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HELENA, Mont. - Henry Everett "Hank" Emerson, a retired Army lieutenant general, best known for being the commander of the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea during the mid-1970's when Colin Powell served as a battalion commander, passed away Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015.
Gen. Emerson was born in Washington, D.C., on May 28, 1925, the son of Brig. Gen. Govenor Vincent Emerson, M.D., and Marie McLaughlin. He graduated from West Point in the class of 1947 as a second lieutenant of infantry and served as a company commander with the 5th Regimental Combat Team during the Korean War. He then served on the staff and faculty of the infantry school, followed by an assignment as a tactical officer at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was a graduate of the Navy Command and Staff College, the Armed Forces Staff College and the Army War College.
Gen. Emerson was best known as a combat commander in three wars: a company commander in the Korean War; a battalion commander in the Dominican Republic; and brigade commander in the Vietnam War. His general officer assignments were as the assistant division commander, 82nd Airborne Division; commanding general, 2nd Infantry Division; commanding general, John F. Kennedy Center for Military Assistance; and the commanding general, XVIII Airborne Corps.
According to those that knew him best, such as Colin Powell, who would go on to become the Secretary of State, what set him apart as a combat commander was his great love for his soldiers and his concern for their welfare.
During his command in the Vietnam War, he conceived aerial reconnaissance and combat methods that employed effectively against the Viet Cong. These included a checkerboard concept that involves small groups covering grid squares to seek out an enemy, and jitterbug tactics which are complex maneuvers using helicopters to surround an enemy. This would seem jittery like the dance when Eagle Flights, which were helicopters loaded with local soldiers, were flown in quickly to assist foreign troops in certain situations. He demonstrated that American soldiers could effectively "out-guerrilla" the Viet Cong. Emerson also developed the "seal-and-pile-on technique" (the rapid build-up of combat power to surround and destroy an enemy force).
Gen. Emerson, who was fraternally called "The Gunfighter" by his troops, was one of the most decorated officers in the history of the Army. He received a Master Parachutist Badge, a Combat/Infantry Badge with Star, two Distinguished Service Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, five Silver Stars, and two Purple Hearts among others.
Gen. Emerson had a saying on his wall "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away." Today, the general has "faded away" and we salute him one last time.
Gen. Emerson is survived by his nephew, Richard Emerson Wilkins of Wilmington, N.C.; a niece, Marie Page Riggle, of Towson, Md.; a grandniece, Elizabeth Page Wilkins of Melrose, Mass. and her husband, Lt. Col. Joseph G. Marine, USMA; and two great-grandnephews, William Quinn Hardisty and Joseph William Marine.
Memorial services and interment will be held in Arlington National Cemetery later this spring and will be announced at a later date.
Donations should be made to the Fisher House, 12 Bassett St., Fort Bragg, NC 28307