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Champion Six of Diamonds

By

J. D. Pendry and Kim Holien

"The Soldier having acquired that degree of confidence of his officers as to be appointed first sergeant of the company, should consider the importance of his office; that the discipline of the company, the conduct of the men, their exactness in obeying orders, and the regularity of their manners, will in a great measure depend on his vigilance." Baron Frederick Wilhelm von Steuben

Most soldiers agree that the most influential soldier in the Army is a Top soldier - the Company First Sergeant. Those of us who've served in the job agree it's the most satisfying yet demanding job the Army has to offer a noncommissioned officer. The example of leadership put forth by these Top soldiers mold entire units. The noncommissioned officers and soldiers of a company follow the leadership example of their First Sergeant. They then transfer that model to countless others over the course of their careers. It's easy to see how the influence of one First Sergeant over an average two to four year tour impacts many soldiers and the Army over time. Imagine the impact a Top soldier might have on the Army if the time served was ten, twelve or fifteen years.

Knox Bellingham was born September 4, 1914 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. He enlisted into the United States Army on February 6, 1936 in Seattle, Washington. He spent six short years as a tanker at Fort Lewis, Washington and Fort Benning, Georgia before his first hitch as a first sergeant in the 6th Armored Division at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He began his service as a first sergeant in January 1942 just one month after the Japanese attacked our Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor launching America into world war. During World War II he was the First Sergeant of the First Reconnaissance Company in the European Theater. He saw action in France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg.

From January 1942, until his promotion to the Sergeant Major supergrade in April 1959 Bellingham had only one break from First Sergeant duty. It was a one and a half-year tour, at the end of World War II, with an ROTC unit at the University of Georgia. When asked, during an interview, about all of his time as a First Sergeant, Bellingham responded "It's the duty I like best so I certainly should be well satisfied." Many of us would remember it as fifteen years of sleep interrupted 0200 telephone calls.

After ROTC duty, Bellingham moved on to be First Sergeant of the Training Company at Camp Robertson, California and from there to First Sergeant duties at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and Fort Lawton, Washington. Before the outbreak of hostilities on the Korean peninsula, he served as a First Sergeant in the 7th Infantry Division in Sendai, Japan. During the Korean War he saw action as a First Sergeant through five campaigns as denoted by the silver combat star on his Korean Service Campaign Ribbon.

At the end of the conflict, Bellingham served as a First sergeant with the Korean Military Assistance Group in Taegu, Korea (photo at left) before turning up at Fort Myer, Virginia in February 1955 to become the First Sergeant of Headquarters Company, United States Army. He served as the Top soldier in Headquarters Company until receiving one of the Army's first supergrade promotions to Sergeant Major in April 1959.

In 1957, Dave Garroway the original host of NBC's Today Show asked the Army to get him a real live First Sergeant to appear on his show. The Army responded to the request by sending him their longest serving First Sergeant - Knox Bellingham. Garroway interviewed Bellingham on the topics of juvenile delinquency and how American youth reacts to authority. Bellingham told him that today's draftee (late 1950's) "has a good education and early homelife and little resentment to authority". He also told Garroway it was an illusion that soldiers hate First Sergeants saying, "I don't remember ever having a man really hate me."

Just before his promotion to Sergeant Major, Bellingham was ordained as the champion First Sergeant in a contest conducted by Army Times to locate the Army's longest serving First Sergeant. Fifteen years and 5 months time as a Top Soldier was documented.

First Sergeant Bellingham, in the photograph at right, shows his new company commander, Major Robert Stenger the HQ CO US Army company area. The picture was taken in the late 1950's.

First Sergeant Bellingham proclaimed athletics to be one of his hobbies. He is pictured here (on the right wearing civilian suit) coaching the Hq Co US Army basketball team to the Military District of Washington championship in the late 50's.

A photograph taken of newly promoted Sergeant Major Bellingham in April 1959 shows him wearing the following awards. The Korean Presidential Unit Citation, the United Nations Service Ribbon, the United Nations Korean Medal with a silver star denoting five combat campaigns, the National Defense Service Medal, the Army of Occupation Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the European Theater of Operations Ribbon with silver campaign star denoting five combat campaigns, the American Campaign Ribbon, the National Emergency Ribbon, the Good Conduct Medal (a service record check indicated 8 awards at retirement), the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal, the Bronze Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Soldier's Medal and a Silver Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster.

Knox Bellingham retired from the Army on April 1, 1962. He was a true Top soldier who dedicated over half of his career and much of his life to leading and caring for soldiers through two hot wars and into a cold one. He's a Champion Six of Diamonds.

(At the time of publication.)Mr. Kim Holien (was)is the Fort Myer Military Community Historian, and author of the Civil War book, Battle at Ball's Bluff. Photographs and other information were obtained from unit scrapbooks and newspaper clippings from the Fort Myer Post that was published from the 50's to late 60's.

Copyright © J.D.Pendry and Kim Holien