One of the true marks of a man is that he is loved and respected by both men and women, superiors and subordinates, friends and contemporaries. One of the true marks of a soldier is that he accomplishes his mission while ensuring the welfare of his men. One of the true marks of a friend is that he is a friend no matter what your faults. Walt Pritchard was all of these: a true and, an outstanding soldier, and a man among men. His loss has created a void in a lives of all who knew him that can only be filled partially by the memory of man who loved life, his friends, his profession, and his family with a depth of remembrance experienced by very few.
In his own special way, Walt epitomized the professional officer. As one close friend wrote: "His strongest suit was his ability to deal with people. He believed that one of the prime jobs of officers was to train younger peers, and he always related well to junior officers. He had a will to succeed that was blazing and at the same time deplored devious or underhanded means. There was never any doubt where Walt stood with relation to anyone or anything. The ethic that the Corps holds in such high regard was the cornerstone of his life, and he would not compromise that ethic in any manner. In everything he undertook, he wanted to excel most carefully within the limits of a deep respect for the feelings of others, regardless their views, age, or experience. To use a expression, but one which I believe typified him-‘He was a whole man.’"' As a youngster growing up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, "Terry," as he was known to his family, loved sports and was a fierce competitor in whatever activity was at hand. His boyhood friend remembers him as "always the first one picked in a game of baseball or football. He played tough, and he played to win."
His father remembers that Terry won a local radio station's contest with his essay on his favorite baseball player-Joe DiMaggio. First prize was two free tickets to a Yankee-Red Sox game. Walt took his dad, whose favorite was Ted Williams, to the game and they had "an especially good time together on that occasion." Walt never lost his love for baseball. One of his favorite terms for an individual he particularly admired was a term unique to the sport "Big Leaguer."
Between the ages of eight and twelve Walt was quite ill and underwent five operations, finally being cured after the hyoid bone was removed from his neck. In later years Walt, in his typical way, he liked to joke that, "At least I wasn't born to be hanged." It was during these years of illness that he developed his interest in serving his country and in West Point. When he was only eleven he wrote for information on how to enter the Academy, and reinforced his enthusiasm by reading all that he could find about such famous men as Roosevelt, Truman, MacArthur, Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley. At the same time, Walt's grandfather, an extremely patriotic man, furthered Walt's ambitions by taking him on frequent trips to visit such historic sites as Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, and Gettysburg. In later years, these childhood experiences were to have a decisive effect on his continued determination to enter the Military Academy.
Walt's days in West High School in Pawtucket were active ones. Debating, Model Legislature, Junior Rotary, Junior Achievements, dramatics, Student Council, public speaking, French Club, and track all kept him busy. He was chosen Majority Floor Leader of the Senate of the Rhode Island Model Legislature while a junior and was Editor-in-Chief of his high school yearbook as a senior. He continued to enter all types of competition, winning such events as the state speech contest held in connection with his membership in the model legislature. With all of his pursuits, he still managed to make the Dean's List his junior and senior years and was Valedictorian of the Class of 1952. Small wonder that his class selected him "most likely to succeed."
During these active times, the small boy's resolve to go to The Academy intensified. At the start of his senior year, Walt took his first competitive examination for an appointment to the Academy and was named alternate to a Yale man. After graduation he tried again and then entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Troy, New York, on a four-year scholarship awarded for both his academic ability and his "all around activities." Walt's second try netted him a primary appointment, and he prepared himself to enter the Military Academy in July 1953. In the meantime, he enjoyed his year at R.P.I., even joined a fraternity, but said that even if "they gave him the entire school, campus, and buildings, it would not end his desire to go to West Point."
Walt loved his four years on the Hudson, not because he was a cadet but because it offered a wide range of challenge and opportunity for his fertile imagination. He used his time to broaden his old interests and to develop a number of new ones. His unfailing ability to see the funny side of any situation guided him through the daily grind while he absorbed as much of the history and tradition as he could. Walt quickly caught the spirit of West Point and never lost it. His father remembers that, "He knew its history completely and a tour with him was edifying. Each piece in the museum, the library, and Trophy Point had a story he loved to tell."
