NCO History

NCO History Related Subjects:

Topics and subjects often sought after and of interest to researchers seeking historical and background information on the US Army Noncommissioned Officer Corps.

Noteworthy NCOs

A listing of noteworthy NCOs, not all inclusive. Please submit your suggestions for inclusions to this list so we can better capture the importance of the US Army Noncommissioned Officer Corps. Suggest a Noncommissioned Officer to be included.

Sgt Maj Adams

First woman assigned to Vietnam. In 1964 the situation in Vietnam had intensified and the Republic of Vietnam was organizing a Women’s Armed Forces Corps (WAFC) and wanted U.S. WAC’s to assist them in planning and developing it. General Westmoreland, Commander of The Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, authorized one officer space and one enlisted space and the requisitions were submitted to the Pentagon to Colonel Emily Gorman, Director of the Women’s Army Corps. The requisition for the enlisted woman was a first and she was to be chosen for excellence in leadership, training, administration and recruiting. On January 15, 1965 Sergeant First Class Betty Adams stepped off an airplane in Saigon and into the advisory position for the WAFC.

One of two “co-Interim” Sergeants Major of the Army when the 10th Sergeant Major of the Army was removed. Served as the Forces Command Command Sergeant Major. Also see James C. McKinney.

CSM Alexander S. Anderson (1919–1975) was born on November 12, 1919. He was one of the first African-American paratroopers and served in both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. According to George L. Washington, director of pilot training at Tuskegee, Anderson executed the first parachute jump at Tuskegee and later became a pioneer in the use of parachutes. On March 25, 1940, Anderson received one of the highest scores on the standard written examination required of all CPTP students at Tuskegee and was featured in the March 1941 edition of Popular Aviation.

Command Sergeant Major at 30 years old. CSM Leroy Arceneaux, CSM at 30 years old (Redstone Arsenal)

First soldeir awarded the Certificate of Merit for actions during the Spanish-American War. Later awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal in lieu of the Certificate of Merit. For distinguished service in action at Manila, Philippine Islands, on 13 August 1898, while serving as a member of the Astor Light Battery.

Knox Bellingham who served as a First Sergeant for 15 years and was crowned by Army Times as the champion First Sergeant in 1959. Interviewed by Today Show host Dave Garroway in 1957.

Of the 2d Connecticut ,was one of three awardees of the Badge of Military Merit badge,  awarded for “any singularly meritorious Action.” It was the “Figure of a Heart in Purple Cloth or Silk edged with narrow Lace or Binding.” and was affixed to the uniform coat above the left breast and permitted its wearer to pass guards and sentinels without challenge and to have his name and regiment inscribed in a Book of Merit. The Badge specifically honored the junior ranks, where decorations were unknown in contemporary European Armies.Also see:Brown and Bissell.

First female African American Jumpmaster.

Of the 2d Connecticut, was one of three awardees of the Badge of Military Merit badge,  awarded for “any singularly meritorious Action.” It was the “Figure of a Heart in Purple Cloth or Silk edged with narrow Lace or Binding.” and was affixed to the uniform coat above the left breast and permitted its wearer to pass guards and sentinels without challenge and to have his name and regiment inscribed in a Book of Merit. The Badge specifically honored the junior ranks, where decorations were unknown in contemporary European Armies. Also see: Churchill and Bissell.

MSG Chilson

A highly decorated enlisted soldier of the United States Army during WWII. Master Sergeant who served in the Mediterranean and European Theater of Operations during World War II. He performed remarkably on several occasions throughout the war. He was recommended twice for the Medal of Honor, the U.S. Army awarded him over a dozen combat decorations including three Distinguished Service Crosses for “extraordinary heroism”. He was personally decorated by the President of the United States with seven combat decorations after the war. In 1952, he was considered to be the “second most decorated” American combat infantryman of World War II. NCOHistory Article

Of the 5th Connecticut Regiment, was one of three awardees of the Badge of Military Merit badge,  awarded for “any singularly meritorious Action.” It was the “Figure of a Heart in Purple Cloth or Silk edged with narrow Lace or Binding.” and was affixed to the uniform coat above the left breast and permitted its wearer to pass guards and sentinels without challenge and to have his name and regiment inscribed in a Book of Merit. The Badge specifically honored the junior ranks, where decorations were unknown in contemporary European Armies. Also see: Brown and Bissell.

