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A Love Story by

Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo


Chapter 74 – The Nightmare Continues



Sunday was a lost day, although it was much the same as the day before with a house full of strangers, although now they were dear family who had come to wrap their arms around one of their own. Food continued to pour in the door, mostly to feed those who were there to consol me and care for the children since I had long lost interest in anything.

I could not eat, I could not sleep, I could not breathe, and I wondered if I ever would again. My heart ached with the pain from a thousand wounds and I knew this would never go away no matter how much time passed. Now, as I write this, a rapidly aging ‘over the hill’ lady, my heart still aches and tears flow uncontrollably down my cheeks. At times, I wonder if I can continue since I find writing about the loss of my handsome lieutenant so difficult. Unless you too have walked in my shoes you cannot possibly understand how much it still hurts, but I am determined this story be finished, for my Billy, and for our children.


Although I am not sure, I think that on Monday a car arrived to take the children and me to the airport, along with Chuck and Bunny, to greet Gene, Ruth and my mother, although it could have been Tuesday. I simply do not remember. I do remember insisting on greeting them with the traditional Hawaiian leis, and I do not know when I have been so glad to see my mother!

Back at the house on Sunset Beach, Gene kept insisting he wanted to find his son. No one knew what to tell him since if anyone knew exactly where Billy’s body was, they were not saying. We knew an autopsy was to be done, and would have taken place at the mortuary in Honolulu. Certainly not a place Gene would find any comfort, if that were the reason he had come to Hawaii. Then again, the autopsy might have long been over and Billy could be on his way to the military mortuary in Oakland, California where his body would be prepared for viewing back in Atlanta. No one knew for sure. No one could tell him anything. 

Sometime during the day, my survivor’s assistance officer brought me the pay owed Billy and some other type of pay that I have never quite understood. At this point, I remembered how bitter Billy had been when his father sent us $200 and said, “No more.” I offered to repay the $200, and in front of everyone, Gene took it! At the time, I was incapable of shock, but later I wondered how he could possibly take anything from his son’s widow and his now fatherless grandchildren, but I would always wonder about Gene’s actions, or lack thereof.

Mostly I remember hearing the voice of my precious Billy saying, “That’s my little girl! You show him that you have more class in your little finger than he has in his entire body! And that goes double for that woman he married!”

I knew I had done what Billy would have wanted me to do, and I have often wondered what the others thought of Gene when he did not refuse the money.

I still had plenty left in the envelope, but no idea how much, or how long it would have to last. Then what? Suddenly I remembered the envelopes in the top of the desk drawer. I walked over to the desk, opened the drawer, removed the two stamped white envelopes addressed to insurance companies, ripped them into pieces, and threw them in the trashcan. I told the officer that all of our papers, birth certificates, marriage certificate, and insurance policies were in the steel box so he opened it to have a look. He removed and glanced through a blue leather portfolio with the name of an insurance company emblazoned in gold on the top. Then he handed it to me and told me to put it in my luggage and give it to the survivor’s assistance officer in Atlanta or some family member who could help me sort out the mounds of paperwork that were sure to come my way.

How could I leave Hawaii? How could I not? What would happen to my household goods? Our cars? So many questions that I did not have the strength to ask, but somehow I knew everything would be all right in the care of our 1/14th friends. People who I had known only vaguely were now my only hope to salvage what remained of our lives, and in spite of Chuck’s obvious grief, I knew that I could depend on him to orchestrate it all. I was once again as helpless as when an infant. I did not need my diapers changed, but I could not eat, I could not sleep. I could not think of anything but my precious Billy, lying cold on a slab somewhere never to hold me in his strong arms again.

Chuck and Bunny came out to the house later that afternoon and handed me a large flat envelope. Chuck said, “The photographer said you do not owe him anything for these photos, he is just grateful you have some so recent.”

Inside the envelope were the photos Billy had taken at the urging of Brigade headquarters, and like all photos of Billy, they were wonderful, and made him seem so alive. Most were black and white, except for one, which was tinted.

Surely he meant this one as his gift to me, his deep blue eyes looked into mine as if he were saying, “It’s all right, little girl. I promised you I will never really leave you.”

Slipping the photos back into the envelope, I did not think to share them with Gene as I clasped them to my chest. They were all I had left, and I could not, and would not, share them with anyone, at least not now.