As a cadet, Walt formally continued what was to be one of his best remembered personal characteristics - his love of debate. As a member of the Debate Council and Forum for all four years he won many awards. His best remembered debate was at Florida State University in 1957 when his quartet set a record by winning fifteen of twenty awards offered. When not debating, Walt devoted much of his time to coaching his companymates in F-2. A classmate remembers that, "Walt often neglected his own studies to help those who needed his assistance. He doubtlessly sacrificed a great deal of his own academic ranking in order to help out ‘the goats’." " In the meantime, Walt convinced himself that there was only one branch in the Army for him - Armor!
Walt won another important debate that year when he convinced Maryellen Belliveau to become his bride. They were married on 5 June in the Catholic Chapel and set out on one of the most joyous and successful careers that a dashing Armor leader and his lady have ever experienced. From the Basic Course and Airborne Training, Walt and Maryellen went to Gelnhausen, Germany, and the 1st Battalion, 33rd Armor, 3d Armored Division. Walt served as Bn S4, while still a First Lieutenant, at a time when the Division Commander called it "the best armored battalion in the Division." Next, from March 1961 to August 1963, they served with the 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry, at Fort Hood. Here Walt fulfilled two major ambitions. First, he served as commanding officer of Troop A. Second, and more importantly, he and Maryellen became parents with the birth of their first son, John Ethan, on 29 March 1962.
Upon leaving Fort Hood, Walt attended the Career Course at Fort Knox, where he graduated in the top five percent of his class. Next he was sent to Columbia University in New York in order to, as he described it, "close with and destroy English literature." Though assigned for two years of study, Walt earned his Master's Degree in one and then tried unsuccessfully to convince the Army to allow him to spend the other year in Vietnam. Though initially unsuccessful, he never quit trying throughout his second year at Columbia and his two years at West Point. He finally was able to overcome the mass of red tape that stood in his path and, ironically, died in Vietnam during what was to have been his third year as an instructor.
Walt's academic excellence, as Colonel Sutherland, Head of the Department of English noted, earned him "The very rare distinction of having been invited to continue under the Columbia Faculty of Philosophy toward the Doctoral Degree in English and Comparative Literature." A fellow student officer, however, was aware of another force that drove Walt during his two years at Columbia, "a sense of loyalty to the position he held as an officer in the US Army. Walt's point was this-demonstrate to the intellectual community that an Army officer can compete favorably with their best minds. That gets you into their circle for discussion. Then once having achieved this (it used to amuse him that those who branded themselves liberals and humanitarians were so isolated from the world that it took a supreme effort to crash into their tower to bring them the news from the people), Walt figured he could make a significant contribution in the world of ideas these people would form in the years to come. And he did it. When he left Columbia after studying and competing with that group for two years, he had made a lasting imprint on their pattern of thought. Both the Army and the intellectual community would reap the benefits of that influence for years to come. Thus, to me, the most lasting contribution Walt made as an intellectual was not his many achievements Master of Arts and all of the work for a Doctoral Degree save the dissertation - but the influence his ideas and his patterns of study and thought had on those with whom he associated for two years in the intellectual community."
New York City was rewarding in more than purely academic terms, as the Pritchard's second son, Michael Jay, was born on 28 December 1965. As a family man Walt was vitally concerned with the future his children would inherit as well as the present in which they lived. He would talk for hours about his family and the Army and the effect each had on the other. Walt loved his family deeply and was determined to provide for them as best he could. He was convinced that he could do this best by serving his country as a professional officer and by achieving the highest level of performance in the task at hand.
