Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
Having very little knowledge of Billy's 'professional life,
I put in a query on the 25th Division 1/14th website hoping
that I would receive at least one reply from a soldier who
had served with him, and who remembered him, and what an
incredible feat he had achieved in the days immediately prior
to his death. The first reply came from an officer who had
been in the 1/14th at the same time, however he did not know
Billy, but knew of him, and he told me of a retired officer
who remembered him well, and would like to give him my email
address. Well, that was Dave! At the time, Billy was senior
to Dave, who graduated with honors from the United State Military
Academy at West Point, and his career was the envy of any officer
as Dave achieved the ultimate goal, and retired the 2nd highest
ranking officer in the United States Army. I was astonished by
Dave's memories of my young lieutenant, but I will let Dave tell you
in the Epilogue below. Thank you, Dave, from the bottom of my heart.
You cannot begin to know how it means to me and to Billy's children
to know that their father was the 'best lieutenant'!
Two other soldiers also emailed me and both had served in C. Co., both
in Hawaii and in Vietnam. Both were complimentary with their memories,
and one, who was in Billy's rifle platoon, said that he was the best
Lieutenant he had ever served under, and that there was not a dry eye in
the company on the day of the Memorial Service. All of C. Company was there
and there was not one soldier who did not want to go and show his respect
for the 'best lieutenant'. Later, in the book, I will explain, as well as I
know how exactly what my handsome husband achieved in those three days
immediately before his death. I doubt if any Lieutenant has ever done what
Billy did for his platoon, his company, the 1/14th, the 25th Division, and
the United States Army.
He was indeed, the best lieutenant in the entire U.S. Army!
My only visit to North Georgia College came in 1997.
Though I went by invitation to speak at North Georgia’s
Awards Review, I was more emotionally drawn to make the
trip to fulfill, in a small but personal way, an obligation
to many of North Georgia’s graduates who impacted my life.
Thus, I paused again in 1997 to remember an extraordinary
young lieutenant from 1965 whose brief example and untimely
death have remained vivid reminders of selfless service,
duty performed, and sacrifice.
Lieutenant Bill McConnell loved North Georgia. He was the
first of many I was to meet from that rich tradition of military
service, and his example of all that North Georgia holds dear helped
me immensely in the preparation of my remarks. I remembered him
distinctly, as I have recalled and reflected on his qualities as an
officer, qualities that I have tried to emulate over the decades since
our service together in the 1-14th Infantry, the “Golden Dragons.”
He came to the battalion with an infectious grin, a verve for the profession,
and a warm humility that drew the younger lieutenants to him. I was one of
the second lieutenants who looked with great admiration at this confident first
lieutenant, who seemed to be so good and so willing to help. “Call me Bill” was
his first response when the junior lieutenants upon their initial meeting greeted
him with a salute, a “Sir”, and ”Golden Dragons.” We all liked him immediately.
Bill’s rifle company was short its complement of officers, and he assumed so many
roles and responsibilities so as to leave officer, noncommissioned officer, and
soldier in awe. Regardless of the demands, and there were many, he never failed
to find the time to talk, answer a question, or to help. He was a role model. I
remember him today, I remember our last conversation late at night at the
conclusion of his latest triumph of leadership, and I remember the shock of his
death the following morning.
I only knew him for four months, some 37 years ago. I have never forgotten him or
his example of what an officer can hope to be. His tangible successes as an officer
and his personal qualities as a leader distinguished him. Though his death diminished
those who knew him, his memory has continued to enrich all of us who carry his imprint.
I wanted the young men and women of North Georgia to know of Bill McConnell, and of his
service, legacy, and sacrifice. He was to die before he was a captain, before he could
command a company, before so much potential could be realized; but he is remembered for
what he did with the time he had. I hope they remember him.
For those who knew and served with him, Bill McConnell left much more than memories. He
left us his example. I am blessed to have known him.
This is not every man’s story. This is Bill McConnell’s. Thank you, Diane, and Thanks, Bill.
“Golden Dragons, Sir.”
David A. Bramlett
General - United States Army, Retired
More Than Life Itself © Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
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