The photos we had taken of the children were in another envelope Chuck handed me and again he told me the photographer refused to take payment. These I did offer to share, but not those of my Billy. In retrospect, I suppose the recent photos would have been of more use for the Griffin paper. How could I know the article on Billy’s death was on the front page of the Sunday edition with a photo from his junior year in college?

How much he had changed and grown since then. From a spoiled rich man’s slightly wild son to an outstanding Army officer, an Airborne Ranger – the cream of the crop, a wonderful father, but still my lover, my precious husband who always professed to need me as much as I needed him.

Not long after Chuck’s arrival, Gene revealed to me the real reason he had come to Hawaii. I had already figured out it was not concern for the children or me. He asked me to bury Billy in Griffin and told me he would take care of all arrangements. Somehow, I knew this was not the right thing to do. The children and I would never be welcome in Griffin, at least not by Ruth, and Gene would go along with anything she wanted. Chuck took over and told Gene I had already arranged with Patterson’s to take charge of Billy’s remains when they arrived in Atlanta. Gene said it would be all right with him to have the funeral in Atlanta and then bring Billy’s body back to Griffin, but I was not convinced I could do this.

Reluctantly I agreed to this arrangement, as we were both giving up something we wanted. Gene, the funeral in Griffin, and I, Billy’s grave. Could I do this? I thought so, at the moment, since I knew his true resting place would always be in my heart. Gene seemed pleased and Ruth seemed smug, although she had barely opened her mouth, and soon they left for their hotel room in Honolulu, or so we thought.

Wednesday, there was a Memorial Service planned for Billy since Mother, the children and I would be leaving for the mainland on Thursday. By then, I would have completed all the paperwork requiring my signature, so I decided to have the funeral on Saturday, exactly one week after Billy’s accident. That day would be more convenient for our working friends too, and would leave one day and night for visitors to come to the funeral home to pay their respects. To this day, I do not remember making these decisions, but my mind was obviously working while the rest of me had shut down, especially my heart, which now felt like cardboard, incapable of love, since now I knew how much it hurt to lose that love.

That evening, my mother insisted I eat a bite of cherry-topped cheesecake. Not remembering that I had not eaten anything since Chuck knocked on our door, or realizing what medications I had taken, I took one bite of the rich and tempting dessert and almost immediately, I threw up! I have not eaten a bite of cheesecake since that day. For years, I actually had to walk out of the room if I saw it served.

It was up to my mother to get us packed since I simply could not perform the most menial of tasks beyond brushing my teeth and washing my face. As she started to pack for the children, she realized they had no shoes or clothing other than for a tropical climate and that my clothing now swallowed me. I had lost 30 lbs. in the two days since that fateful Saturday.

Now a shopping expedition was necessary, although I do not remember who drove us. I dressed the children in their tropical clothing and too small shoes and off we went to Ala Moana Mall and to Sears. Somehow, I managed to try on several dresses appropriate for the beckoning fall in Georgia, and bought several outfits and shoes for both of the children using our Sears credit card with Billy’s name emblazoned on it. I signed all the receipts ‘Mrs. William E. McConnell’, realizing I was no longer Mrs. McConnell, but his widow, Diane S. McConnell, the name I used when I signed all of the official papers.

With Mother’s attention on the baby, Michael managed to slip away from us. Mother was frantic, but calmly I told her about his bad habit of doing this since he knew, when found, mall personnel would give him candy or ice cream. Knowing my small son well I was not nearly as worried, but then what could ever hurt me again. I knew he was all right, and we did not need to worry about our children in 1965, as parents do now. Sure enough, he turned up at the mall security office, sitting on a desk licking a bright red cherry lollipop, swinging his legs back and forth.

“Hi Mommy”, he said as we walked into the office.

Relieved my premonition had been correct, I did not have the heart to discipline him, and neither could Mother.

After making apologies and a brief explanation to the security officers, Mother took Michael firmly by the hand and told him he was not, under any circumstances, to let go, and we walked, clutching our bags and the children, to the car for the long drive back to Sunset Beach.

I could not get excited about my new clothes and I told Mother I doubted if anything would ever excite me again. My soul was dead, as dead as my handsome Billy and it would be a long, long time before I found pleasure in anything. Amazingly, my sole pleasure later became shopping, a poor substitute for a husband.