Former 1st Cav Div Sgt. Maj. at the time he was killed on Jul 7, 1970 along with 1st Cav Div Cdr Maj Gen George Casey Sr. Their aircraft hit a mountain near Bao Luc partial IFR flying from Tay Ninh to Cam Ranh to visit troops in the hospital.

A member of New Jersey’s 102nd Cavalry Squadron, Sgt. Culin developed the idea of taking the iron road obstacles placed by the retreating Germans, fabricating them into a ‘plow’ affixed to the front of a tank that then allows it to ‘cut’ its way through hedgerows in WWII. This allowed the tanks to break through in any unpredictable location, confounding the enemy’s traps. Known as “rhino tanks” more than 300 were equipped and help to speed up the Allied advance. Sergeant Culin was awarded the Legion of Merit Medal for his idea. [momument ]

Command Sergeant Major Ted Dobol, who served with the 26th Infantry Regiment from 1940 to 1966. First NCO promoted to Sergeant Major.

Malcolm Forbes is one of the most famous names in the world of business. Malcolm was born in 1919 in Brooklyn to Scottish immigrant parents. He graduated from Princeton University in 1941, and was inducted into the army as a private at the start of World War II. Forbes was assigned to a heavy machine gun section in the 334th Infantry, 84th Infantry Division — the “Railsplitters.” He served in France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. Wounded in the thigh in combat at the Battle of Aachen, he spent ten months recovering in military hospitals before being discharged in August 1945 with the rank of staff sergeant. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

First Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As a staff sergeant of the highly-classified Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), Howard was recommended for the Medal of Honor on three separate occasions for three individual actions during thirteen months spanning 1967–1968. The first two nominations were downgraded to a Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross due to the covert nature of the operations in which Howard participated. As a Sergeant First Class of the same organization, he risked his life during a rescue mission in Cambodia on December 30, 1968, while second in command of a platoon-sized Hornet Force that was searching for missing American soldier Robert Scherdin, and was finally awarded the Medal of Honor. He learned of the award over a two-way radio while under enemy fire, immediately after being wounded, resulting in one of his eight Purple Hearts. Howard was wounded 14 times during one 54-month period during the Vietnam War.

Sgt Maj James

The Military Pay Bill of 1958, added grades E-8 and E-9 to the enlisted ranks; After this law was passed in 1959, Sgt. Maj. James  became the first in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) promoted to grade E-8. Therefore, she was the first WAC promoted to master sergeant (or first sergeant). In 1960, she was the first WAC promoted to sergeant major, E-9, while assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Army Air Defense Command, Colorado Springs

SPC Lawrence Joel, MoH winner

Specialist 6 (then Specialist 5) Lawrence Joel, a medic, was the first living black man since the Spanish-American War to receive the United States Medal of Honor on Nov 8, 1966 for saving many lives in the midst of battle with the 173rd Infantry.

First woman to earn the tomb guard identification badge, March 1996.

McBryar was an African American who first served in the 10th Cavalry in Arizona. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1890 for his part in the capture of a group of Apaches who had retreated to a cave after a five-day, 200-mile pursuit. Under fire, McBryar maneuvered to a position where he could ricochet his bullets into the cave, forcing surrender. His was the first Medal of Honor awarded to a 10th Cavalry Soldier. Article: NCOs Inducted in to the Leavenworth Hall of Fame.

10th Sergeant Major of the Army, the first African-American to serve at the post. First to be removed from office.

One of two “co-Interim” Sergeants Major of the Army when the 10th Sergeant Major of the Army (who was his twin brother) was removed. Served as the Training and Doctrine Command Command Sergeant Major. Also see Jerry T. Alley

Last Vietnam draftee without a break in service to serve on Active duty.

