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William E. Ekman  1938

Cullum No. 11172-1938 | 5/31/1979 | Died in Washington,DC
Interred in West Point Cemetery, West Point, NY

 


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<em>Bill Ekman</em> crossed his final River on 31 May 1979 after a long valiant fight with leukemia. His mortal remains were returned to his beloved rockbound highland home at West Point and laid to rest under misty, rain-laden cadet gray skies in a stirring military funeral befitting the dedicated, tough professional soldier he was. Surely his Maker said as he received him that day, &ldquo;Well done, Bill, be thou at peace.&rdquo;</div>
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Born in St. Louis, Missouri, on 11 February 1913, Bill came to epitomize that practical Missouri &ldquo;show me&rdquo; attitude throughout his life. An Army Brat, he spent his formative years at various posts and stations with his father, Captain George A. Ekman. While at Carlisle Barracks during World War I, Bill&rsquo;s appetite for a service career was whetted and his lifelong pursuit of excellence was fired. It was during several visits to West Point watching those haunting Retreat P-rades, he determined that he, too, wanted to join the Long Gray Line. This glimmering was to become a driving force over the next 16 years until its realization in 1934. Also key was the significant impact that his budding friendship with the great American athlete, Jim Thorpe, had on Bill&rsquo;s development, symbolized by a bow Thorpe gave young Bill on the Ekmans&rsquo; departure from Carlisle in 1920. Perhaps Bill&rsquo;s tenacity of purpose, forthrightness, and physical toughness that were to become his hallmarks as a cadet and soldier struck first at Carlisle Barracks.</div>
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On graduation from Baltimore Polytechnical High School in 1932, Bill enlisted in the Army for the United States Military Academy Prep School at Camp Smith. Hawaii, to begin his final assault to attain his quest: West Point. After two years of tough competition, he was one of eleven candidates selected for appointment from the Army at large, to enter the Military Academy in July 1934.</div>
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After two years of serious pursuit of academic excellence, Bill recognized that there were other things to life at West Point other than necessary long hours of study and bleary eyes to attain the Dean&rsquo;s list. He proved himself to be a tough, competitive sportsman as a member of the B Squad Football team, the lacrosse and wrestling teams. He also gained notoriety for himself and old K Company by his increasingly wider adventures as evidenced by the many pairs of shoes he wore out &ldquo;on the area&rdquo; during Cow and Firstie years. His family &ldquo;centurian&rdquo; record was unmatched until the third of his three sons (Rick, United States Military Academy, Class of 1972), who followed his steps to West Point, bettered it. Bill, or &ldquo;Bing&rdquo; as he was known to his company mates for his attemped imitations of the real Crosby, proceeded to make his way through West Point with song and good cheer and was graduated and commissioned a second lieutenant in the Infantry on 14 June 1938. That same afternoon, Bill married Iris M. Welch, his fiancee of 2 years, in a small ceremony at Elmhurst, New York. After a honeymoon in New England, they headed south to Fort Benning.</div>
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Assigned to the 29th Infantry, Bill served as a company officer, as adjutant of the 1st Battalion and as company commander until June 1941, when he volunteered for parachute duty. On graduation from Parachute School, Fort Benning, in August, he was assigned as Commander, Company B, 503 Parachute Infantry Battalion. After two months as commander, he was assigned as adjutant of the newly formed 504th Parachute Infantry Battalion, Fort Benning; and in May 1942, was named the Adjutant General, Headquarters Provisional Parachute Group, remaining in that position when the Group was redesignated as Headquarters, The Airborne Command, and moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In August 1942 he became the Executive Officer, 1st Parachute Infantry Brigade at Fort Benning pending activation of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. On its activation in October 1942, Bill was named the Regimental Executive Officer, remaining with the regiment when it deployed to England in December 1943.</div>
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On 21 March 1944 Bill assumed command of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. As the new commanding officer, the job he faced was something like trying to make himself the accepted leader of a group that had sworn allegiance to another master. Paratroopers, like thoroughbreds, are always headstrong; and the 505th wearing two combat stars on their parachute wings won under their beloved leader &ldquo;Slim Jim&rdquo; Gavin needed some convincing to accept as equal leader an officer untried in combat. And convincing they got in short order.</div>
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One of the greatest tributes to Bill is that he was quickly accepted by the regiment as its fighting leader. The 505 was a proud unit which under his leadership enhanced its reputation to new undisputed heights over the following months of combat. Bill led his regiment in the D-Day airborne assault into Normandy on 6 June 1944, liberating the first town on the continent from the Germans, Ste Mere Eglise. On return to England in late July 1944 following Normandy, Bill was promoted to colonel. He fought his regiment in the parachute landings in Nijmegen, Holland, in September 1944; during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944; through the Siegfried Line; and in the crossing of the Elbe River in April 45. As one source reported, &ldquo;seldom had any commander been called upon to meet so many diverse crises, types of fighting and unusual conditions.&rdquo; The unique record of the 505 under his leadership is a monument to his great abilities.&rdquo; General Gavin, his mentor, recently wrote, &ldquo;He was a splendid regimental commander and took a tough paratroop regiment through the war from Normandy to Berlin. He was a very solid, dependable soldier.&rdquo;</div>
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Bill returned to Fort Bragg in January 1946 after occupation duty with the 82d Airborne Division in Berlin, and retained his command until 13 September 1947. After three and a half years of regimental duty, he was ordered to Washington as a planner and airborne advisor in the Army Plans Branch, G3 Division, Department of the Army. In January 1949, he became the Airborne Advisor of the Joint Strategic Plans Group, Joint Chiefs of Staff. He remained in this position until June 1951.</div>