With Mother there, the crowd that surrounded me the first days of this horrible week were gone, the house quiet, the refrigerator filled to the brim with food enough to feed an army. Mother no longer chided me to eat since the results of my first bite had been so disastrous, but she fussed around fixing food for the children, which for Margie consisted of opening a can of soup, pouring the liquid down the drain, and then mashing the noodles or vegetables into mush. My darling daughter absolutely refused to eat any of the commercial strained baby food dinners and I had just happened upon the soup one night when I was fixing a bowl for Michael’s supper. She ate the fruits and puddings and even most of the vegetables, but not the meat or mixed dinners, so this was the best I could do.

After the children were in bed, I really do not know what Mother and I did or what we talked about, but most certainly, it was Billy since he was all that was on my mind. I must have told her how much he loved this little A-frame house on Sunset Beach and his little sports car. I probably told her about our last morning together, and how he had been wearing his wedding band when he died, which he now wore in his casket, and the words he spoke to me as he slipped the ring on his finger. Did I share these precious last moments, or did I keep them to myself hidden deep inside of my heart? I just know I have always been grateful we parted with sweet words, promises of love, and anticipated pleasure instead of drawn swords that would have left my heart broken beyond repair, if already it was not so. 

It was then I told her I simply could not let my Billy go. I wanted to bury him in Atlanta, and I now regretted telling Gene he could take him to Griffin.

She suggested I tell Chuck this revelation the next morning when he came to pick us up for the Memorial Service and to let him break it to Gene who would surely attend.

Holding that thought in my heart, I went upstairs to the queen sized bed my husband had insisted on buying so we could ‘touch’ when we slept. How I longed for that touch tonight and for many, many nights to follow as I realized how precious and fleeting happiness can be. Would I ever feel happiness again? I doubted it, at least not the same as I had in my darling Billy’s strong arms.

Wednesday morning arrived and as I dressed for the Memorial Service, I was shocked to discover that Mother refused to go with me! Always vain, she chose this, the worst of times, to tell me since she had not had time to go to the beauty parlor before she left Atlanta she simply could not go!

She used the excuse she would keep the children, but Chuck already arranged through the NCO wives, and several of them were on their way to the house to watch them, and to have a meal ready when the service was over. When I told Mother I needed her and the children would be fine with the NCO wives, she insisted they would be happier if there was a familiar face in the house, although how she could even think that I will never know. The children did not know her anymore than they knew these kind ladies, and of course they were typical Army brats and any attentive person would do.

It was just one of her myriad of excuses not to be seen without her hair freshly coiffed and her makeup perfect. I know I could never allow my daughters to go through anything similar without me by their side, even if I looked like something the cat drug in! I wondered how she could possibly think anyone cared about her hair! As usual, I set mine in pin curls the night before.

I did not care what people would think, although I would be front stage center. It was then I realized how vain and shallow my mother really was and I knew she never would or could change.

About two years before her death I finally told her how hurt I had been that she had not gone with me that awful day, and she again repeated her excuse about having to stay with the children. It was then I told her I had long ago forgiven her, but I would never forget. She was silent.

Chuck arrived exactly on time, which was the Army way of doing things, in an official Army staff car. Dressed in one of my new suits, I climbed into the back seat with him. I requested we take the main road since I did not think I could bear to see the tree that had killed my Billy.

On the far side of Wiamea, the driver turned towards Schofield Barracks, and drove through the familiar and less deadly pineapple fields. During this seemingly long drive, I wondered to myself why Billy did not take this road to the Barracks. We once discussed which way was the shorter route. Billy insisted the back road was faster, while I had insisted the front road was faster. He just chuckled and said no one would win this argument, but he would stick to the back road since the curves were more fun in his little car than the boring straightness of the front road and the monotony of the pineapple fields.

He continued to go to work and come home by the narrow, curving back road, which had finally killed him.

As we drove towards Wahiawa I noticed how straight and wide this road was and how there was a shallow ditch between the road and the fields. Mile after mile, as far as the eye could see were pineapple plants or burned fields waiting for the next planting. Oh why, oh why could he not have, just that one day, taken this road?

Too soon, we arrived at the chapel, and it was my turn to be in the spotlight while we honored the life of my handsome Lieutenant. A young soldier approached the car carrying a letter from General Weyand, who requested that I read it before going inside, which I did. Of course, that day the words meant very little, but later, much later, I read it over again, and again, until the paper became thin. The general officer praised my lieutenant on his accomplishments, his character, his devotion, and dedication to duty.

After reading the letter, Chuck gave me his arm and I accompanied him into the chapel.