When the Civil War broke out, 18-year-old William McKinley quit his job as a postal clerk in Poland, Ohio, and enlisted as a private in Company E, of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Before his first year of service had ended,McKinley was promoted to Commissary Sergeant. On September 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day of the Civil War, Sergeant McKinley was just to the rear of the battlefield watching over the brigade’s food and supplies. The men had eaten only a scanty breakfast, and he knew that as the day wore on the Buckeyes were growing weaker. Gathering up a hand full of stragglers, Sergeant McKinley courageously led two mule teams with wagons of rations and hot coffee into the thick of battle. Working his way over rough ground, through a hailstorm of artillery and rifle fire, he ignored repeated warnings to retreat – and continued on. He lost one team of mules to Confederate gunners, but did not return to the rear of the brigade until his fellow soldiers had been properly fed under the most adverse conditions. Sergeant McKinley Co. E. 23rd Ohio Vol. Infantry, while in charge of the Commissary Department, on the afternoon of the day of the battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862, personally and without orders served “hot coffee” and “warm food” to every man in the Regiment, on this spot and in doing so had to pass under fire. (monument)

Murphy was initially a platoon runner, on July 15, 1943 he was promoted to the rank of corporal.  On December 13 1943 he was promoted to Sergeant. In preparation for his 3rd Infantry Division storming the Anzio beachhead they  began training near Naples, Italy. Murphy was promoted to S. Sgt. on Jan 13, 1944, and he was hospitalized in Naples with malaria on January 21 and was unable to participate in the initial Anzio landing. Murphy returned to his unit and became part of the unsuccessful January 30 – February 2 First Battle of Cisterna. Murphy was hospitalized for a week on March 13 with a second bout of malaria. In April, the 3rd Infantry Division was sent for more training. The Second Battle of Cisterna began May 23, resulting in an Allied victory on May 25. On August 15, 1944, during Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of southern France, S. Sgt. Murphy was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for killing eight German soldiers, wounding three and taking eleven prisoners. In northeastern France Murphy was awarded two silver star medals and the purple heart medal. He was commissioned a second lieutenant on October 14, 1944.

The First Sergeant Major of the WAC Training Battalion (1959-64) Sgt.. Maj.   Munson was honored by having the headquarters and classroom building for the WAC Training Battalion dedicated in her honor on October 1965. She was the only WAC to have a building named for her at the Ft McClellan WAC Center. She also went on to become the first WAC Action Officer on the General Staff.

John Ordway

The senior sergeant of the famed Lewis and Clark Corps of Volunteers for Northwest Discovery, Sergeant John Ordway was acting as first sergeant for the expidition. First major statue to a named for an enlisted soldier. Members of the Expedition, Noncommissioned Officers (U.S. Army).

Sgt Maj O'Reilly

Hugh O’Reilly formed a famous relationship between the 27th US Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds” and the Holy Family Home orphanage in Osaka, Japan. The movie “Three Stripes in the Sun” was made by Columbia Pictures in 1955 based on Sgt. Maj. O’Reilly.

CPL Pearl

Cpl. Pearl was the last American standard-bearer. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Boxer Rebellion and went on to become one of the US Army’s first chaplains assistants.

CSM Plumley

Plumley served as the Sergeant Major of 1/7 Cav in the I Drang Valley alongside his commander then-LTC Hal Moore at LZ XRay and memorialized in the book and movie We Were Soldiers Once, and Young. He and Moore served together as Sergeant-Major and Commander for over two years at Fort Benning and in Vietnam. Plumley made all four combat jumps with the 82nd Airborne in World War II and one in Korea. Received three awards of the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and a number of awards, including two Silver Stars.

1st Sgt Poolaw

First Sergeant Pascal C. Poolaw is the most decorated Indian soldier in the US military, he was full-blooded Kiowa. Among his medals are four Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars. He also earned three Purple Hearts, one for each of the wars in which he fought, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  1SG Poolaw was killed attempting to rescue his Battalion Commander and his staff from an overwhelming enemy assault. As 1SG Poolaw was carrying a wounded soldier to safety, he was struck by a rocket propelled grenade and killed. For his heroic actions 1SG Poolaw was awarded his fourth Silver Star and third Purple Heart posthumously.


