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Life and Career of General Williston Birkhimer Palmer





Born 11th November, 1899 the former Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and the first Director of Military Assistance of the Department of Defence, died November 10th, 1973, at Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington. Buried 15th November , 1973 in Arlington National Cemetery, Va.

He was born in Chicago, the elder son of Colonel Charles Day Palmer, whose younger son of same name Charles Day Palmer, Jr. also attained 4-star rank, the first pair of brothers in Army history to achieve this distinction. He was also the grandson of William Edward Birkhimer. Graduating from the United States Military Academy in 1919 after an accelerated 3-year course, he missed combat in World War I but saw plenty in World War II. Brigadier General commandingVII Corps Artillery. in the Normandy Invasion, the capture of Cherbourg the St Lo breakout and the major battles of Mortain, Mons Liege across France~Belgium and then onto Aachen & Cologne in Germany. He also saw action commanding forces in the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ and the encirclement of the Rhur and the drive across Germany as far as the Elbe. In 1946 he founded the Army Information School, at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvannia.


His reputation for demanding high standard of performance by immediate subordinates carried into peacetime assignments. After serving as Director of Logistics, European Command, in 1948 and Vice Chief of Staff of the European Command in 1949. In November 1949 he assumed command of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  

In November 1950, he was transferred to command 2nd Armoured Division, at Fort Hood, Texas. He too the 2nd Armoured Division to Germany in July 1951 and X Corps as Commanding General to Korea later that year. 

On December 21st 1952 he became Assistant Chief of Staff, G-4 Department of the Army. 


On the 13th September 1954 …after his old theatre Commander, Dwight Eisenhower became President, he was named successively the Army's first Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Deputy Commander-in-Chief in Europe. 


Again he was on the upward move, and in 1959, he became the Department of Defence’s first Director of Military Assistance, with the rank of full General, comparable to the chiefs of staff of the three services. 


One of his problems in that post was black market scandal involving military personnel in Turkey. 


When Senators were shocked that some had refused to testify, he countered that Uniform Code of Military Justice gave them the equivalent of Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. “This right has been in the Army for more than 30 years that I know of,” the General said.


In October 1960, on visit to Saigon, South Vietnam, he announced the suspension of military aid to Laos because of the “confused situation” in that country, explaining that “we have not been sure who is responsible for anything.” Two days later the US Embassy in Vientiane said that the announcement had been mistake and made without instructions from the Washington, DC agencies concerned. Assistance, and confusion, resumed.


Although his forebears had seen Army service starting with War of 1812, he was no sentimentalist. A stickler for accuracy and an enemy of waste, as Vice Chief of Staff he ordered the discontinuance of the ceremonial horse-drawn caissons at Arlington National Cemetery. He was overruled and the famous matched grey and black horses remained on active duty.


He never married...



Grave of Williston Birkhimer Palmer and Charles Day Palmer,

only brothers ever in US Army history to hold the 4 Star General Rank

Arlington National Cemetery, Va.

Photo: Paul Browne 2008