At the Military Academy, Walt's scholarship and his wit and ability to stimulate lively discussion made him one of those rarest of people, a truly popular "English P." As usual, he applied his talents to a variety of activities. In addition to teaching and studying for his Doctoral Degree, Walt also assumed the responsibility for organizing and launching the Cadet Fine Arts Forum, an undertaking which he supported enthusiastically. Walt felt strongly that the cadets should have every possible opportunity to broaden themselves professionally, academically, and socially. He considered the Fine Arts Forum as an outstanding opportunity for the cadets to get to know and understand their contemporaries in the civilian community as well as to attend the scheduled activities. Certainly none of the cadets were any more vigorous than Walt in the pursuit of these additional benefits.
But his chief extra-curricular activities continued to be to try to get to Vietnam as quickly as possible and to lend encouragement to others who were trying to do the same. A fellow officer who served in Armor Branch at the time recalls "the vigor and energy that he devoted to getting assigned to Vietnam. He wanted to go, and he argued and wrote until he succeeded." In June 1968, his persistence rewarded, Walt eagerly departed for what he termed, "The Vale of Mordor," the experience, he sincerely believed, for which he had spent his lifetime preparing himself.
Walt's performance in Vietnam further enhanced a record that had previously earned him two outstanding field grade promotions, He was first assigned as Executive Officer, 2d Battalion, 1st Infantry, Americal Division. After his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in August 1968, he was made Commandant of the Americal Combat Center, responsible for the training of all newly arrived replacements. He held this position until March 1969, when he took command of the 3d Battalion, 1st Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade. He was serving as Battalion Commander on April 12 when he was killed by ground fire while making a reconnaissance flight. Walt died doing his job as he saw it, in the typically aggressive and outstanding manner that marked his career.
In his short twenty-eight days as Battalion Commander, Walt "stamped his eager and aggressive spirit on his entire unit." In such a short yet such a significant time, he was known to those who served in combat with him as "a warm and engaging man with a tremendous capacity of humor, feeling, and sincerity. He was a man who would not like to hear these things . . . but he would beam and glow if you told him his men were doing a good job." The men of his Battalion constructed a memorial chapel for Walt from the materials gathered from their area of operations. In addition, the Americal Division Memorial Chapel dedicated a library in Walt's memory. He had been the Commandant of the Combat Center when the idea for the chapel was conceived, and it was "his guiding hand and tenacity that ensured that it was built." The dedication plaque on the door of the library reads in part:
LTC WALTER L. PRITCHARD JR.
Walt was buried at West Point on 21 April 1969 as the sound of the bagpipe music he loved echoed across the Hudson Valley. Typically, he had arranged for the bagpipes prior to his departure for Vietnam. In later ceremonies, he was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross for Heroism, the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart; and the Vietnamese Government awarded him the National Order Fifth Class and the Gallantry Cross with Palm. These awards accompany the Combat Infantryman's Badge he had won in Vietnam and the Army Commendation Medal and Oak Leaf Cluster he had previously received.
Such, in brief, was the life of the man we remember "who, even as a small sick child wanted to serve the country he loved." His effect on those he knew, served with, and loved is inestimable, but the words of some of those who knew him gave an indication. Said a fellow officer of his age, a non-Academy graduate: "Walt represented to me the total fulfillment of the West Point ideal. Had it not been for the example he set for me, the professional skill and high' integrity that was his, I would not hay chosen to follow the career of a professional officer. And I am by no means alone in feeling this way."
An ex-officer who served with Walt in the English Department wrote: "Walt was a man of terrific integrity. Walt and I often disagreed, but I always respected his view because they were honest and sincere one and I admired him for that. It's hard to believe that he won't be exerting his influence to make the Army a better profession, to make West Point a greater school, to make life in general more fun to live. I remember his ideas and intellectual abilities, but I also remember our good times, for Walt was always fun to he with, always able to see the lighter side of things."
A company-mate remembers: "I respected no man more than I did Walt. Even those d who found themselves in disagreement with him inevitably acknowledged that he could never be faulted in fairness or integrity, or for that matter in humor."
But perhaps the notation on the English Department bulletin-board after the news of his death said it all: WE KNEW THE BEST.
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