WILLIAM G. LEFTWICH, JR., LTCOL, USMC

From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

William Leftwich, Jr. '53

Date of birth: April 28, 1931

Date of death: November 18, 1970

Age: 39

Lucky Bag

From the 1953 Lucky Bag:


Early Life

From Wikipedia:

William Leftwich was born on April 28, 1931 in Memphis, Tennessee, where he graduated from Central High School. He was commissioned a second lieutenant on June 5, 1953 upon graduation from the United States Naval Academy. His roommate during part of his time at the Academy was Ross Perot. As Brigade Commander in his senior year at the Naval Academy, he was specially commended at graduation for exemplary officer-like qualities, which contributed “to the development of naval spirit and loyalty within the Brigade.”

Career

Upon entering the Marine Corps, Leftwich completed The Basic School at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia in January 1954, and later served as a rifle platoon commander with the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. During 1955–56, he served with the 3rd Marine Division on Okinawa. On his return to the United States, he was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, where he was promoted to captain in July 1957. He then began a three-year assignment at the Naval Academy, serving as a company officer. An athlete himself, he also voluntarily performed collateral duty as assistant varsity tennis coach and battalion football coach.

In 1960, Leftwich rejoined the 2nd Marine Division, serving as a company commander until 1962 when he was named aide-de-camp to the Commanding General. In June 1963, he was assigned as aide to the Commander of Marine Corps Schools. He was promoted to major in July 1964. He later completed a course of study in the Vietnamese language prior to reporting for duty in Vietnam in January 1965 as Assistant Senior Advisor to the Vietnamese Marine Brigade.

Joining Task Force Alfa, Leftwich participated in 27 major operations against the Viet Cong in the central highlands of Vietnam, and spent more than 300 days in the field. He was wounded in the Battle of Hoai An on March 9, 1965 and awarded the Navy Cross and Purple Heart for extraordinary heroism. According to his citation, he “…played a major part in all phases of the successful relief of the village of Hoai An, which was under heavy enemy attack by two Viet Cong battalions… By his own personal example…, he led the attack… Despite injuries by enemy machine-gun bullets in the back, cheek and nose, he went to the aid of a mortally wounded comrade … and delayed his own evacuation until he could call for additional air strikes and brief the task force commander of the situation.”

Leftwich returned to the United States in January 1966, served as an instructor at The Basic School, then completed the Command and Staff College in June 1967 and was named to the Schools Honor List. Assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in November 1967 while serving as a systems analyst with the Manpower Management Information Branch, G-1 Division. He later became head of the Systems Analysis Section. In 1968, he was selected by the Under Secretary of the Navy to be his Special Assistant and Marine Corps Aide. He served in this capacity under Charles F. Baird and John W. Warner.

In April 1970, Leftwich began his second tour of duty in Vietnam, serving initially as the commander of 2nd Battalion 1st Marines. On September 13, he assumed duty as Commanding Officer of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division.

Loss

On November 18, 1970, Leftwich was killed in a helicopter crash during an emergency extraction of one of his reconnaissance teams. In accordance with his practice of accompanying every emergency extraction called for by his teams, he was serving as senior “extract officer” for such a mission on the day of his death. The team had incurred casualties and requested an emergency extraction from enemy-infested territory, in an area beginning to be enveloped by dense fog. The team was extracted under LtCol Leftwich’s personal supervision, then, as the helicopter began its ascent, it crashed into a mountainside in enemy territory, killing all aboard.

