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Bill Thayer

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[image ALT: A photograph, nearly three-quarters left, of a middle-aged man, clean-shaven, with a stern and disapproving air, wearing a plain military jacket on the collar of which are the letters 'U.S.', and a leather strap crossing his chest from his right shoulder. He is William Thomas Johnston, a West Point graduate whose career is detailed on this webpage.]

William Thomas Johnston

The preceding image, and the text that follows, are reproduced from (the report of the) Sixtieth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 12, 1929.

 p187  William Thomas Johnston
No. 3404 Class of 1891
Died June 7, 1929, at Fort Brown, Texas, aged 64 years.

William Thomas Johnston was born at Alexandria, near Altoona, Pa., July 26, 1865, the son of Dr. Thomas Wilson Johnston, of Alexandria, Pa., and Harriet Shuey Johnston, of Lamont, Pa.

Soon after his birth, his parents moved to Kingston, Mo., where the father was a practicing physician. William T. attended the public schools at Kingston, Mo., and the University of Missouri, in preparation for a law course. This law course he completed later, while in the military service, by graduating with honor and degree of LL. B., at the New York Law School in 1907. He was admitted to the bar and licensed to practice in all States the same year.

Several summers of early manhood were spent in teaching school near his home.

In the spring of 1887, he was successful in the competitive examination for West Point, received his appointment and entered the Academy on June 16, 1887, to remain in active service for 42 years and until his death on June 7, 1929.

Colonel Johnston was of sturdy physique and untiring endurance. He became ill in March, 1928, was sent to the hospital at Fort Sam Houston, and from there to the Mayo Brothers Hospital at Rochester, Minnesota. By November of that year he returned to his post of command at Fort Brown, Texas, and was active in it until the day before his death. Funeral services were conducted at this post where the body lay in state. He was buried in Arlington Cemetery, Alexandria, Va., on June 12, 1929. He is survived by his window, Lida Russel, and a son Russel.

Upon graduation on June 12, 1891, W. T. Johnston was assigned as 2nd Lieutenant 10th Cavalry. Promoted on May 27, 1898, to 1st Lieutenant 3rd Cavalry; on February 2, 1901, to Captain 15th Cavalry; on September 4, 1914, to Major; on March 1, 1917, to Lieutenant Colonel; on August 15, 1917, Colonel (temporary); and on February 26, 1920, to Colonel. All his commissions were in the Cavalry, but he was on detail in the Adjutant General's Department from July, 1916, to October, 1918, and in the Inspector General's Department from June, 1921, to June, 1925. From 1925 to date of his death he was in command of the 12th U. S. Cavalry and of Fort Brown, Texas.

Colonel Johnston was a student at The Torpedo School, Willets Point, New York, in 1897, and graduated from the Army War College in 1916.

 p188  Fort Grant, Arizona, was his first Army station. Then Fort Custer, Assinniboine, Montana;º Camp Thomas, Georgia; Louisville, Kentucky; Northern Luzon, Philippines; San Francisco, California; Fort Myer, Va.; Fort Ethan Allen, Vt.; Governor's Island, N. Y. Harbor; Chicago, Ill.; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Fort Bliss, Texas; Washington, D. C.; Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Fort Crook, Nebraska; Honolulu, T. H.; and Fort Brown, Texas.

The above chronicle of promotions and stations hint at his varied experience and duty.

A review of the assignments held by him indicates that he was constantly selected to fill positions of trust and responsibility, and had the confidence of his superiors. For his services with the 3rd Cavalry in Northern Luzon in the Philippine Insurrection of 1899, he was cited for gallantry in action, and was recommended for brevet rank. Later he was awarded the Silver Star Citation by the War Department for "gallantry in action against the insurgent forces during the expedition north of Manila, during the months of September, October and to November 17, 1899."

The narrative of his remarkably successful work in Union Province in Northern Luzon in ridding the section of insurgents is worthy of a record in history. At that time he was a Lieutenant in command of a troop of the 3rd Cavalry; he was also Provost Marshal for the province, and Judge Advocate of a General Court Martial, and of a Military Commission. This combination of authority and force in a man of Johnston's ability, initiative, and industry resulted in expeditions quelling of the insurrection in the entire province. He restored order, safety, and tranquillity in a surprisingly short time and with only the minimum application of force. It is given to few men to have Johnston's capacity to deal with men, white, black or yellow, either friend or foe. His outstanding modesty of demeanor, his unfailing sense of and stern application of justice, combined with a kind heart big enough to sympathize with every and any living creature, enabled him to gain and hold the confidence of all under him.

While a Captain, Johnston was selected as aide to General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant. In that capacity his duties and work embraced much outside of the ordinary routine of an aide, and he gained praiseworthy reputation for the success with which he accomplished his manifold executive and administrative tasks.

The entry of the U. S. in the World War found Johnston a Lieutenant Colonel in the Adjutant General's Department. His well known organizing ability led to his detail in charge of the Officers' Training Camps. For his conduct of this far reaching and most important activity he received the award of the Distinguished Service Medal. He remained at the head of these camps and of the commissioning of officers therefrom, until July, 1918, when he was transferred to San Antonio,  p189 Texas. There he served as Chief of Staff of the Southern Department until the creation of the 8th Corps Area, in the organization of which he had an important part.

The last four years of his service Colonel Johnston devoted to the improvement of conditions at his station, Fort Brown, Texas. His successful administration as post commander drew and held the attention of the surrounding country and gained the admiration and friendship of the citizens. He laid out and improved roads, walks and drives; cleared off the mesquite and replaced it by fruit and shade trees and shrubbery; cleared and established an excellent air landing field; checked the encroachment of the Rio Grande by preventing erosion of the banks; and greatly improved quarters, barracks, and stables. This work was accomplished by his vision, initiative and resourcefulness, in spite of many difficulties and the lack of funds. The improved conditions at Fort Brown are a monument to Johnston's energy and perseverance. The disease that caused his death threatened for several years but he persevered until the end and on the day before his death made a tour of the post he loved.

To his classmates Johnston was from the day of first acquaintance "Dad" and so to them he always will remain. He was older than his classmates but his nickname of "Dad" had other application to his fitness for it than mere age. To us he was always wise, judicious, reserved, correct, helpful and kindly. The attributes of loyalty, reliability and devotion to duty which made for the great measure of success that attended all his undertakings were apparent to all his associates but overshadowing them all was his reticence and extreme modesty.

A Classmate.

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Page updated: 5 Jun 16