Bunny was the organist for the service, so I sat with Chuck on one side and Linda on the other side. Russ had already left for Oakland since I asked him to be the escort officer for Billy’s remains and he kindly agreed. I wanted someone to be with Billy who was a friend, who knew him and how important he was to me. I hated to take Russ away from Linda, so I first asked her if she would mind. Kind, sweet Linda said of course, she would not mind, she would have wanted Billy to do the same had circumstances been reversed, but she looked so sad and lonely without Russ by her side.

The service was delayed while we waited for Gene and Ruth, but after half an hour with everyone seated, including all the soldiers from C. Company, they waited no longer, and the service began. I could not imagine why he would have missed this memorial for his son, and Chuck said that the last he heard, they would be here.

I have always felt as if I viewed the service from high up in the ceiling where I watched myself say all the appropriate words and uphold the appropriate demeanor expected of an officer’s wife. Deep inside, as Chuck held my hand tightly, I hated him! I focused all my anger on him for working Billy beyond his limit! It was easier to have someone to blame other than my husband, who moment by moment was attaining the stature of sainthood in my grief stricken mind.

Spotlighted in a beam of sunlight pouring through the window of the sanctuary, in the place where a casket would have been, was a small table, covered with an Infantry blue cloth. On that table were Billy’s jump boots and his helmet liner.

Safety was in staring at the items that until now had graced my handsome soldier, so I concentrated on this as the service proceeded.

I now glanced down at the hastily assembled program with Billy’s name, rank, unit, and dates of birth and death on the front cover, with American flags flying over a Holy Bible. There were mistakes, the most glaring was his name, but at the time, I barely noticed.

“The Memorial Committal


Cherishing memories that are forever sacred, sustained by a faith that is stronger than death, and comforted by the hope of a life that shall endless be, we commit to God’s mercy and care all that is mortal, of this, our friend. As we have borne the image of the earthly, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly. We seem to give him back to Thee, dear God, Who gave him to us. Yet as Thou didst not lose him in giving, so we have not lost him by His return. Not as the world giveth, givest Thou, O lover of Souls! What Thou givest Thou takest not away; for what is Thine is ours always, if we are Thine. And life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. Lift us up, therefore, strong Son of God, that we may see farther; cleanse our eyes, that we may see more clearly; draw us closer to Thyself that we may know ourselves nearer to those who are with Thee. And while Thou dost prepare a place for us, prepare us for that happy place, that where they are, and Thou art, we too may be. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.”


On the back of the program, was the following, with the errors removed:

     “First Lieutenant William E. McConnell was born in LaGrange, Georgia on 20 November 1940. He attended Griffin High School in Griffin, Georgia, and North Georgia College in Dahlonega, Georgia, receiving his commission from the ROTC program on 10 December 1962.

     Upon reporting for active duty on 21 January 1963, Lieutenant McConnell was assigned to the Student Brigade, Fort Benning, Georgia as a tactical officer in the Officer’s Candidate School. While at Fort Benning, he attended and successfully completed the Airborne and Ranger schools. He joined Company C, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry in May 1965, becoming the Platoon Leader, third rifle platoon.

     His performance of duty was characterized by a willingness to assume responsibility and self-consciousness in recognizing the importance of the many tasks he accomplished. During his service, Lieutenant McConnell lived with devotion to: Duty, Honor, and Country. The United States Army benefited greatly from his service and has lost a loyal and dedicated professional officer.”       



Although there were many errors in this final synopsis of my husband’s brief life, it was far too late to change them. Chuck, who obviously had put it together, was already heartbroken and no good could come of my pointing them out to him.

I held him completely responsible for Billy’s death, but I doubt if he ever knew this.

It was not until years later, I had someone to despise more than a demanding company commander, and it was far more appropriate to place the blame on a detested alcoholic. Today, my finger remains pointed at several officers involved with the 1/14th, and the ‘if’s’ have grown longer with time. What if Russ stayed with C. Co., and did not let his pride get in the way, what if Chuck refused his transfer, what if Col. Proctor realized the danger in so few officers during training… what if…?

Tears ran down my face during the service and I wanted to stand up and shout, “This isn’t real! He is not dead! He cannot be dead! I love him too much.”

I suppose it is a good thing soldiers’ wives are trained to keep such emotions under control; I knew I represented Billy, and I wanted him to look down from Heaven and find no fault with his wife. I was performing for him and for him alone, and my previously unknown skills as an actress came into being as the days dragged on, and we finally laid him to his eternal rest.