Remembrances

From Wall of Faces:

A Leader of Men...a Marine's Marine

Lt.Col. Bill Leftwich was my CO at 2d Bn 1st Marine Regiment in Vietnam from May-Sept. 1970 before going up to 1st Recon Bn. At both units he was the penultimate leader always concerned about his Marines and seemingly one step ahead of his enemy. In 1965 he should've been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions as an advisor with the Vietnamese Marine Brigade at Hoi An on March 9, 1965 but it was downgraded to a Navy Cross. Gen. Wm. Westmoreland stated in Aug. 1965 Bill was "the best advisor in Vietnam." I wanted to mention what an excellent Marine Bill was in a book I was writing but soon discovered a limited amount of words couldn't describe this man's great potential. A Naval Academy classmate, Ross Perot (yes, that Perot) said Bill could've been Commandant of the Marine Corps or anything else he put his mind to...which was awesome when put in motion. He died in the Que Son Mountains on Nov. 18, 1970 when the helicopter he was riding in extracting 7 Marines on a SPIE rig smacked into Hill 800 enshrouded in a cloudbank. No better epitaph could be written in the way he died...he died trying to extract his Marines who'd been stuck on the side of Hill 848 for 3 or 4 days with a Navy Corpsman incapacitated with a badly broken leg. He died trying to save his brothers...which is not only Biblical but typical of Bill Leftwich. His light shone too briefly, but he will not be forgotten...the Marine Corps has made certain of that...the Leftwich Trophy goes to outstanding officer leaders in his name, the USS Leftwich was named in his honor, a statue of Bill stands in front of the Admin Bldg. at Quantico and a building is named in his honor at the USNA in Annapolis, MD. Great men never really die. Semper Fi, Dan Kellum, 1stLt., USMC, Vietnam, Jan.1970-Jan.1971 DAN KELLUM, 4/29/02

I was a friend of Bill's. As District Senior Advisor of Hoa Vang District, Quang Nam Province, from June 1970 through November 1971, I worked closely with the Marines in my District - especially Bill and his superior, Col. P. X. Kelly. On the night of his death, I visited Bill, at the helipad where he was departing with his LRP team. I was the last person, other than his team members, to see him alive. Bill was a vibrant, extraordinarily intelligent and caring man...a Marine's Marine. I've visited his spot on the wall in Washington and on one of the traveling walls. I've introduced all three of my daughters to Bill's name on the wall...and they all know of him and of his goodness, his greatness. To this day I'm brought to tears that he was taken from this world so shy of what he would have become...so shy of what he would have done with his family and his friends. He's ever in my heart...he's ever in my family's heart.

HARV AMES, Hancock, NH, HARV@AMESPLANNING.COM, 12/30/99

From Find A Grave, author unknown:

I did not go as far as suggesting "Billy" as his nickname although that is what his classmates actually always call him.

He was John Warner's Marine aide when the senator and former governor was Secretary of the Navy. He roomed with Ross Perot except when he was brigade commander second(winter) set and subcommander third (spring) and final set. Those two midshipman officers room together in a room with its own telephone. The spring set commander, future CNO Carl Trost, was Warner's Navy aide at the time that Billy was the Marine aide. The class all knew that Carl would be CNO and Billy Commandant of Marines, but Billy got himself killed instead.

Honors

In 1978, the destroyer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Leftwich was named in his honor.

In June 1979, the Marine Corps awarded the very first Leftwich Trophy for Outstanding Leadership in Leftwich’s memory. The award is presented annually to an outstanding Marine captain serving with the ground forces of the Fleet Marine Force at the time of nomination.

The visitor center at the United States Naval Academy is named after LtCol Leftwich and his classmate, Lyle O. Armel II, and is named the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center.

Family

Bill was survived by his wife, Jane, and two sons, William G. Leftwich, III, and Scott F. Leftwich.

