The Fayette Citizen-News Page
Wednesday, November 10, 1999
`They're still the best'
Two Fayette retired generals reminisce, sing praises of U.S. veterans

Staff Writer

“The American soldier is the best fighting soldier in the world,” according to Fayetteville's resident four-star Gen. Bill Livsey (retired).

He should know. Livsey fought in Korea, served in Vietnam and advised Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf during the Gulf War.

The quintessential American soldier and all veterans of military service will be honored tomorrow, Veterans Day, with wreaths laid before granite memorials and crimson poppies sold to the public.

As one of Fayette County's illustrious veterans, Livsey was pleased to talk about his 35-year career in the Army, and the confidence he has in the nation's fighting force.

Livsey has often been described as a “soldier's general.” He mixed with noncommissioned personnel as well as Pentagon brass, and truly cared for the soldiers in his command, according to Maj. Gen. Jack Wheeler, another retired Fayette veteran.

Livsey was quoted by a New York Times correspondent in 1981 while in command of the 7th Army Corps, 8th Infantry Division, in West Germany as saying, “I looked 'em in the eye and told `em I loved `em, `cause I did. I saw them in the mud and the sleet and snow and sunshine and dust for two years. We ran exercises, and we shot and we did everything. We washed vehicles and we cleaned and occasionally we had a setback... but, by God, they were just magnificent.”

With a positive attitude, Livsey said he believes, ”A 21-year-old American soldier can do anything if properly led. You can fool your bosses, even fool your peers, but you can't fool your soldiers.”

He also made it a point during his command to know what was really going on with his soldiers. “The chain of command is a beautiful thing, but there are other ways of getting information. I'd go down to the soldiers' bar, buy them a beer and say, `OK, guys, what's really happening'?”

And Livsey still keeps informed. Although he is officially retired, his expertise in the field of military campaigning and his knowledge of the Korean Plan is still sought after today. He stays in touch with his comrades in Korea, having served there as commanding general of the U.S. forces prior to his 1987 retirement, and is in demand as a consultant.

Sitting on the tree-shaded screened porch of his Fayetteville home, Livsey can recount stories from his student ROTC days at North Georgia College, zip through two wars, and zero in on his thoughts about today's military. He fires up one of his trademark cigars as he sets the scene for the beginnings of his Army career.

Born in Clarkston in 1931, Livsey found himself graduating from North Georgia College in 1952 with a commission in the Army as a second lieutenant, and orders to ship out to Korea. “I didn't see it coming,” he recalls.

At the time, Livsey had no plans to make the military his career. He had also just married his college sweetheart, Bena Sue Burns of East Point, and had been scouted by the St. Louis Cardinals for a potential slot in their farm system. “But within one week of being commissioned a second lieutenant, I was up to my butt in Chinese in Korea... the Army quickly got into my blood... the Army to me was never a job, it was a commitment, a way of life,” Livsey said.

He returned to the States to serve as a company commander at Fort Benning in 1954, and after various assignments at the Georgia Army base was sent overseas to Germany in 1958, where he eventually returned years later as commanding general.

Livsey would rather tell stories about his 5K road race when he took command at Fort Benning in July of 1977, and arm wrestling contests with his father, than elaborate on his accomplishments, awards and decorations. He recalled the days when he used to get down on the floor and arm wrestle with his father on visits home to Clarkston.

On one rare occasion, Livsey out-wrestled him. “Here I am a two-star general and my father is 73. He looks at me and says, `You know, you might amount to something some day.'” He breaks into a loud laugh and draws on his cigar.

Livsey said he would like to see the country “go back to a draft. It's good for the youth of America to serve for two years in some capacity.” He noted that a draft would also provide the U.S. with a “base of mobilization,” recognizing that the military is half the size it was 12 years ago. “In the last three years, we've had trouble meeting our quota for enlistments.”

He regards women in the Army as “interesting,” adding, “Females are making a helluva contribution.” Today's Army is “more uptight,” according to Livsey, than it used to be, allowing soldiers “no wiggle room” for breaking the rules.

What did Livsey find to be the hardest thing about being a general? “Managing time.” He would instruct his assistant to “Bring me next month's calendar...” and he would proceed to find a couple of free days to visit a compound and “drop in and see what's happening.”

One of Livsey's sons has followed his footsteps into the military, Brig. Gen. Tim Livsey, who received his first star in September. He is currently serving in Korea.

Another illustrious Fayette County military man is Maj. Gen. Jack Wheeler, who served as a commander under Livsey in Korea. He now works as general manager of The Citizen newspapers. Wheeler also is a graduate of North Georgia College, graduating in 1961.

In July 1971, Wheeler developed plans and policies for a volunteer army. “The rest of my career involved policy development and policy execution,” he explained. Wheeler is a positive thinker whose upbeat manner and perpetually cheerful grin drives his current “civilian force” to success in their daily advertising sales rounds.

He believes military experience gives men and women “intangibles that will go with them for the rest of their lives.” Things like “candor, courage, commitment and competence” can be acquired through training and leadership, he said.

Wheeler believes that Americans “rise to the occasion” when called upon to demonstrate their patriotism. “History is filled with examples of this,” he noted.

“This country has been blessed to the degree that it has not suffered the ills other countries have, but when our country suffers challenges abroad that impact on our national security, they rise to the occasion.”

Wheeler says our country is filled with “latent patriots. It's there [patriotism], it's just not demonstrated every day,” he said.!

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