Samuel Tankersley Williams was born in Denton, Texas on August 25, 1897. He graduated from Denton High School in 1916. In May 1916, he enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard. He took part in the expedition against Pancho Villa, advancing to corporal and sergeant in 1917.
He claimed an 1896 date of birth in order to meet the minimum age for a commission and in May 1917 Williams began the officers training course at Camp Bullis, Leon Springs, Texas. He received his commission in August of that year that was four months after the American entry into World War I. At this time he was and was appointed a second lieutenant in the Infantry Branch of the Officer Reserve Corps
World War I
From 1917 to 1919, Williams served with the 359th Infantry Regiment, of the 90th Division, as part of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). He took part in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, the Meuse–Argonne offensive, and in the Toul Sector, where he received a serious wound while serving as company commander of Company I, 3rd Battalion of the 359th Regiment.
By 1943, Williams was the commanding officer (CO) of the 378th Infantry Regiment, part of the 95th Infantry Division, He 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. 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. The nickname "Hanging Sam" attached to him as a result, and remained with him for the rest of his career.
90th Infantry Division
Williams was named as the Assistant Division Commander (ADC) of the 90th "Tough Ombres" Infantry Division, the organization with which he had served in during World War I.
The 90th Infantry Division landed at Utah Beach on D-Day+1 (June 7, 1944. While en route to their landing site, Williams and 90th Division soldiers were on board the transport ship Susan B. Anthony when it struck a mine in the rudder thus it could not steer. 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. All 2,689 people aboard were saved and for his action Williams received the Soldier's Medal. Also aboard ship that day was then Major Orwin Talbott.
Shortly after the 90th Infantry Division began its part in the Normandy invasion, Major General J. Lawton 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 H. Middleton, concurred with Landrum's request, which was carried out.
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 from 1942 to 1943, requested Williams as his Training and Operations officer, G-3 for XXII Corps. In this role, Williams planned and oversaw execution of missions as the allies began the liberation of Europe.
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 on June 15, 1944, when he assisted in maneuvering and positioning lead units of the 90th Division during an assault on Gourbesville. Near the end of the war, Williams served as the Chief of Staff of XXII Corps.
In 1946, Williams was appointed commander of the 26th Infantry Regiment in West Germany, also serving as acting chief of staff, assistant division commander, and commander of the 1st Infantry Division on several occasions.
From 1950 to 1952, Williams served in the Operations and Training Office of the Army Field Forces, at Fort Monroe, Virginia. From 1952 to 1953, now Brigadier General Williams commanded the 25th Infantry Division in the Korean War, earning the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star as well as his second star. He commanded XVI Corps in Japan from 1953 to 1954. From 1954 to 1955, he led the IX Corps and served as deputy commander of the Eighth Army in South Korea. 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.
From 1955 until his 1960 retirement, Williams commanded Military Assistance and Advisory Group – Vietnam (MAAG), the first officer assigned to this position after its predecessor unit, Military Assistance Advisory Group—Indochina was reorganized. In this role, Williams was responsible for training and modernizing the Republic of Vietnam Military Forces.
Medals and Awards
Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
Silver Star Medal with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
Army Commendation Medal
Mexican Border Service Medal
World War I Victory Medal
Occupation of Germany World War I Medal
American Campaign Medal with 3 Bronze Stars
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Korean Service Medal with 4 Bronze Stars
United Nations Service Medal
Republic of Korea War Service Medal
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation
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 Tankersley Williams (ASN: 0-8472), 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. The extraordinary heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by General Williams throughout this action reflect the greatest credit upon himself and are in keeping with the most esteemed traditions of the military profession.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Army Distinguished Service Medal to Major General Samuel Tankersley Williams (ASN: 0-8472), United States Army, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in a position of great responsibility to the Government of the United States as Commanding General, 25th Infantry Division, Deputy Commanding General, II Republic of Korea Corps; Commanding General, XVI Corps (Group); and Deputy Army Commander, Eighth Army, in Korea and Japan, from 18 July 1952 to 10 November 1954. General Williams maintained operational control over the Turkish Brigade, skillfully integrated thousands of Korean combat and service personnel and Puerto Rican increments into the Division and, through the media of training programs under realistic field conditions, exploitation of sound tactical concepts and expert guidance, attained excellent teamwork which was reflected in combat effectiveness and high morale of officers and men. He advocated and developed specific type instruction schools to insure qualified noncommissioned officer and specialist replacements for personnel released through rotation and normal separation criteria, and sponsored the publication of a division newspaper which enhanced esprit de corps and amity among the troops. Under his guidance roads were improved and augmented to facilitate flexibility of movement during tactical maneuvers, defensive positions were fortified to thwart long-scale offensives in the division's sector, and aggressive patrolling actions and supporting fires were expertly coordinated, enabling maximum destruction of enemy personnel and equipment. General Williams' eminent achievements and exemplary at ions contributed significantly to the operational success and fighting renown of the "Lightning" Division. During the spring offensive of 1953, he was assigned Deputy Commanding General, II Republic of Korea Corps, to defend a sector of vital strategic significance and, through tactical skill and forceful leadership, contained intensive hostile assaults and circumvented a breakthrough on the Eighth Army main line of resistance. Designated Commanding General, XVI Corps, and later IX Corps (Group), in the post hostilities period, his resolute surveillance to search out and correct weaknesses of deficiencies were manifested in high standards of efficiency and combat readiness. As Deputy Army Commander, he contributed greatly to the planning and conduct of training in the Republic of Korea Army. General Williams' notable achievements reflect utmost credit upon himself and the military service.
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