Navy Cross

1953 Leftwich 1.jpg

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Colonel William Groom Leftwich, Jr. (MCSN: 0-61154), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism as the Senior Task Force Advisor to Task Force ALFA, Vietnamese Marine Brigade, in the vicinity of Hoai An Village, Binh Dinh Province, Republic of Vietnam, on 9 March 1965. Major Leftwich played a major part in all phases of the successful relief of the village of Hoai An, which was under heavy enemy attack by two Viet Cong battalions. Prior to the actual operation, he worked out a plan with the 22d Division Air Liaison Officer for supporting aircraft to deliver their ordnance in extra-close proximity to the front lines, and then to continue simulated attacks while the Vietnamese Marines assaulted the enemy positions. He participated in the planning of the approach march which, by using last-minute intelligence, avoided a massive ambush planned by the Viet Cong. As lead elements of the Task Force contacted the Viet Cong from an unexpected direction, he sensed the ideal opportunity to use the prearranged air support plan, and taking the radio, he moved under heavy fire to the forward-most elements of the Task Force. By his own personal example of shooting point-blank and shouting, he led the attack which overran the immediate Viet Cong positions and carried the assault to within forty meters of the crest of a hill overlooking Hoai An. Despite injuries by enemy machine-gun bullets in the back, cheek, and nose, he went to the aid of a mortally wounded comrade, and although bleeding profusely, he refused assistance and delayed his own evacuation until he could call for additional air strikes and brief the Task Force Commander of the situation. Through his heroic conduct and fearless devotion to duty in the face of personal risk, Major Leftwich upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

General Orders: Authority: Navy Department Board of Decorations and Medals
Action Date: 9-Mar-65
Service: Marine Corps
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Company: Advisor (Attached)
Battalion: Task Force Alfa
Regiment: Vietnamese Marine Brigade

Silver Star

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Lieutenant Colonel William Groom Leftwich, Jr. (MCSN: 0-61154), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving as Commanding Officer, Second Battalion, First Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Rein.), FMF, in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On 4 August 1970, upon learning from intelligence sources that high level enemy commanders were planning to meet at a designated location in Quang Nam Province, Lieutenant Colonel Leftwich conceived a bold plan for an attack on the meeting place. Through expert analysis of all available intelligence data, he determined the exact location and time schedule of the proposed meeting, formulated a detailed plan, and alerted and briefed his attack force. Fully aware of the danger involved, he elected to forego the normal pre-landing reconnaissance activities and landing zone preparatory fires and, to avoid detection by the enemy, moved his men into the area by helicopters maneuvering at treetop level. Following his plan, Lieutenant Colonel Leftwich surreptitiously deployed his unit around the hostile headquarters and launched an aggressive attack which took the enemy commanders completely by surprise. When the now disorganized enemy attempted to escape, he directed his men in vigorous pursuit and disregarded his own safety as he moved to the most forward position to coordinate supporting arms fires. Under his dynamic and courageous leadership, his unit accounted for twelve enemy commanders killed, twelve others captured, and the seizure of seven weapons, and, according to subsequent intelligence reports, was instrumental in thwarting all planned enemy activity in the area. By his tactical skill, bold fighting spirit, and unflagging devotion to duty, Lieutenant Colonel Leftwich upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.

Action Date: 4-Aug-70
Service: Marine Corps
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Company: Commanding Officer
Battalion: 2d Battalion
Regiment: 1st Marines
Division: 1st Marine Division (Rein.), FMF

Legion of Merit

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Legion of Merit with Combat "V" to Major William Groom Leftwich, Jr. (MCSN: 0-61154), United States Marine Corps, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States as Senior Advisor to a Marine Task Force during operations conducted in South Vietnam from 8 August to 17 August 1965. An extremely competent and resourceful leader and advisor, Major Leftwich anticipated the problem of coordination among three different elements operating simultaneously and personally provided the missing unity of control by organizing the advisors of the respective elements. As a result, when the Viet Cong attacked the column, reaction was immediate with a minimum of confusion and difficulty. One of the Marine Battalions, composed largely of recruits, had not been previously battle tested. However, during the engagement, the entire battalion stood fast and fought effectively as a direct result of the sound advice, and personal example provided by Major Leftwich. During the course of that day's action, Major Leftwich moved to the forward elements of his task force and, while under intense fire from the Viet Cong, directed numerous air strikes on the enemy positions as close as 300 meters to the front lines of the Marine elements. By his outstanding leadership, advice and judgment, as well as his inspiring devotion to duty, Major Leftwich upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. (Major Leftwich is authorized to wear the Combat "V".)

