MI heritage – tribute to Brigadier General William W. Quinn and his distinguished Army career that ended as commander of the U.S. Seventh Army in Germany

Katherine Schmidli

“Buffalo Bill” Remembered: LTG William W. Quinn.

The Army transforms and technology evolves. Good leadership, however, transcends change that is recognized by generations of soldiers. Every soldier knows exactly what it means when someone is called a “soldier’s soldier”: clear and decisive leadership ability; a team builder; one who fosters unit cohesion and strong morale; a leader who inspires loyalty and trust by giving back the same.

Lieutenant General William W. Quinn was a “soldier’s soldier.” Raised in a middle-class family in Maryland, Bill Quinn knew before he graduated from high school that he wanted to be a soldier. Thwarting his father’s plans that he become a lawyer, he entered West Point in 1929, doing it the hard way–by working odd jobs, studying extra for exams, and persevering the old fashioned way. He graduated in 1933.

Due to extreme officer shortages, 2LT Quinn was immediately given command of Company L, 5th Infantry Regiment, Fort Mckinley, Maine. Already a common-sense leader, 2LT Quinn called in his First Sergeant and told him:

The first fact I think should be discussed here is that I don’t know my ass from third base about running a company. An additional fact is that you and I know it…. I’m going to take your advice and your recommendations as to discipline, of rewards and punishments, of planning, of training, things to do, when to do it, how to do it, the mess, the food, the morale, etc. Now the final fact is that I don’t know what lam doing today; but Sergeant Warwick, I will know someday, and it won’t be too far oft So I will just let that rest with you. (1)

From 1937-38, 1LT Quinn served as the provost marshal of Manila, in the Philippines. He attended the infantry school at Fort Benning, Georgia, during 1938-39 and Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1941.

It was in the North Africa Theater and subsequently in Italy that Bill Quinn made his mark. In 1943-44, Quinn served as the Division and later as the IV Corps G2 in North Africa and Italy, under the command of LTG Alexander M. ‘Sandy” Patch. In 1944-45 LTC Quinn was appointed the G2 of the Seventh Army. Although he held the relatively junior rank of lieutenant colonel, he was responsible for coordinating and planning all intelligence supporting the invasion of southern France (15 August 1944).

Four months later, LTC Quinn correctly predicted that a German offensive was planned for New Year’s Eve 1944, near Colmar in northeastern France. For this timely intelligence work, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

Throughout World War II, LTC Quinn worked closely with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to receive the latest intelligence on the situation in Germany and France. Although his sources were disputed at the time by more conventional Army leaders, this association with General “Wild Bill” Donovan and the OSS prepared LTC Bill Quinn for his next assignment.

In late 1945 he was named director of the Strategic Services Unit (SSU). His job was to preserve OSS intelligence assets through the post-war drawdown until a national intelligence agency could be formed. In July 1946, LTC Quinn was named chief of operations of the Central Intelligence Group (CIG), remaining in that position until 1947, when the organization became the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Had the agents and assets of the OSS (SSU/CIG/CIA) not been saved, Quinn wrote, “the talents of Richard Helms, Harry Rositzke, William Harvey, Alfred Ulmer, Jr., Frank Wisner and William Colby, and some of the other great leaders and minds in the intelligence field, would have been thrown to the winds. Their talents would have been lost, as well as the background and mass of experience and bulk of intelligence that had been collected.” (2)

When the Korean conflict began in 1950, LTC Quinn was a member of General Douglas MacArthur’s staff. He was put in charge of intelligence planning for the amphibious assault at Inchon. His intelligence preparation for the invasion was thorough and accurate and significantly contributed to one of the most daring and successful amphibious landings in history. T.R. Ferenbach, in This Kind of War, wrote: “the XU.S. Army Corps, 70,000 men, was at sea. It had been formed from scratch, operating against time, manpower, and every known logistic difficulty, and its very conception embodied the best of American military capability…. Whatever the early American participation in the Korean conflict had been, the amphibious assault by X Corps was no small operation. It involved more ships and men than most of the island operations of the Pacific War… (3)

Promoted to Colonel, he would later serve as the G2 for the Army’s X Corps, but in January 1951 he was given command of the 17th Infantry Regiment. It was his first command of combat troops. The 17th Infantry had just received a new call sign-“Buffalo,” and COL Quinn decided to call his troops the Buffaloes. The regiment mailed home press releases about the Buffaloes and a short time later war correspondents began to call him “Buffalo Bill.” The name stuck. Clay Blair in The Forgotten War wrote: “Almost overnight the Buffaloes became famous. Hundreds of GIs requested a transfer to the outfit; some even went AWOL to join.” (4)

Over the next eight months, COL Quinn was awarded the Silver Star, for personally reorganizing a stalled attack, and the Bronze Star with “V” device, for leading a patrol eight miles behind enemy lines.

Between 1953 and 1955 COL Quinn served as the Chief of the Army section of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group (MAG) in Greece. This was followed by infantry command assignments during 1955-57. He was later promoted to Brigadier General and from 1960-61 served in the Pentagon as the chief of the Army’s Public Information Division.

In 1961, LTG Quinn was named Deputy Director of the newly established Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). In 1964 he left DIA to take command of the U.S. Seventh Army in Germany.

LTG Quinn retired in 1966 but continued to serve soldiers and the nation. He was a consultant to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a trustee of the National Historical Intelligence Museum. He was appointed Honorary Colonel for Life of the 17th Infantry Regiment in 1985, and in 1992 he established the 17th Infantry Association to honor all the Regiment’s veterans and serving soldiers.

In 1997, LTG Quinn was awarded the Central Intelligence Agency Seal Medallion for his important role in maintaining the nation’s intelligence capability between World War II and the onset of the Cold War.

We lost “Buffalo Bill” on September 11,2000, when he passed away at the age of 92. He was buried at Arlington Cemetery. LTG “Buffalo Bill” Quinn was a groundbreaking intelligence professional and legendary infantry commander and established the high standards expected of a “soldier’s soldier.”

Note: Military Intelligence was not officially recognized as a separate branch of the Army until July 1962. Except in organizations like the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC), OSS, officers who possessed the skills for Army Intelligence were called to serve, but were expected to return to their branch for leadership positions and command time.


(1.) william w. Quinn, Buffalo Bill Remembers: Truth and courage (Fowlerville, Michigan: wilderness Adventure Books, 1991), 33-35.

(2.) Quinn, 254.

(3.) T. R. Ferenbach, This Kind of War Korea: A study in unpreparedness (New York: Macmillan company, 1963), 257-258.

(4.) Clay Blair, The Forgotten War America in Korea 1950-1953 (New York: Random House, Inc., 1987), 616.

COPYRIGHT 2003 U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School

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