The Special Operations community lost a giant last week as Samuel V. Wilson passed away at the age of 93. Wilson rose from the rank of private in World War II to Lieutenant General at his retirement and served the Special Operations Forces both in and out of uniform.
He was a member of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) in WWII the forerunner to both the US Army Special Forces and the CIA. He commanded the 6th Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg and played a key role in the formation of the Army’s Delta Force and the military’s Special Operations Command.
Known simply as “General Sam,” Lt. Gen. Wilson enlisted in the Army during World War II and served with the Office of Strategic Services and the famed Merrill’s Marauders, who fought the Japanese in northern Burma.
Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo, the commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, called Lt. Gen. Wilson a true Army special operations pioneer.
“Over the course of his professional military career, Lt. Gen. Samuel Wilson served in a number of significant roles that directly contributed to what we now know as modern special operations,” Tovo said in a statement Monday. “During his tenure at the U.S. Army Special Warfare School, then-Col. Wilson forged ideas in both insurgency and counter-insurgency that later led to doctrinal models.”
Throughout his career, Lt. Gen. Wilson was known as a warrior, diplomat and academic.
During the Cold War, he conducted clandestine intelligence, covert propaganda and paramilitary operations with the CIA. And he was deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for special operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.
In all, Lt. Gen. Wilson spent 37 years in uniform and also served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency before retiring at Fort Bragg in 1977.
Out of uniform, he continued to play a role in the evolution of special operations, helping create the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, more commonly known as Delta Force, and being part of the Holloway Commission following the 1980 Iranian hostage rescue attempt. That commission would lead to the creation of U.S. Special Operations Command.
In 2002, he spoke to a class of more than 180 new Green Berets at Fort Bragg, urging them to be “salesmen of freedom.”
‘‘You, my fellow warriors, must be able to describe, to put in simple, effective words, who you are, what you stand for, why you are doing what you are doing,’’ he said. ‘‘That means you must first be able to answer these questions for yourself, in your own mind, in your own heart.’’
Lt. Gen. Wilson commanded the 6th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg. He also served as assistant commandant of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Institute for Military Assistance, another former name of the Special Warfare Center and School, and as assistant commander for operations with the 82nd Airborne Division.
Wilson was honored as an awardee of the “Bull Simons Award” in 1995 for outstanding contributions to the Special Operations community and was inducted as a Distinguished Member of the Special Forces Regiment.
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Photo courtesy Fayetteville Observer