After the service and after standing at the door of the church to receive all who had taken time from their busy schedules to attend, I glanced over at the flagpole in front of the church and noticed that it flown at half-mast. Could this honor be for my Billy? Of course, it could, and it was. The entire cadre of ‘C’ Company was in attendance and most of the officers from the other companies who were not still in the field. I noticed no one, not even the kind general who had written such a lovely note, although I am certain I shook his hand and thanked him. It was not me, but someone I did not know. It was someone who had taken over my body while my spirit soared into the heavens to be with my Billy.

Gene and Ruth were conspicuous in their absence, and Chuck did not know where they were, or if they were still on the island. Their tickets had been open return, and later I learned that after Gene thought he convinced me to take Billy to Griffin, they caught the next flight back to the mainland and to Georgia. Astonished, I could not believe they would come all this way just to talk to me, yet not stay to assist us on the long flight home.

Their only intentions had been to convince me to have the funeral in Griffin at the First Baptist Church of which Billy was no longer a member, nor even a Baptist, and when that idea did not work, then to bury him in Griffin. Afterwards with their mission semi-accomplished, they simply left the island without telling anyone. They ignored the fact that Chuck and the rest of the 1/14th had gone to great lengths to have a proper Memorial Service so they too could possibly find some comfort knowing Billy’s peers and commanders admired and respected the officer for whom duty was a sacred mission.

They turned their backs on all of us and returned to Griffin to make their arrangements.

Knowing Gene, and knowing what little I did about Ruth, I was not surprised by their total lack of regard, respect, or feeling for the children and for me, but I think Chuck was a bit upset since the service had been for all of us and I was the only one in attendance.

During the drive back to Sunset Beach, I told Chuck I had changed my mind about the burial. Even had I not decided the night before, Gene’s absence assisted me in making the final decision – if he did not care enough to stay for the Memorial Service, I simply could not and would not let go of all that I had left of my precious Billy. I could not imagine not being able to visit the cemetery whenever I wanted to be near him, nor could I envision driving an hour and a half to Griffin where I would not be welcome.

This had been obvious the first night of our great adventure when there was no room for us in the house. Billy knew this, and he called Atlanta ‘home’, so that was where I would bury him. I knew I was totally in control, and more important, I was Billy’s ‘next-of-kin.

The Third Army who would organize the arrangements in Atlanta would respect my decisions alone, and Gene with all his money would be able to do nothing about it. For once, I had the upper hand, this was my call, and I was going to do it the way I thought Billy would have wanted.

Chuck agreed to send Gene a telegram explaining my final decision as soon as possible, so Gene would not go to the expense of purchasing a cemetery lot. At least my grandmother already had one, and with her agreement to sell me, two of the four graves this assured me of a burial place next to my precious Billy. The cemetery was close to friends and family where I would always be welcome. Yes, I decided, I could not let Billy’s mortal remains be so far away that I could not visit anytime I wanted.

I had not quite figured out how I would explain the grave to Michael who could not possibly understand that his daddy had gone to live with Baby Jesus, yet we could visit a piece of earth that held him. I would cross that bridge when I came to it and I simply had too much to think about in the coming days to give the dilemma another thought. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and from just having to think. At this point, I needed every ounce of strength to get me through the next days and nights, and through the rest of my life without Billy. How could I possibly do this?

After Chuck left it was time for me to say ‘good-bye’ to the beach, the dunes, the palm trees, the endless stretch of water that had held such attraction for me until just a few days ago. I wondered then if I would ever find any real pleasure in life again and could not believe I would since my life with Billy loving me, protecting me, making pretty babies with me, or just being Billy, was over.

Would I ever find anything funny enough to laugh about, and would I find any pleasure in our children? I could not begin to imagine that each day would not be endless, without hope, without love.

Mother had not been down to the beach and I knew she had always loved the ocean since we always managed to live close to the shore when possible. I asked her to come with me as I bid farewell to Sunset Beach and this lovely island, while in the back of my mind, I knew I would return alone, after the house was quiet.

Would I ever be able to come back? I doubted if that would be possible, and I would never again be able to listen to the music of these enchanted islands without my heart breaking.

When we reached the top of the dune and came to the rocks where Michael spent hour after hour playing with his cars and trucks in the sand, I paused and took a deep breath as if I could keep this invigorating sea air inside of me even after we reached Atlanta. I knew I would need its strength for the long journey home without my Billy holding my hand.