Elvis Aron Presley entered the United States Army at Memphis, Tennessee, on March 24, 1958, and then spent three days at the Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, Reception Station. He left active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on March 5, 1960, and received his discharge from the Army Reserve on March 23, 1964. Elvis was promoted to Sergeant E-5 at age 25 on 1/20/60 at Tank Range 42 at Grafenwoehr, Germany. During his active military career, Presley served as a member of two different armor battalions. Between March 28 and September 17, 1958, he belonged to Company A, 2d Medium Tank Battalion, 37th Armor, stationed at Fort Hood, Texas for training. He served overseas in Frieberg GE with the 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32d Armor. History of Elvis Presley’s military career

CSM Pritchett

The first female command sergeant major of a sub-unified combatant command. First female nominated to compete for Sergeant Major of the Army. Article:Ground-breaking senior NCO shares her experiences

An honor graduate of the NCO Candidate Course and the first Vietnam veteran to serve in Congress. An American politician and author, he was selected as the first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Defense.

First SEA to AFRICOM, second SEA for JFCOM.

First Sergeant George Washington Roosevelt (Uncle of President Theodore Roosevelt and Grandfather of Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr.)

In late 1861, 16-year-old John Ryan of West Newton, Massachusetts, enlisted for three years in the 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, thus beginning a lengthy Army career that extended to December 1876 and included 10 years in the U.S. Cavalry Regiment on the Plains under legendary Lt. Col. George A. Custer. John Ryan saw many “hard sights” in some 45 battlefields during the Civil War as well as on the Plains against Indians at Washita and the Little Bighorn rivers. He returned to his home in 1876 to live out another 50 years. Custer’s First Sergeant John Ryan

Wilson, a member of B Company, 159th (California) Infantry, was commended “for repetedly entering a dangerous surf at Ocean Beach, CA May 15, 1918 and saving the lives of other soldiers at the risk of his own life.” According to news reports “seven soldiers, some sailors and several civilians lost their lives” at the time of his rescue. Later awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal in lieu of the Certificate of MeritD.S.M. issued in lieu of the Certificate of Merit under the provisions of the act of Congress July 9, 1918)

The Army’s first official should patch was worn by members of the 81st Division during World War I when its Commanding General, impressed by the French and British practice of wearing distinguished shoulder sleeve insignia, decided that the Division needed its own patch. The insignia eventually selected was designed by Sgt Dan Silverman, a self-taught artist from Asheville, NC, who incorporated the Division’s nickname “Wildcat” into the patch. When the soldiers of the 81st started wearing the patch, other units complained but General John Pershing, AEF Commander, allowed the 81st the keep its insignia and suggested the other Divisions adopt their own. The 81st Division shoulder patch became official on 19 October 1918. After the War, Silverman moved up to Richmond, VA where he made his career as a businessman and Entrepreneur, becoming a respected member of the community.

Sergeant Smith was a Mexican–American War veteran who was wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec. A caretaker at several forts, including Fort Adams, Rhode Island from 1859 to 1863 and Fort Griswold, Connecticut from 1863 to 1879. Sergeant Smith died in 1879 at the age of 76, the oldest active duty enlisted soldier in the history of the Army.

During the Glenn Springs, TX raid of 5 May 1916, made by Pancho Villa’s forces the only American opposition was a squad of 14th Cavalry troopers, 9 men, under the command of Sgt Charles E. Smyth. They were stationed in tents outside of Glenn Springs, Texas, one of the two towns raided on that expedition. Sgt Smyth moved his men to a more defensible position, an adobe hut, once the raid commenced. In oder to dislodge the soldiers from their effective position after three hours of battle the Villaistas set fre to the roof of the hut. When the soldiers had to flee to from the fire and tried to get to their horses three were killed and four others were either wounded or seriously burned. Those who made their escape hid from the raiding party, which numbered between 60 and 200 men. The cavalrymen were joined in the desert by two prominent ranchers who had been chased by the raiders. The following day one dead raider an 7 pools of blood were located by a rancher, indicating that the raiders suffered at least that many casualties. The troopers then continued to fight from a nearby hill and suffered three dead and four wounded. Sergeant Smyth later received the Distinguished Service Medal for this action (D.S.M. issued in lieu of the Certificate of Merit under the provisions of the act of Congress July 9, 1918).

