Wilson, Samuel Vaughan, LTG

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Last Rank
Lieutenant General
Last Service Branch
Military Intelligence
Last Primary MOS
1690-Military Intelligence Unit Commander
Last MOS Group
Military Intelligence (Officer)
Primary Unit
1971-1977, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
Service Years
1940 - 1977

Military Intelligence

Special Forces

Lieutenant General

Eight Overseas Service Bars

 Last Photo   Personal Details 

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Home State
Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by SGT Samuel Vaughan Wilson III to remember Wilson, Samuel Vaughan, LTG.

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Contact Info
Home Town
Not Specified
Last Address
RICE, Virginia

Date of Passing
Jun 10, 2017
Location of Interment
Not Specified
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

 Official Badges 

Department of the Army Military Intelligence Army Staff Identification Honorably Discharged WW II Joint Chiefs of Staff

Office of Secretary of Defense Defense Intel Agency

 Unofficial Badges 

Cold War Medal Cold War Veteran

 Military Association Memberships
Special Forces AssociationN/A
  2003, Special Forces Association - Assoc. Page
  2003, United States Army Ranger Association, N/A [Verified] - Chap. Page

 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
Retired general
President emertius of Hampden-Sydney College
Other Comments:
Lieutenant General (Ret.) Samuel Vaughan Wilson (1924), aka "General Sam", is best known for his service as President of Hampden-Sydney College from 1992-2000 and Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from May 1976-August 1977, for developing the special warfare and intelligence discipline whose name he coined, "counterinsurgency", and is credited for helping to create Delta Force, the U.S. Army's formerly-top-secret special forces group. He is currently engaged as a Wheat Professor of Leadership at Hampden-Sydney College.

Samuel Vaughan Wilson joined the United States Army (116th Infantry Regiment, Virginia National Guard) as a 16-year old private in 1940 and by early 1942 became a Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant and Acting First Sergeant before being sent to OCS. As a young officer, Wilson taught guerilla and counterguerilla tactics at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1942 and 1943. In 1943, already a First Lieutenant at the age of 19, he became Chief Reconnaissance Officer for the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), better known as Merrill's Marauders, which operated behind enemy lines in Burma during World War II. His role in that theater was later memorialized in Charlton Ogburn's book The Marauders, which was made into the 1962 movie Merrill's Marauders (film) (Then-Lt. Col. Wilson served as technical advisor for the film and was cast as General Merrill's assistant "Bannister" under the pseudonym Vaughn Wilson). Wilson was decorated with the Silver Star for his actions during the Burma Campaign. At war's end, he was assigned to the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency, in Southeast Asia, where he learned and developed intelligence gathering methods and reconnaissance techniques.

Upon returning stateside as a combat veteran in 1945, Wilson (not a high school graduate)entered the Army's Foreign Area Specialist Training Program at Columbia University, specialized in Russia and the Soviet partisan movement, developed native-speaker fluency in the Russian language, and relocated to West Germany. By 1955, now an Army Major, Wilson held a cover job at the Office of Military History in Berlin while operating a clandestine spy ring. Major Wilson's success in obtaining Soviet secrets led the Soviets to send a false defector on an ultimately-unsuccessful assassination mission.

Within the next five years, Wilson served as a General Staff Consultant on Soviet Affairs for the Army, and was an Army advisor in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and with regard to coordination of defense operations with the White House. Between 1959 and 1961 Wilson was the Director of Instruction at the U.S. Army Special Warfare School and was a member of the Seventh U.S. Army Special Forces Group (Airborne). In June 1961 Col. Wilson was appointed executive officer to the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Special Operations. He left active military duty to serve as a civilian in Vietnam, from 1964 to 1966 as Associate Director for Field Operations for USAID and from 1966 to 1967 as the United States Mission Coordinator and a Minister-Counselor at the United States Embassy in Saigon.

Thereafter recalled to active duty, between 1967 and 1970 Wilson, now an Army Colonel, was Commander of the 6th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and then Assistant Commandant at the U.S. Army's John F. Kennedy Institute for Military Assistance. By 1971, he was Assistant Division Commander for Operations in the 82nd Airborne.

