WILLIAM GROOM LEFTWICH, JR., USMC (DECEASED)
Lieutenant Colonel William Groom Leftwich, Jr., was born on 28 April 1931 in Memphis, Tennessee, and graduated from Central High School in that city. He was commissioned a Marine second lieutenant on 5 June 1953 upon graduation from the United States Naval Academy. As brigade captain in his senior year at the Naval Academy, he was specially commended at graduation for exemplary officer-like qualities, which contributed “to the development of naval spirit and loyalty within the Brigade.”
Upon entering the Marine Corps, he completed The Basic School at Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, in January 1954, and later served as a rifle platoon commander with the 2d Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. During 1955-56, he served with the 3d Marine Division on Okinawa. On his return to the United States, he was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, where he was promoted to captain in July 1957. He then began a three-year assignment at the Naval Academy, serving as a company officer. An excellent athlete himself, he also voluntarily performed collateral duty as assistant varsity tennis coach and battalion football coach.
In 1960, he rejoined the 2d Marine Division, serving as a company commander until 1962 when he was named aide-de-camp to the Commanding General. In June 1963, he was assigned as aide to the Commandant, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia. He was promoted to major in July 1964. He later completed a course of study in the Vietnamese language prior to reporting for duty in Vietnam in January 1965 as Assistant Senior Advisor to the Vietnamese Marine Brigade.
Joining Task Force Alfa, he participated in 27 major operations against the Viet Cong in the central highlands of Vietnam, and spent more than 300 days in the field. He was wounded in the Battle of Hoai An, 9 March 1965 and, besides the Purple Heart, was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism. According to his citation, he “…played a major part in all phases of the successful relief of the village of Hoai An, which was under heavy enemy attack by two Viet Cong battalions… By his own personal example…, he led the attack… Despite injuries by enemy machine-gun bullets in the back, cheek and nose, he went to the aid of a mortally wounded comrade…and delayed his own evacuation until he could call for additional air strikes and brief the task force commander of the situation.”
Major Leftwich returned to the United States in January 1966, served as an instructor at The Basic School, then completed the Command and Staff College in June 1967 and was named to the Schools Honor List. Assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in November 1967 while serving as a systems analyst with the Manpower Management Information Branch, G-1 Division. He later became head of the Systems Analysis Section.
In 1968, LtCol Leftwich was selected by the Under Secretary of the Navy to be his Special Assistant and Marine Corps Aide. He served in this capacity under the Honorable Charles F. Baird and Mr. Baird’s successor as Under Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable John W. Warner.
In April 1970, he began his second tour of duty in Vietnam, serving initially as an infantry battalion commander with 2d Battalion, 1st Marines. On 13 September, he assumed duty as Commanding Officer of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division (Reinforced).
On 18 November 1970, LtCol Leftwich was killed in a helicopter crash during an emergency extraction of one of his reconnaissance teams. In accordance with his practice of accompanying every emergency extraction called for by his reconnaissance teams, he was serving as senior “extract officer” for such a mission on the day of his death. The team had incurred casualties and requested an emergency extraction from enemy-infested territory, in an area beginning to be enveloped by defense fog. The team was extracted under LtCol Leftwich’s personal supervision, then, as the helicopter began its ascent, it crashed into a mountainside in enemy territory, killing all aboard.
In June 1979, the Marine Corps awarded the very first Leftwich Trophy for Outstanding Leadership in LtCol Leftwich’s memory. The award is presented annually to an outstanding Marine Corps captain serving with the ground forces of the Fleet Marine Force at the time of nomination.
A partial list of his medals and awards includes: the Navy Cross, the Silver Star (posthumous), the Legion of Merit with Combat “V” and two gold stars, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal with one gold star, the Purple Heart with two gold stars and various personal awards from the Republic of Vietnam.