Freddie Stowers was the only African American to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in World War I. Stowers had led an assault on German trenches, continuing to lead and encourage his men even after being twice wounded. Stowers died of his wounds, and was shortly afterwards recommended for the Medal of Honor; however, this recommendation was never processed. In 1990, the Department of the Army conducted a review and the Stowers recommendation was uncovered. An investigation was launched, and based on results of the investigation the award of the Medal of Honor was approved. Stowers’ Medal of Honor was presented on April 24, 1991—seventy-three years after he was killed-in-action.

Sgt Stubby

The most decorated war dog of World War I and the only dog to be promoted to sergeant through combat. America’s first war dog with the 106th Infantry, 26th (Yankee) Division, Stubby served for 18 months and participated in seventeen battles on the Western Front. He saved his regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks, found and comforted the wounded, and even once caught a German spy by the seat of his pants, holding him there until American soldiers found him.

First female nominative command sergeant serving a two-star general at the Industrial Operations Command, reported in the NCO Journal.

On 11 Sep 1968 elements of the 1st Infantry Division got into a developing engagement at Loc Ninh in Binh Long Province. Two days into the three-day fight, on 13 Sep 1968, B Company, 1st Aviation Battalion, provided the command and control helicopter (UH-1H tail number 67-17552) for the Division’s Commanding General, Major General Keith L. Ware and Division Sergeant Major, Sgt. Maj. Joe Venable. The Huey was carrying a crew of four and the CG’s party of four passengers when it exploded in mid-air and crashed southeast of Loc Ninh with no survivors.

John W. Vessey, Jr. enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard at 16 in May 1939 while still in high school, with the 59th Field Artillery Brigade, 34th Infantry Division. When war came, the 34th became the first American division sent to Europe, where it initially fought in North Africa and then in Italy. A natural leader, Vessey rose quickly in the enlisted ranks until 6 May 1944 when, pinned down on the Anzio Beachhead amidst high casualties, the 21-year old battery first sergeant was given a battlefield commission and sent forward to direct artillery fire. President Ronald Reagan selected Gen. Vessey as the tenth chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, a position he held from 18 June 1982 to 30 September 1985. Upon his retirement on 1 October 1985, he had served longer than anyone then in the Army, with over 46 years of active military service. He is the only Chairman who had been neither a service chief nor commander of a unified or specific command.

Skeezix is a character in the comic series Gasoline Alley. Gasoline Alley is a long-running comic strip created by Frank King and first published on November 24, 1918. Widely recognized as an innovative pioneering strip, Gasoline Alley was the first to depict its characters aging through generations as the decades progressed. Enlisted in June 1942; Enroute from Naples to a mission in the Balkans survived a plane crash into the Adriatic and was rescued by Nazi resistance fighters. Reunited with US forces, promoted to sergeant, and reassigned to the Pacific Theater of Operations. Discharged October 1945 after three-and-a-half years’ service and with 89 points. [Registry]

Awarded eight purple heart medals (tied for the highest number of PH medals) and 3 Silver Star medals. An SF legend.

Samuel Woodfill enlisted in the Regular Army in 1898 and saw combat during the Philippine Insurrection. He was made a reserve lieutenant in 1917 and won the Medal of Honor while leading his company against numerous German machine gun positions around Cunel on 14 October 1918. After the war Woodfill reverted to the rank of master sergeant to safeguard his pension.

First Sergeant Major of the Army. First NCO promoted to CSM.

One of the most decorated American soldiers in World War I. He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine-gun nest, taking 32 machine guns, killing 28 German soldiers and capturing 132 others.


The First Year of the NCO's

The Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, revisited. 1989, the first Year of the NCO, was announced by Secretary of the Army John O. Marsh by memorandum entitled, The 1989 Army Theme: The NCO. Now for the second time in 20-years, the Army will again highlight the significance of its professional enlisted force, the noncommissioned officer

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