NO. 17359 • 15 January 1927 - 8 October 2007
Died in Nashville TN
Interred in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA
William Frederick Brandes was born in the District of Columbia in 1927, the son of Dr. Elmer and Grace Brandes. His father was an internationally recognized expert in sugar plant pathology, the longtime head of the Department of Agriculture's sugar plant division, and an explorer of uncharted areas of the world, particularly New Guinea. Bill grew up in Chevy Chase, MD, and was an enthusiastic tennis player at the Chevy Chase Club.
Bill graduated from Wilson High School in Washington, DC, before enlisting in the Army in 1945. The war ended before he completed basic training, but he competed for and was awarded an appointment to West Point. Bill graduated with the Class of 1950 as a four-year "star man" in academics. During his time at West Point, he was an academic coach for the football team, helping to "pull through" several players on championship Army teams of the period. But the best part of this, Bill said, was the reward of being made statistician of the squad. The perks included drinking coffee and eating hot dogs in the press box while the Corps paraded onto the field in the rain. A momentous occasion for Bill was being selected for the 18-cadet group flown to Germany and Greece during their First Class summer to observe the Occupation in Germany and the Communist armed attempt to take over Greece. He described it as the most fascinating three weeks of his Cadet experience.
Upon graduation, Bill married Clarissa Alvord, vivacious daughter of E.S. and Gladys Alvord of Washington. "Rissa's" family ran Littlefield, Alvord Company, a Washington moving company whose warehouse occupied the site where the Kennedy Center later would be built. They would be married for 30 years and have two sons, Rick and John.
Bill enjoyed many far-flung assignments during his 24 years of commissioned service. His first assignment was to a bridge demolition battalion in Occupied Germany. After serving as a platoon leader and later battalion S-l, he returned to Ft. Belvoir, VA, as a company commander and also attended the Arctic Survival Course in Alaska, where minus 50 degrees F was par for the course. Bill then attended the University of Illinois for a master's degree in Structural Dynamics, with a heavy emphasis on nuclear blast generation. Then, after spending a year as a student at the Engineer Officer Advanced Course, where, ironically, Bill became the lead instructor for the classified nuclear warfare part of the program due to the departure of the instructor, he went to a construction assignment in Thule, Greenland, where the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System was being built.
After a Pentagon assignment, Bill spent two years at the Canadian Army Staff College in Kingston, Ontario. He thought it was interesting to see the differences between the U.S. Army and the British Commonwealth armies. Bill thought they knew better how to live in a peacetime army. The assignment often had the feel of a two-year cocktail party.
Then, after a year's seasoning under classmate Bill DeGraf, Bill became virtually the only staff officer in the War Plans Division, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, to cover Program I (Strategic Offensive Forces) for Joint Chiefs of Staff actions. This proved to be a fascinating experience for a junior officer, with nearly weekly meetings with the Chief, the Vice Chief, and/or the DCSOPS.
Bill left the Pentagon to take command of the 14th Engineer Combat Battalion in Viet Nam, operating at various times through seven provinces within the II Corps tactical zone. His battalion engaged in widespread airfield and road construction from Phan Thiet to Tuy Hoa and from Nha Trang to the Cambodian border.
After a year at the Army War College in 1969, and a year commanding the 1st Advanced Individual Training Brigade at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, Bill started his last, and best, assignment as Commander of the Nashville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for hydropower generation, river transportation, flood control, and recreation and land management on the major dam projects in the Cumberland River system in Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky. He supervised the completion of the Cordell Hull Lock and Dam at Carthage, TN, the Laurel River Dam in eastern Kentucky, land acquisition for the Big South Fork National River Recreation Area, and initiation of actual construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway after a 30-year delay. Additionally, at Bill's insistence, a policy was implemented limiting the development of shoreline on the Corps impoundments. He felt such a policy would reduce the environmental and esthetic impact of over development.
Bill was a life-long outdoorsman and a dedicated quail hunter who, after retirement from the Army in 1974, returned to college to receive a Ph.D. in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering from Vanderbilt University. He was an associate professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, while also director of the Water Resources Research Center there. Bill was a registered Professional Engineer and a Fellow of the National Society of Civil Engineers. He married Jan Lewis while at UT, Knoxville, and had two more sons, George and Avery. Bill settled in Nashville and was president of an engineering consulting firm there. His final marriage was to Sarah Hunter Green of Nashville. They had planned to live in Naples, FL, but a diagnosis of lung cancer came soon after their marriage in 2007. Bill faced his last months with quiet dignity and grace and died peacefully while in hospice care in Nashville.
Bill loved his family, including his granddaughter Lauren, and lived his life true to the principles of West Point. He told me at the end that if anyone aspires to be a part of something glorious and unfading, let him be part of the Long Gray Line. Sorely missed, be at rest, father.
- Rick Brandes, son