Lieutenant Colonel William G. Gessner, Jr. is a native of Coventry, Rhode Island and a 1965 graduate of Coventry High School. William was the middle linebacker on the football team and sports editor for the school newspaper. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy after graduating from high school at the age of 18. He served as a Hospital Corpsman from August 1965 to August 1971, training and deploying primarily with the U.S. Fleet Marine Forces.
In January 1968, he deployed to the Republic of Vietnam and was assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. On 28 January 1968, his unit redeployed to Khe Sahn, a Marine outpost in Quang Tri Province near the border with Cambodia. A build-up of Marine forces took place to counter increasing North Vietnamese forces and actions around Khe Sanh which commenced when the Marine base was isolated. During a series of desperate actions that lasted five months and 18 days, Khe Sahn and the hilltop outposts around it were under constant North Vietnamese ground, artillery, mortar and rocket attacks.
On 16 April 1968, Corpsman Gessner was wounded during an intense battle. He was treating a wounded Marine when a hand grenade was thrown into the bomb crater in which he was administering first aid. The wounded Marine was killed by the blast and Corpsmen Gessner was wounded. He later went on to record his experiences from Vietnam in the book Khe Sahn: Siege in the Clouds by Eric Hammel. After completing his enlisted active duty commitment, William continued his service to our nation in the Naval Reserves and enrolled in the University of Rhode Island.
Gessner focused his efforts on a double major in Chemistry and Secondary Education – completing his degree while working full-time as an Orderly in the Rhode Island Hospital. He joined the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps program while working on his Master’s Degree. William received the coveted “LT Parker D. Cramer Saber Award” in 1978 which is awarded annually to the Outstanding Army ROTC Cadet. He was also a Distinguished Military Graduate – an honor bestowed only to the most highly qualified graduates. William G. Gessner, Jr. was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry in July 1978.
LT Gessner excelled in the military as evidenced by being named the Distinguished Graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic Course and Pathfinder School. Lieutenant Gessner excelled as a Platoon Leader and Executive Officer in 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry at Fort Benning, Georgia. His next assignment took him to Germany where Captain Gessner served as a Company Commander in the 3rd Infantry Division. Furthering his military education, Major Gessner was a 1990 graduate of the Command and General Staff College where he earned a Master of Military of Arts and Sciences Degree.
During his 26-year active duty military career, Lieutenant Colonel Gessner served in several command, staff, joint, combined and nominative assignments in Europe, Asia and the Continental United States. His awards include the Legion of Merit, Purple Heart, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Army Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Joint Achievement Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Meritorious Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Expert Infantry Badge, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Badge, Pathfinder Badge and the U.S. Air Force Space Badge.
Lieutenant Colonel Gessner’s community involvement includes lifelong volunteer service to installation and local sports organizations as an organizer, coach and referee. His most notable achievements are in soccer where he volunteered as a founding coach and as a member of the Board of Directors for a local soccer club in Colorado Springs. Additionally, he was a volunteer assistant coach for Liberty High School as they went to three consecutive State Championship games – winning one.
Following the tragedy of September 11th, Lieutenant Colonel Gessner accepted a position as the Assistant Chief of Staff and Director of Command Support for North American Aerospace Defense Command and United States Northern Command. In this position, he helps lead the command responsible to deter, prevent and defeat threats and aggression aimed at the United States, its territories and interests. Within his assigned area of responsibility and, as directed by the President or Secretary of Defense, William provides defense support to civil authorities including consequence management operations in defense of the homeland.
Lieutenant Colonel Gessner has spent his entire life serving his community and nation during peace and war. His exemplary devotion to duty, personal bravery and outstanding leadership is in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his family and the University of Rhode Island.
Lieutenant Colonel William G. Gessner, Jr. and his wife Dorothy reside in Colorado Springs, Colorado.