S. after the war, Palmer became Commandant of School Troops at the Field Artillery School. He then served as Director of Logistics, European Command, in 1948.
His reputation for demanding a high standard of performance from immediate subordinates, carried into his peacetime assignments. He was Commanding General (CG) of the 82nd Airborne Division in 1950, CG of the 2nd Armored Division in Europe in 1951, and CG of X Corps in Korea later that year. Palmer then served as Assistant Chief of Staff (G4/Logistics), US Army.
After Palmer's old European Theater Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, became President, he was named as the Army's first Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics in 1955 and then he became the Department of Defense's first Director of Military Assistance, with the rank of General, comparable to the Chiefs of Staff of the three services. From 1955-57 he served as Vice Chief of Staff, US Army and, from 1957-59, he was Deputy Commander-in-Chief, US European Command.
While he was serving as the Director of Military Assistance, a black market scandal involving military personnel in Turkey occurred. When Senators were shocked that some of them had refused to testify, he argued that the Uniform Code of Military Justice gave them the equivalent of Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. "This right has been in the Army for more than 30 years that I know of," the General said.
In an October 1960 visit to Saigon, South Vietnam, General Palmer announced the suspension of military aid to Laos because of the 'confused situation' in that country, explaining that "we have not been sure who is responsible for anything." Two days later the US Embassy in Vientiane said that the announcement was a mistake and was made without instructions from the Washington agencies concerned. The assistance, and the confusion, resumed.
Side Story 2
Although his ancestors had served in the Army all the way back to the War of 1812, Palmer was no sentimentalist. A proponent of thrift, as Vice Chief of Staff he ordered that the ceremonial horse-drawn caissons at Arlington National Cemetery be discontinued. His order was countermanded and the famous matched gray and black horses remained on active duty.
General Palmer retired from the Army in 1962.
Medals, Awards and Badges
Army Distinguished Service Meal with 3 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
Williston and Charles Palmer are the first pair of brothers in U. S. Army history to achieve four-star rank.
Death and Burial
General Williston Birkhimer Palmer died on 10 November 1973, one day before his 74th birthday, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. He never married, and was buried near his mother in Arlington National Cemetery.
In June 1999, his brother, General Charles Day Palmer, Jr., was buried beside him.
|Honoree ID: 300||Created by: MHOH|