Between 1971 and 1973 Brigadier General Wilson was the Defense Attache at the United States' Moscow embassy in the U.S.S.R. at the height of the Cold War. He was the first General Officer to hold that portfolio. He was reportedly the CIA Station Chief in Moscow at that time. A former Marine corporal recalls in an article that Wilson knew each embassy Marine by name and was considered "our general" by the Marine contingent there.

Wilson again returned stateside, and between 1973 and 1976 held positions in the Defense Intelligence Agency as Deputy Director for Estimates and Deputy Director for Attache Affairs, and was Deputy to the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency for the Intelligence Community.

In May of 1976, Wilson, now a Lieutenant General, was tapped as the new Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and oversaw the agency through "the death of Mao Zedong, aircraft hijackings, unrest in South Africa, and continuing Mideast dissension." link Director Wilson gave a speech to retired intelligence officers in September of 1976, which was declassified in 1993 and included the following notable excerpts:

The revelation of true intelligence secrets makes exciting reading in the morning paper. It is soon forgotten by most readers, but not by our adversaries. Enormously complex and expensive technical intelligence collection systems can be countered. Need I remind this particular audience that dedicated and courageous men and women who risk their lives to help America can be exposed and destroyed? I don't think the American people want this to happen especially when our adversaries dedicated to the proposition that we eventually must be defeated-are hard at work. But Americans must understand or they will inadvertently cause this to happen.
[O]ur primary function is to provide the leadership of this nation with the deepest possible understanding of the military, political, social, and economic climate of countries that affect vital American interests. Our mission is to see that our leaders know about what may happen in the world beyond our borders and about the forces and factors at work there. The American taxpayer should know we do this job well, despite our problems.

Wilson is also credited with this statement, recognized and appreciated by intelligence veterans: "Ninety percent of intelligence comes from open sources. The other ten percent, the clandestine work, is just the more dramatic. The real intelligence hero is Sherlock Holmes, not James Bond."

After leaving the Army and CIA Directorship in August of 1977, Wilson began teaching at Hampden-Sydney College in Hampden-Sydney, Virginia and continued to consult with and provide advice to intelligence leaders, legislators and U.S. Presidents, including former CIA Director William Colby, then-Senator Al Gore and President George H.W. Bush.

In 1992 Wilson became President of Hampden-Sydney College and served an 8-year term during which he shepherded the College through major challenges such as the College's contentious internal debate over whether to remain all-male (it did) and a major capital campaign drive.

In 1993, Wilson was inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame "for heroism, extraordinary achievement, and continued service to his country and the special operations community."

General Wilson is also a member of the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.

He is the father of LTC Samuel V. Wilson Jr. and Grandfather of SGT Samuel V. Wilson III.

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 Unit Assignments
2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry RegimentOffice of Strategic Services5307th Composite Unit Merrill's MaraudersCentral Intelligence Agency (CIA)
US Army John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center & School (USAJFKSWCS)Office of Secretary of Defense (SECDEF)Military Assistance Command Vietnam MACVArmy War College (Staff)
6th Special Forces GroupUS Army John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center & School (USAJFKSWCS)HHC, 82nd Airborne DivisionDefense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
  1940-1942, 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment
  1942-1943, 1542, Office of Strategic Services
  1943-1944, 11B, 5307th Composite Unit Merrill's Marauders
  1947-1959, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
  1959-1961, US Army John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center & School (USAJFKSWCS)
  1961-1964, Office of Secretary of Defense (SECDEF)
  1964-1967, Military Assistance Command Vietnam MACV
  1967-1968, Army War College (Staff)
  1968-1969, 6th Special Forces Group
  1969-1970, US Army John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center & School (USAJFKSWCS)
  1970-1971, HHC, 82nd Airborne Division
  1971-1977, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1944-1944 WWII - China-Burma-India Theater/India-Burma Campaign (1942 - 45)2
  1955-1973 Vietnam War
  1962-1965 Vietnam War/Advisory Campaign (1962-65)
  1965-1965 Vietnam War/Defense Campaign (1965)
  1965-1966 Vietnam War/Counteroffensive Campaign (1965-66)
  1966-1967 Vietnam War/Counteroffensive Phase II Campaign (1966-67)
 Colleges Attended 
Columbia UniversityHampden-Sydney College
  1945-1947, Columbia University
  1992-2000, Hampden-Sydney College
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