by Erin E. Thompson, USAICoE Staff Historian
1 NOVEMBER 1958
On 1 November 1958, Maj. Gen. John M. Willems assumed the role of assistant chief of staff, intelligence (ACSI) for the Army. His ascension into this role followed a lengthy career of command and liaison duties for the U.S. military stretching back to the 1920s.
Born on Christmas Eve 1901 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, John Murphy Willems entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1921 and graduated three years later as a second lieutenant. He was assigned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, with the 15th Field Artillery Regiment and later trained in the Philippines with the 24th Field Artillery Regiment. He returned to the United States in 1929 and was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to attend the Field Artillery School, where he graduated as a first lieutenant in June 1930. After a brief appearance in equestrianism at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, he returned to field artillery duties and was the executive officer (XO) of the 65th Field Artillery Regiment when America entered World War II.
During the war, Willems rose to the rank of colonel and served primarily in the North African Theater under Gen. George Patton. Between 1942–1945, he served as the XO of Artillery, Western Task Force (North Africa); XO, I Armored Corps (North Africa); chief of staff, II Corps and chief of artillery for the invasion of Sicily; and chief of staff, U.S. Seventh Army. For his service, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and was temporarily appointed brigadier general to command the 3rd Armored Division during the early occupation of Germany from 1945–1946.
In 1946, Willems became the military attaché to Roma, Italy, and remained there until 1949. He was then appointed chief of the Foreign Liaison Section, Administration and Liaison Group, Intelligence Division, on the Army’s general staff during the first year of the Korean War. Officially promoted to brigadier general, Willems replaced Brig. Gen. John Weckerling as deputy ACSI in September 1952. As the deputy, he presided over the Intelligence Advisory Committee’s (IAC) Watch Committee, which primarily performed administrative work for the IAC. On 31 October 1952, at a regular division chiefs’ meeting, General Willems announced the new policy of the G-2 to engage in psychological warfare. This was a bold and divisive decision, as contemporary military theory in the early Cold War favored traditional armed victory over unconventional methods. General Willems remained at the Intelligence Division until 1954, after which he returned to command the 3rd Armored Division from 1955–1956. In August 1956, he was assigned to the G-2, Headquarters, U.S. Army Europe, becoming its chief of staff in January 1958.
A few months later, on 1 November 1958, General Willems was assigned as the ACSI for the Army. While in this position, he was most noted for his reorganization of counterintelligence (CI). With new disciplines in human intelligence (HUMINT) appearing alongside CI and investigative studies, Willems decided to merge all field operations intelligence assets with the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC). Personnel could then be cross-trained for the various disciplines, rather than specializing in one or the other. To cement this consolidation, on 1 January 1961, now Maj. Gen. Willems oversaw the official redesignation of the CIC into the new Intelligence Corps (INTC), commanded by the former chief of the CIC, Maj. Gen. Richard G. Prather.
Besides his Distinguished Service Medal, Willems also earned a Bronze Star Medal and the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster. He retired from the Army at the end of his tenure as ACSI in 1961. He moved to San Diego, California, where he passed away in 1976 at the age of seventy-four.
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|Date Posted:||10.27.2023 15:25|
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