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From June 1951 until June 1952 Bill returned to Fort Bragg and served as the GI, XVIII Airborne Corps. That summer he returned to Carlisle Barracks to attend the Army War College. On graduation in June 1953,<span class="Apple-tab-span" style="white-space: pre;"> </span>he was assigned as the GI, VII Corps in Moeringen, Germany. On 15 December 1954,<span class="Apple-tab-span" style="white-space: pre;"> </span>Bill assumed leadership of the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Bad Toelz, Germany; commanding this elite organization until July 1956, when he returned to Fort Benning, Georgia, as Director of the Army&rsquo;s Airborne-Air Mobility Department. In June 1959 he reported to the United States Military Assitanee Group, Korea, as the Military Personnel Advisor to the Republic of Korea Army. Subsequently, he returned to the United States in June 1960 to the Continental Army Command, Fort Monroe, Virginia, and served successively as the Chief, Military Personnel Management Division and as the Deputy to the Assistant Chief of Staff, Plans and Operations.</div>
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In September 1961 he was selected by General Paul Adams for duty with the newly activated United States Strike Command, MacDill AFB, Tampa, Florida. He initially served as the Acting Chief of Staff, Personnel and later as the Deputy to the Assistant Chief of Staff, Plans Directorate.</div>
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In July 1963 Bill returned to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, after a 30 year absence, to assume duties as the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations, United States Pacific Command, which he held when promoted to brigadier general on 1 May 1965. Although appointed as the Commander-designate of the 173d Airborne Brigade (Separate), he saw &ldquo;his&rdquo; brigade deploy to Vietnam in April 1965 and wistfully watched his opportunity to return to airborne command and combat fade. The Commander in Chief, Pacific Command overrode Bill&rsquo;s transfer to the brigade to keep him on his staff during the critical American build-up period in the Republic of Vietnam during the summer of 1965. Bill returned to the United States in September 1965 and served as the Deputy Commanding General of the United States Army Training Center, Fort Dix, New Jersey until April 1967, when he was named the Department of Defense Off-Base Housing Coordinator. At Fort Dix his health began to fail as the initial effects of leukemia were discovered. His assignment to the Pentagon for what was to be his last active duty tour put him close to the excellent facilities at Walter Reed and allowed him to serve in a very sensitive position while his obscure illness was fully diagnosed. His acceptance of Department of Defense Off-Base Housing Coordinator, was in keeping with Bill&rsquo;s established tradition of never turning down a job, no matter how inconvenient or difficult. He had been there before: On President Truman&rsquo;s 1947 order to desegregate the services, his regiment was selected by General Gavin to receive the 82d Airborne Division&rsquo;s all-black Parachute Infantry Battalion, the famous 555, as the fourth battalion of the regiment. He proceeded vigorously to desegregate the regiment with all the force of his personalitymaking the 505 Parachute Infantry the first Regular Army regiment to do so. Twenty years later, as the Department of Defense Coordinator, his diligent efforts and persuasive discussions with civic leaders and apartment owners, were instrumental in obtaining greater participation in non-discriminatory off-base housing programs. The number of rental units in multiple dwellings in Virginia and Maryland available on a non-discriminatory basis increased 500% is ample evidence of the success of his personal negotiations. His plan and program for the Washington area became the model for those across the country and was the forerunner of the Defense Department&rsquo;s current equal opportunity program.</div>
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His health failing, Bill was retired after thirty-two years active duty on 30 April 1968.</div>
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Although hampered somewhat by his insidious challenger, leukemia, Bill took to his retirement in Sarasota, Florida, with gusto, and actively and productively served the Sarasota community during retirement in a number of capacities, including president of the St. Armands Association, and Disaster Relief Chairman of the Sarasota County Red Cross. In recognition of his over 800 hours of volunteer time as Disaster Chairman, his efforts that developed the County&rsquo;s first comprehensive disaster action plan, and his actions which increased the volunteer disaster relief force from 100 to 600 people, Bill was selected in 1977 as the Outstanding Volunteer of the Year of Sarasota County. During the eleven years he lived in Sarasota, he continued to give his best to the service of others and his community. His loss was so recognized by public proclamation by the Sarasota County Commission on 5 June 1979.</div>
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Bill&rsquo;s many decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star with Cluster; Bronze Star for Valor and Cluster; Joint Service and Army Commendation Medals, Presidential Unit Citation, Combat Infantryman&rsquo;s Badge, Master Parachutist Badge with two combat jump stars, the Belgium and French Fourrageres, Netherland Military Willems Order, the Dutch Bronze Lion, Russian Second Order of the People War, the French Croix de Guerre with two Palms, Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Device and the Department of the Army General Staff Identification Device.</div>
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Bill had a great life and lived it to its fullest. Only an unconquerable leukemia ended it. He leaves his wife, Iris; his mother, Edna; three sons, Lieutenant Colonel Michael E. Ekman, United States Military Academy, Class of 1961; Major William J. Ekman, United States Military Academy, Class of 1970; and Captain Richard A. Ekman, United States Army Reserve, United States Military Academy, Class of 1972; and his daughter, Sandra E. Hamm; and ten grandchildren. Iris and Edna continue to live in Sarasota, Florida.</div>
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Bill Ekman was a giant man of uncommon virtue and purpose. He lived by and personafied his Alma Mater&rsquo;s creed: &ldquo;Duty, Honor, Country.&rdquo; We are all better for his passing our way. We miss him terribly.</div>
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Well done, Bill&mdash;&ldquo;All the Way!&rdquo;</div>
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<em>-M.E.E.</em></div>

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