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Forward and Reverse Time Travel to 1922

June 7, 2013

I read the first chapter of Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers that described the soldiers that would be central to the book’s story.  The platoon commander was a 1st lieutenant whose history included West Point.  Bud’s platoon commander, Lt. Donald G. MacWilliams, was a good one, according to Bill Moomey.  He was from West Point, too.  I remember that one of the guys at the Company E reunion — Wally Merza, I think — said that the soldiers tried to locate their commanding officer after the war and that they had a lot of trouble doing so because he was a very private person and that West Point did not give out the addresses of its graduates or of its faculty members.

That led me to check the internet for Donald G. MacWilliams.  He was born March 14, 1922, graduated from West Point in 1944, trained with the 66th Division, Company E, 262nd Infantry Regiment, survived the torpedoing of the SS Leopoldville, and went on to become a faculty member of West Point.  He taught chemistry at first, then became chairman of the department of physics and chemistry.  He went on sabbatical in the 1970s to study biochemistry and retired after 34 years of service as a Colonel in 1977.  He died in 2001.  Bill Moomey told me how Lt MacWilliams was an exceptional leader.  When they were training in the field, the lieutenant made sure to get to know each member of his unit personally.  Bill said that when the soldiers all paired up to dig shelter for the night Lt MacWilliams paired himself up with the smallest, weakest member of the platoon.

This all led me to wonder if Tad Henningsen’s brother, who graduated from West Point in about 1965, would remember his chemistry professor and if that had been MacWilliams, probably a major or lieutenant colonel by that time.  

I called Tad today, who promised to give me Tim Henningsen’s number this weekend when he was home.  Tim retired from the army and now lives in Hot Springs, South Dakota, where he teaches and coaches.  Again, I cannot get to know Bud personally, but I expect to be able to meet people whose lives he touched, or in this case, to meet people who knew people whose lives he touched.  I feel as though I am jetting backward and forward in time.

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