Beginning with his humble origins as an Illinois farm boy and son of a "dirt farmer," Bill Bainbridge's Top Sergeant is the only memoir of an enlisted man's rise to the most senior NCO position in the U.S. Army.
In a military career spanning more than three decades, Bill Bainbridge saw service in three wars, fought in two of them, and was captured in one. In France in World War II, Bainbridge served with A Company, 423rd Infantry of the 106th Infantry Division. Forced to surrender during the Battle of the Bulge, he spent five months in a German POW camp, weighing only eighty-six pounds when he was liberated. Discharged in December of '45, he fully expected to spend the rest of his life as a farmer.
But being called up for the Korean War ruined his farming prospects and, in due time, "That peculiar chemistry of training, experience, and promotion began to have its effect, and I realized that I didn't want to be anywhere else but the Army." In thirty-one years of service, Bainbridge served in leading NCO positions the world over, including Battalion Sergeant Major, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, II Field Force Sergeant Major in Vietnam, Sergeant Major U.S. Army Pacific, and Basic Training Center Sergeant Major at Fort Benning, where he was instrumental in setting up the first NCO Candidate Course. Bainbridge was also the first sergeant major of the Sergeants Major Academy.
He received ten Good Conduct Medals, two awards of the Combat Infantry Badge, three Army Commendation Medals, and the Distinguished Service Medal, among others. But the greatest moment in his career came when he was selected to be Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army, its highest NCO position, an office he was the first to hold for four years.
But Bainbridge's most important job of his illustrious career was the welfare of his soldiers. Whether in base camps in Vietnam, aviation units in Germany, or training centers in Fort Benning, Bainbridge never forgot what he was there for. "Soldiers will do anything you ask provided you prepare them with good training and treat them with dignity."
Top Sergeant is all about doing what a good sergeant does best--attending to the needs of his men--and what it takes to be a great noncommissioned officer in an Army that officers are proud to command--but that NCOs really run.
About William G. Bainbridge
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Published July 4, 1995
by Ballantine Books.
Biographies & Memoirs, History, War.