Stretching out before us was the magnificence of the Pacific Ocean and waves that could be fearsome in the winter months. The sun was slowly sinking in the western sky. Just as it reached the end of the world, before slipping into the dark blue water, there was a blaze of color that ricocheted off the billowy clouds and put any other sunset I had ever seen to shame. It seemed as if God were comforting me with this wondrous glory and that Billy, safe in heaven’s arms, was telling me everything was going to be all right.

For that one instant, before the sun slipped over the horizon, I knew there was a God and he would never send me grief I could not bear.

It was this remarkable sight, my last sunset on Sunset Beach that would get me through the days ahead, through the viewing, the funeral, and the burial. Then I could collapse. Right now, I had a job to do, and I wanted Billy to be proud of me. The solemn, dignified grief of Jackie Kennedy came to mind again as I turned around, and with my stubborn chin in the air, headed back to our little A-frame house.

The cars to take us to the airport would be coming just after lunch since we had a 2:00 p.m. flight. There would be one car for Mother, the children and me, and another for Pele` and our luggage. Yes, Pele` would be coming home with us as ‘excess baggage’, although I had no idea what I would do with her when we got there. In fact, I was not sure what the children and I would do, although my aunt and uncle had asked us to stay with them and had even sounded honored that I would consider it. Frankly, I could think of no other place where there would be space for all of us, and even there someone would have to give up a room, but they loved Billy, so I knew we would be welcome. 

Not long after we got back to the house there was a quiet knock on the side door and our landlady was standing there, tears rolling down her drawn face. In her hand was a check with all of our damage deposit, our last month’s rent, and all of September’s rent, although it was already the 22nd day of the month. Billy has been dead for four days.

She seemed not to be able to speak, but briefly said, in a tear-choked voice, that she had enjoyed having us as tenants and she would miss all of us. Billy had that way about him – everyone he met loved him. She was obviously in deep grief herself and I hugged her and thanked her for her generosity. Had it come at any other time I would have been pleased with the windfall of cash. I did not know if I could write a check since our account was joint, but now I knew this was a ‘gift’ to a grief-stricken widow and her two children, and for that I was thankful.

Eventually the check situation worked itself out. The bank sent a kind letter, with the pitiful balance of our account enclosed. The letter said they wanted me to know, although not been officially notified of Billy’s death; they were closing our joint account.

Was everyone always so kind and I had just not noticed it?

My Japanese neighbor, as is the custom among their people, brought over a sympathy card with a five-dollar bill enclosed, and our Hawaiian neighbors brought fresh fish and pineapple. I would miss these lovely people from such diverse cultures and I was grateful I had taken the time to get to know them.

Later, after Mother was asleep, still wearing my nightgown and robe, I walked down to the beach alone. Not even Pele` accompanied me. I needed to be alone with my thoughts and with my Billy. I thought that surely I would find him where we planned to make love, where I would give him a gift of my humility, and join him in one of his deepest desires; however, I did not find him there. The beach was empty; the surf was high with white caps visible in the moonlight. Sitting on the smooth rocks, still warm from the sun, I knew that I was completely alone - alone with my thoughts - alone. However, my heart was full of my handsome husband, and closing my eyes, I thought about our nights together, as he gently caressed my face, my breasts, and whispering, “Little girl, I love you more than life itself.”

“Someday,” I thought, “I will come back, and I will not be crying.”  

The following is the letter handed to me by General Weyand’s driver before the Memorial Service, which he asked that I read prior to coming inside.


20 September

“My Dear Dianne (sic):

     I would give anything to be able to do or say something that would lighten your burden of grief. But the loss of Bill is too real and too overwhelming.

Even if I could find the words, I would not want to attempt to blur the precious memory of his physical presence. In your thoughts, his closeness can be a sustaining joy as well as a sorrow.

   I am so grateful that your mother and Billy’s mother (sic) are with you. Their love and their faith, coupled with yours, will help you lift your eyes and continue on as Bill would want and expect you to do. The wonderful aspect of the future is that nothing can change the great pride that all of us share with you in Bill’s he stamp that he has left on the hearts and minds of the hundreds of young men who profited at first-hand from his instruction and his guidance.

   His dedicated service and his devotion to duty are now part and parcel of the heritage of our country. The United States Army is a better organization for his having served it, and we are better men for having served with him.

   May God be with you and keep you always!


