Force Recon, Silent Drill Team Marine retires
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP SMEDLEY D. BUTLER, OKINAWA, Japan -- “I had heard that the Marine Corps was a bunch of tough animals so I said, ‘Why, I think I can match that’ and I joined in,” said William R. Hapgood, the range director at Range Control, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, Marine Corps Installations Pacific.
Scheduled to retire Sept. 27, Hapgood first joined the Navy Reserve in 1951 at the age of 17. He enlisted in the Marine Corps four years later as a basic rifleman, beginning a career that spanned 62 years and 12 presidents, influencing generations of Marines.
“The number of Marines who have gone through (training ranges) here that Bill Hapgood is responsible for, is hard to imagine,” said Harry Farmer Jr., the deputy assistant chief of staff with G-3/5, operations and training, MCB Camp Butler. “He helped guys who were deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan doing their (pre-deployment training) prior to leaving. Because of the improvements he was responsible for over here, they were better able to prepare themselves before they left.”
Hapgood joined the Marines because of his desire to be the best.
“The total experience of the Marine Corps historically is what made me join,” said Hapgood. “They were the guys you go with if you want to fight and want to be best at what you do. (I wanted to be a riflemen) because that is what the Marine Corps is, you can have all these other fancy jobs but, you are always a rifleman and you are always going to be out there on the front lines somewhere.”
From early in his career, Hapgood enjoyed the opportunity of being on the forefront of setting Marine Corps training standards, starting with his time at 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company shortly after the unit’s formation.
“I don’t even know if anyone used pencil and paper in those days to set the training standards,” said Hapgood. “The officers would disappear in the morning, and we had guys like (Capt. Paul X. Kelley), who was our company commander and who later became the commandant, and I’m sure that they put pen to paper to cause certain things to happen, but the grunts, the foot pounders, just went out there and worked out and trained.
“I don’t know what else you could call it, but that is what we did,” added Hapgood. “And as for the classes, you either learned how to jump out of planes or you didn’t – the same thing for going out of submarines.”
Hapgood was introduced to a more formal training environment when he joined the Silent Drill Team following his time with force reconnaissance.
“They are the most extraordinary personnel, from a military precision machine standpoint, that I had ever worked with,” said Hapgood, who rose to the position of platoon sergeant during his time with the team. “We would go to different places to do centennials, and at each place we would put on our demonstration and each one would have to be different because of the size of the area that we were moving in. We would always have to get there first, look at the area, and figure out how we want to do the drill.”
During his time with the Silent Drill Team, Hapgood served as a member of the honor guard during President John F. Kennedy’s funeral, conducted ceremonial firing parties at the funerals of President Herbert Hoover and Gen. Douglas MacArthur and posted guard for Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.”
Hapgood went on to earn his commission in 1965, serving three tours in Vietnam before eventually retiring from active duty at the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1988 as part of the G-3/5, operations and training, MCB Camp Smedley D. Butler. Hapgood rejoined the U.S. Forces Japan family in 1989 as a civilian employee, reaching his current position as range director in 1996.
“The changes in the ranges from 2000 to now are like night and day,” said Farmer. “We have underwent so much modernization and gained many new capabilities out there.”
Hapgood has been responsible for many developments such as Army ranges, a new pistol range and the modular military operations in urban terrain facility, according to Farmer.
Hapgood has applied his straightforward leadership style, and the sum of his experience and knowledge to be successful as range director.
“His leadership style is definitely old-school Marine Corps,” said Farmer. “He is a product of the Marine Corps in the 50s and 60s. A lot of people don’t get the benefit of talking to someone with the range of experience that he has. It is great that we have someone with that kind of experience to educate people out here.”
As his retirement nears, Hapgood intends to remain on Okinawa, enjoy the island, and get back into going to the gym.
“He really is a legend in the range community, he has been around a long time, and he knows weapons systems and tactics,” said Farmer. “He is just a wealth of knowledge gained through experience. It is hard to imagine the large number of people who he influenced, whether they knew it or not.”