Gene Witherspoon grew up in Sumter, South Carolina, with his older brother, who graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1960. Their mother taught 1st Grade and Music, while their father worked at a casket company and later sold insurance. Gene had to get a waiver to enter West Point due to a knee injury he suffered in high school football, but at the Academy he played 150 lb (Sprint) Football all four years. He had to work hard academically, and found some “smart guys” to help him get through the tougher classes. By his Firstie (senior) year, he was the Company Commander for K2. Upon graduation, he commissioned as an Engineer and his first assignment was in Germany. He remembers the tensions of Cold War Europe, where the Berlin Wall had recently gone up, and his unit stocked nuclear munitions. After earning a Master’s Degree (and meeting his wife) at Arizona State University in 1966, he deployed to Vietnam with the 937th Engineer Group. His second tour in Vietnam was with MACV in 1970. Between his two deployments to Vietnam, he completed the Engineer Advanced Course and was the Engineer Branch Representative in the Office of Military Instruction (currently DMI) at West Point, where he was in charge of engineer training during the summer months. After returning from Vietnam in 1971, he enjoyed a wide variety of assignments around the world, including the Navy’s Civil Engineering Laboratory, serving in Australia, commanding a Battalion in Hawaii, and serving in the District Engineering Office in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In 1982, he commanded the Engineering Logistics Command in Saudi Arabia before returning to the States for more Engineer District assignments, including New Orleans from 1984 to 1986, Omaha, and the United States Engineer Districts responsible for the Transatlantic and the Lower Mississippi Valley. He retired in 1995 as a Brigadier General.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, attending West Point, and his service in the Army. He reflects on some of the challenges he faced in different assignments, as well as the rewards of working with various leaders throughout his career. At the end of the interview, he reflects on his service and what West Point means to him.