Action Date: August 8 - 17, 1965

Service: Marine Corps

Rank: Major

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Legion of Merit with Combat "V" to Major William Groom Leftwich, Jr. (MCSN: 0-61154), United States Marine Corps, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in armed conflict with an enemy from 27 January 1965 to 18 January 1966. As a member of the Marine Advisory Unit, Naval Advisory Group, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Major Leftwich served as Senior Advisor to Vietnamese Marine Task Force ALFA. During the entire period the Task Force was deployed under combat condition in the hard pressed II Corps of central Vietnam, and participated in 25 major combat operations for a total of 235 days on actual combat operations, he shared every physical hardship with his counterpart by living and subsisting with the Vietnamese Marines. During combat he was habitually exposed to enemy fire and extremes of climate and rugged terrain. Through personal example, patience, persistence, and outstanding professional knowledge, Major Leftwich was able to bring about many necessary changes in tactics and organization of Vietnamese Marine Task Force ALFA. As Senior Advisor to Task Force ALFA he participated in the planning and execution of all operations, demonstrating rare ability as a leader, staff officer, and advisor. By his outstanding leadership, judgment, inspiring and courageous devotion to duty throughout, Major Leftwich upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. (Major Leftwich is authorized to wear the Combat "V".)

Action Date: January 17, 1965 - January 18, 1966
Service: Marine Corps
Rank: Major

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting a Second Gold Star in lieu of a Third Award of the Legion of Merit with Combat "V" (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Colonel William Groom Leftwich, Jr. (MCSN: 0-61154), United States Marine Corps, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States with the FIRST Marine Division in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam from 16 May to 18 November 1970. Throughout this period, Lieutenant Colonel Leftwich performed his demanding duties in an exemplary and highly professional manner. Initially assigned as Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion, First Marines, he deployed his Battalion over a wide area and planned and supervised the execution of search and destroy operations, ambushes, and patrols which blocked the enemy's persistent attempts to launch offensives against friendly positions. Working tirelessly and with meticulous attention to detail, he implemented sound administrative and logistic procedures, organized a vigorous training program, and initiated several strategic innovations which confused the enemy and significantly reduced friendly casualties. Under his dynamic and courageous leadership, his Battalion inflicted severe personnel losses on North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces, destroyed base camps and staging areas, and captured large quantities of supplies. Reassigned as Commanding Officer of the First Reconnaissance Battalion on 14 September, Lieutenant Colonel Leftwich quickly familiarized himself with the mission direction of his large unit and commenced an aggressive program to expand the response capability of his reconnaissance teams. With keen foresight and sound judgment, he established company-sized and platoon-sized patrol bases at key tactical locations to enable him to supply, deploy, and replace his patrols during adverse weather when helicopter support was not available, thus ensuring continuous ground reconnaissance support to his command. In addition, he pioneered the concept of employing reconnaissance teams with quick reaction forces and proved the value of this tactic in a series of combat actions in the Que Son Mountains. On 18 November 1970, Lieutenant Colonel Leftwich was killed when his helicopter crashed in rugged mountainous terrain while en route to extract a reconnaissance team from an enemy infested area. His extraordinary initiative and resourcefulness earned the respect and admiration of all who served with him and contributed immeasurably to the accomplishment of his command's mission. By his leadership, professional acumen, and unflagging devotion to duty, Lieutenant Colonel Leftwich rendered distinguished service to his country and thereby upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service. (The Combat Distinguishing Device is authorized.)

Action Date: May 16 - November 18, 1970
Service: Marine Corps
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel


Class of 1953

William is one of 62 members of the Class of 1953 in Memorial Hall.