“The Fine Art Of Motivating And Leading American Soldiers”: West Point, Vietnam, And The Evolving Army

Willis Freed Lowrey, Jr.


Freed Lowrey was born in November 1945, in Helena, Arkansas. An Army brat, he grew up around the world. His father ended up retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel, and his mother was a legal secretary. Military service had been part of his family’s legacy since the time of the American Revolution. As a very young child, he lived in Japan with the Army of Occupation from 1946 to 1949. As a means of getting the Japanese back to work following the war, the Army paid for Officers’ families to have servants. Freed learned to speak Japanese from the Japanese house staff and was far more fluent in that language than in English. In fact, when he wanted something from his parents, he asked the nanny, and she asked the Lowreys for him. In 1949, the family returned to Governors Island, New York, where Freed finally learned English, albeit with a Brooklyn accent. When the Korean War started, his father was transferred to Ft. Polk, Louisiana, (Leesville), and then he was deployed to Korea. Following the Korean War, the Lowreys moved Ft. Benning, GA, where Freed’s father commanded the 2d Bn. 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment and served on the Infantry School faculty. In 1956 the family moved to Heidelberg, Germany. During their time in Germany, the Hungarian revolution occurred (1956). In 1957, the Army reinvented itself, forming Pentomic Divisions and reflagging units. As a young boy growing up in post-war Germany, Freed busied himself exploring and finding war souvenirs in previously hidden tunnels below an airfield. In 1960, Freed’s older brother, Mark, graduated from West Point. With his father and older brother serving in the Army, it was only natural for Freed to follow in their footsteps, and on July 1, 1963, he reported to the Military Academy for R-Day. He recalls “an explosion of sound” when he walked out of the gym. Even with his brother’s good advice, Beast was tough. While he struggled in classes that involved numbers, he did well in other subjects. He loved the military training in the summer, and held positions as the Regimental Supply Sergeant, Company XO, and Platoon Leader. He enjoyed being on the Water Polo team. He describes a “rally” before the Penn State football game in 1963, where an artillery piece was fired in the Mess Hall, tables were stacked, and a VW bug even made an appearance inside. While he was at the Academy, the Corps began its expansion from 2500 to 4400 Cadets, and Freed describes the changes he experienced, including massive construction in the Cadet area. Following President Kennedy’s assassination, Freed was one of the Cadets who marched in the funeral. As the Vietnam War escalated, he recalls “Poop Deck” announcements identifying recent West Point graduates who were killed. One summer, he conducted AOT (Army Orientation Training) in Panama. He notes that following branching, Cadets could select units that were deployed to Vietnam. After graduation, he attended the Infantry Officer Basic Course (the Classes of 64, 65, and 66 did not attend the basic course), Ranger School, and Airborne School. His first assignment was in B Company, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Regiment (the battalion his father had commanded earlier), where there were too many Lieutenants and no Captains because of the Vietnam War. This was made worse when the 3rd Brigade of the 82nd deployed in February 1968 and stripped the division to fill out the brigade. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April 1968, his battalion was the IRF (Immediate Response Force) and was sent to D.C., where he found the city in flames and took fire while on patrol with the D.C. Police. Next, he was deployed to Vietnam (1968-1969), where he was initially assigned as a Rifle Platoon Leader in B Company, 3rd Battalion, 503rd Infantry in the 173rd Airborne Brigade. After four months he became the battalion Reconnaissance Platoon Leader. He describes his actions as a Platoon Leader, including conducting patrols and ambushes, and digging in at night. He also discusses some of the actions resulting in awards he received, including a Bronze Star with Valor and some of his Purple Hearts. Following his tour in Vietnam, he was stationed in Mainz, Germany, from 1969 to 1970 and commanded C Company, 2nd Battalion, 509th Airborne Infantry. He notes the terrible state of the Army in Germany, stating that “USAEUR was a hollow shell.” He describes the state of race relations and his primary mission of defending the Fulda Gap. In fact, he felt that duty in Germany was so bad, he requested a transfer back to Vietnam, which he received. In 1970, he returned to Southeast Asia and commanded D Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Infantry Regiment in the 198th Infantry Brigade of the Americal Division, an assignment that “cemented my love for American Soldiers.” He remarks that after he gained his Soldiers’ trust, “there was nothing they would not do if I asked.” During this tour, he received two additional Bronze Stars with Valor and an additional Purple Heart (his fourth). Returning from Vietnam in 1972, he completed the Infantry Advanced Course, and remained at Ft. Benning, serving first in Combat Development Command (CDC later became TRADOC) and then on the Staff and Faculty of the Infantry School. In this assignment, he traveled to Israel to observe the Yom Kippur War to see how the Israelis dealt with the anti-armor threat. During this period, the Army down-sized, conducting three RIFs (Reduction in Force), and Freed noted that “the Army wasn’t a fun place for junior officers.” In 1973, the Army began implementing the All Volunteer Army, and Freed noted, “None of us were sorry to see the end of the draft,” although he did not like the “we want to join you” slogan. In April 1975 when the Vietnam War ended, Freed thought, “What a waste.” From 1975 to 1978, he was assigned to the G3 shop in the 7th Infantry Division, serving as the Chief of Training. In 1978, he returned to West Point, where he was assigned to the Tactical Department, working in the S3 Shop. Plans for him to get assigned a company fell through, and he “was so angry,” but this was a turbulent time at the Academy following the cheating scandal, the introduction of women, and the Borman Commission report about the state of honor at West Point. Following his assignment at West Point, he was stationed in Alaska (1981 to 1984), where he served as an Infantry Battalion S3 and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. It was a great assignment, and everyone was motivated. In 1984, he returned to TRADOC Headquarters and was assigned as Chief of the Combat Arms Directorate in the office of Deputy Chief of Staff for Doctrine, working on FM 100-5 AirLand Battle. His final assignment in the Army was from 1988 to 1990, where he was on the faculty of the Armed Forces Staff College, teaching a course on war planning and developing a 20-hour course on NATO. After retiring from the Army, he spent 7 years teaching JROTC in Hampton, Virginia, before returning to West Point to work for the Association of Graduates as a Major Gift Officer in the Development Office. He has also served as his Class’s scribe and historian, writing the “Pooper Scooper,” (a class newsletter / magazine), “The Class of 1967 50th Reunion Book”, “Faces of Service, Faces of Sacrifice, Faces of Valor” (a photographic history of the Class of 67), and “Goat Poop, Reflections from the Last Section”. In this interview, he discusses his childhood, his time at West Point, and his service in the Army. He shares a variety of stories about living in both Japan and Germany following World War II. He describes life as a Cadet in the mid-1960s. He discusses his service in Vietnam, highlighting stories of various missions he participated in, as well as some humorous experiences. He contextualizes the post-Vietnam War Army with changes in manning and doctrine. Finally, he reflects on his service in the Army, West Point, and his Class, remarking that “my class is my family.”


conflicts Vietnam War Cold War
topics Leadership Teamwork West Point History Camaraderie Life After Military Military Family Military Techniques
interviewer David Siry
date 26 October 2022


name Willis Freed Lowrey, Jr.
institution USMA
graduation year 1967
service Infantry
unit B Co, 1st BN, 508th IN, 82nd ABN; B Co, 3rd BN, 503rd IN, 173rd ABN; C Co, 2nd BN, 509th IN; D Co, 1st BN, 52nd IN, 198th IN BDE, Americal; Infantry School; Combat Development Command; USCC, USMA; 172nd IN BDE; TRADOC; Armed Forces Staff College; AOG
specialty Class Scribe and Historian
service dates 1967 1990