Ned (?) Weyand

Major General

United States Army


Realizing I knew very little about how Billy was thought of among his contemporaries, or those who served under him, I put a message on the 1/14th website, asking that anyone who remembered him please e-mail me with their comments, good or bad, although I did not expect that anyone who did not like him would respond. I was pleasantly surprised to receive the two that I did, from both ends of the ranks.                                             




“Dear Ms Sanfilippo,

My name is Harold "Chip" Austin, I was assigned to Company "C" 1/14th infantry from Sept. 1963 to May 1966. I remember your husband well. He was an exceptional Officer, Leader and Person and was very well liked and respected by every member of company C. I can remember the memorial service as if were yesterday, there was not a dry eye in the formation. I still have the memorial service program in my possession.
I remember your husband as a very dedicated officer, a true leader who was highly respected by all who had the pleasure of working with him and for him. His tragic death was a shock to every member of company C


This was the second response that I received from my message on the 1/14th website which led to the most remarkable response of all.

Diane: Thank you for your recent entry in our 1/14 website “Guestbook.” My name is Tom Jones and I, like your late husband was a 1/Lt with the 1/14th in 1965 prior to deployment to Vietnam. At that time, I was the XO (Executive Officer) of Company B.

Your comments regarding Bill’s help in preparing “Charging Charlie” for the battles to come really ring true. Many of the magnificent youngsters we led back in those days (I was an aged 25 at the time) survived later on in 1966 because our arduous training together had molded us into skillful teams.

For some reason, I don’t remember Bill, probably because we were all working hard and long as individual rifle companies and didn’t have much contact between units. I did inquire of a fellow B Company alumni, David Bramlett (who went on to become a 4-star General), and he recalls Bill vividly. I quote from his e-mail response.

“He came in as a first lieutenant from Korea (not correct but just assumed as so many officers did come from Korea to the 25th), and was a great guy. He was the weapons platoon leader (again incorrect as he was a Rifle platoon leader but actually led both due to a shortage of officers), and a real leader in the company. He took both his platoon and a rifle platoon through the ATT’s. I was an evaluator on the weapons platoon ATT, and we talked that night after it was over. He was happy, positive, and glad to be done with the latest challenge. He was killed that night or early the next morning, I can’t recall. It was a tremendous loss. I spoke at North Georgia College at their Fall Awards Ceremony in 1998, I think. As Bill was an alumnus, I remembered him in my remarks as the centerpiece and exemplar of duty and sacrifice.”


Should you care to make further contact with Dave, his e-mail address is below.

Best Regards,

Tom Jones


Later I did make contact with Dave, General David Bramlett (West Point ’64), and he and I had several conversations about Billy. 

He told me they passed each other several times daily during the day coming to and from their company barracks, and as Dave was a 2nd Lt., and Billy a 1st Lt., Dave rendered the proper salute to a senior officer.

One day Billy stopped him and said, “Dave, you and I are going to be passing each other often, and I just can’t see you saluting every time we do, so let’s just be friends and forget that salute.”

“From then on, I did not salute but just said ‘hello’, he would just smile, and say, ‘hello’ back.

I had thought that he came from Korea but know now that I was wrong, it was just an assumption on my part, but thanks for correcting me. There are several officers who helped to mold my career, and Bill was one of them. He was a fine, professional officer and mourned by all who had ever had any contact with him.

While stationed at Ft. McPherson, I was asked to give a speech at their (NGC) annual awards banquet. Since I knew that he was NGC alumnus, I used him as the cornerstone of my speech saying that Lt. McConnell was the epitome of ‘Dedication to Duty’ and ‘Honor’. That was about thirty-three years after his death, and I wish I had the text of what I said, but I was just using notes, which have long been gone.

I just want you and his children to know that all, especially those of us who had an opportunity to observe him as he led his platoon(s), respected him. If you ever get over here (Hawaii), we have a small house on the beach not far from where you lived with Bill, and you are always welcome to stay here.”

Later I asked Dave if he would write a foreword for this book due to his own prestigious career that took him to the very top, and as usual, he kindly acquiesced. I cannot thank him enough for his friendship and his kind remarks.

     So, Billy, my darling, you have been remembered and not just by your family, your friends, and your loving wife, but by others whose lives you touched, and just as I expected, many respected you as a professional soldier, a leader and a man.

     Proudly I have shared the letters and the comments with our son and our daughter and will do so again when our grandchildren are old enough to know you, and believe me, my precious Billy, they will know you if I have a breath left in my body.




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