MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF
A Love Story by
Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
© 2003 Diane Sanfilippo
My only visit to North Georgia College came in 1997. Though I went by invitation to speak at North Georgia’s Awards Review, I was more emotionally drawn to make the trip to fulfill, in a small but personal way, an obligation to many of North Georgia’s graduates who impacted my life. Thus, I paused again in 1997 to remember an extraordinary young lieutenant from 1965 whose brief example and untimely death have remained vivid reminders of selfless service, duty performed, and sacrifice.
Lieutenant Bill McConnell loved North Georgia. He was the first of many I was to meet from that rich tradition of military service, and his example of all that North Georgia holds dear helped me immensely in the preparation of my remarks. I remembered him distinctly, as I have recalled and reflected on his qualities as an officer, qualities that I have tried to emulate over the decades since our service together in the 1-14th Infantry, the "Golden Dragons."
He came to the battalion with an infectious grin, verve for the profession, and a warm humility that drew the younger lieutenants to him. I was one of the second lieutenants who looked with great admiration at this confident first lieutenant, who seemed to be so good and so willing to help. "Call me Bill" was his first response when the junior lieutenants upon their initial meeting greeted him with a salute, a "Sir," and "Golden Dragons." We all liked him immediately.
Bill’s rifle company was short its complement of officers, and he assumed so many roles and responsibilities so as to leave officer, noncommissioned officer, and soldier in awe. Regardless of the demands, and there were many, he never failed to find the time to talk, answer a question, or to help. He was a role model. I remember him today, I remember our last conversation late at night at the conclusion of his latest triumph of leadership, and I remember the shock of his death the following morning.
I only knew him for four months, some 37 years ago. I have never forgotten him or his example of what an officer can hope to be. His tangible successes as an officer and his personal qualities as a leader distinguished him. Though his death diminished those who knew him, his memory has continued to enrich all of us who carry his imprint. I wanted the young men and women of North Georgia to know of Bill McConnell, and of his service, legacy, and sacrifice. He was to die before he was a captain, before he could command a company, before so much potential could be realized; but he is remembered for what he did with the time he had. I hope they remember him.
For those who knew and served with him, Bill McConnell left much more than memories. He left us his example. I am blessed to have known him.
This is not everyman’s story. This is Bill McConnell’s. Thank you, Diane, and Thanks, Bill. "Golden Dragons, Sir."
David A. Bramlett General, US Army (Ret) October 6, 2002