Last week, one of America’s most gallant and inventive soldiers went to join his band of brothers who have already earned their place in Heaven. Colonel William J.”Bill” Lacey, Jr., U.S. Army (Ret.), who never shied away from any fight, lost his battle with a blood disorder caused by Agent Orange.
Bill began his illustrious military career as an enlisted soldier in Berlin, the place where Bill became absolutely fluent in German.
“Soldier Bill,” as he was known, never really retired. Appalled by the carnage inflicted by the Islamic terrorists’ improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Bill spent virtually every waking moment inventing devices to defeat the IED menace.
We first met in 1969 in Phuoc Vinh, South Vietnam, where Bill was one of several highly decorated captains working in the G-3 (Operations) section of the 1st Air Calvary Division. Operations are the around-the-clock heartbeat of any division. Bill liked the shift that started at midnight and ended at 0700 hours when Bill gave the division’s three general officers the G-3 portion of the morning briefing.
The briefing order began with the G-2 (Intelligence) briefer, followed by Bill briefing for Operations, followed by G-4 (Logistics), then G-1 (Personnel), and G-5 (Civil Affairs). One morning, we noticed the G-2 briefer was telling the generals about operations that should have only been known to the G-3 Section, namely, to Bill and to me.
Ah ha! The G-2 had a spy in the back of the tent where Bill and I rehearsed his portion of the briefing and the spy was stealing Bill’s stuff, leaving Bill with virtually nothing to report.
Bill’s solution was simple. Since both of us were fluent in German, we did our morning rehearsals in German. The G-2’s efforts to steal our stuff were from that moment, Kaput.
Bill, a practical joker in the tradition of M*A*S*H, invented the mythical Phuoc Vinh University. He had a Vietnamese shop make up T-shirts that read: “Phuoc U!” Bill helped invent the mythical Phuoc Vinh Flying Club. A M*A*S*H-type story for another time.
Months later, as a fledgling member of Toastmasters International in Newport, RI, I had to produce and introduce a guest speaker. Soldier Bill (by then, in the Pentagon) had an amazing ability to speak a mix of German and English that was comically understandable to both German and English listeners.
Bill agreed to be my guest speaker, appearing as a retired German U-boat captain. So, Bill flies up to Newport in a double-breasted blue blazer over a white turtle-neck sweater, looking and speaking exactly like the German film actor, Curd Jürgens.
Following my fulsome introduction, Bill had his audience of senior naval officers convinced that he was, indeed, a retired German U-boat captain. Then, on purpose, Bill started making mistakes of knowledge about submarine operations. As the audience of naval officers caught on to the hoax, the room started to ring with gales of laughter. Bill earned me an “A” from Toastmasters.
For decades now, we have emailed each other almost daily. Lord, I can’t tell you how much I’m going to miss him. But, to borrow from Bill’s favorite, Rudyard Kipling: I’ll meet him later on at the place where he has gone, where it’s always double shots of Guinness ale. He’ll be on a cloudy hill, doing his act as Soldier Bill, and telling tales as only Bill can tell.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.