Mr. William T.J. “Bill” Dempsey was born in Medford, MA on August 19, 1924 to William and Barbara (Walsh) Dempsey and was raised in Malden. His father Bill served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army during WWI and later was a professional baseball player with the Cincinnati Reds and then served as a Parks Commissioner in Malden.
Bill Dempsey graduated from Boston College High School and enrolled in Boston College in 1942. He registered for the draft at 18 at the completion of his first year at Boston College. On April 12, 1943, Bill received his notice from the Army and on April 19th he was ordered to report to the train station in Malden, MA along with 30-40 other young men from Malden.
Bill was sent to Camp Robinson near Little Rock, Arkansas and after boot camp he qualified for Officer Training School. He was technically too young to become an officer, so they sent him to Non-Commissioned Officer school. He eventually was sent to Aviation Cadet Training in Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Kansas and later attended West State College in Canyon, Texas for a five-month course.
After three months there the Army decided that they needed more foot soldiers than pilots with the invasion of Europe being planned and Bill was sent with other Aviation Cadets to Camp Gruber in Muskogee, Oklahoma to form the new Rainbow Division and was placed into Company H with the 232nd Infantry Regiment. During WWII in Europe Bill served with the 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon, “H” Company, 232nd Infantry Regiment, 42nd Rainbow Infantry Division.
The newly formed division would be sent to Europe, and it took them 15 days to sail to Marseille, France and they eventually traveled to Strasbourg and were stationed along the Rhine River when they were soon fighting the Germans. Bill’s Division of 9,000 men were attacked by two German armored tank divisions consisting of more than 20,000 soldiers and the Rainbow Division were the only forces between the Germans and the City of Paris.
In December 1944, Bill’s unit was assigned to General Patton’s 3rd Army on the southern flank. The Rainbow Division took part in probably the toughest fighting in Europe at Bastogne, France at the Battle of the Bulge which proved to be the last major offense for the German Army in WWII. The three Regiments that Bill was serving under were named Task Force Linden because it was led by Brigadier General Henning Linden.
Temperatures would drop to 20-30 degrees below zero at the Battle of the Bulge. Though they had seen combat fighting in Europe, Bill’s Rainbow Division would see their first major battle on Christmas Day 1944 at the Battle of the Bulge and the unit would be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for Gallantry in that battle. In total the Germans would lose 100,000 troops at that battle. Bill’s Rainbow Division would continue fighting into Germany and on April 4, 1945, in Wurzburg, Germany Corporal Bill Dempsey would again fight for his life.
Bill was with his unit clearing the streets when they discovered an abandoned building with a full wine cellar. Since Bill didn’t drink and never has, he continued walking down a street looking for Germans while his fellow soldiers liberated the wine from the building and paused for some well-deserved refreshments. As Bill continued to walk alone, he approached a bridge and spotted a few Germans approaching a bridge most likely determined to destroy or capture it to keep the Americans from furthering their advance. Bill decided to take action to stop the Germans from their objectives on his own. Armed only with a 45-caliber pistol and a captured German rifle was he able to stop the attack killing three enemy soldiers and detained the rest in a park until his platoon caught up with him after their wine break.
Bill was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for extraordinary heroism, gallantry and valor while fighting against the Germans at Wurzburg, Germany. On March 3-4, 1945, Corporal Dempsey’s unit had just entered Germany and was trying to capture the city of Wurzburg, Germany serving with the famed Rainbow Division. In March 1945, he was cited by the U.S. Army for single-handedly fighting off a superior German force of soldiers that were trying to take a bridge in Wurzburg, Germany. At the time, he was armed with only a .45 caliber pistol and a captured enemy rifle and moved into a position from which he could block the enemy’s avenue of approach.
On April 29, 1945, Bill’s unit was sent to assist at a concentration camp. His unit received word from advancing American troops that German SS camp guards were killing prisoners in the Dachau Concentration Camp and firing at them outside the camp. Bill and a few other soldiers were sent to Dachau riding on top of two tanks. Bill and the other soldiers witnessed the most terrible display of man’s inhumanity to man. Inside the camp they saw starved prisoners locked inside cattle cars where they were placed before being incinerated in crematoriums and many of them were already deceased. Bill’s unit busted open the cattle cars and liberated the Jewish survivors and political prisoners.
Just before war’s end Bill Dempsey would again do something extraordinary. Bill captured German General Hans-Jurgen Stumpff and they would bring Stumpff to Berlin to sign the surrender documents on May 8, 1945 as it was a requirement by the Russians that a German General sign the surrender. Bill still has the General’s watch! Bill would eventually make it to Munich when the war was almost over and then to Nuremberg when snow fell on May 1st. Though the war would be over in another week, Bill’s unit continued fighting because the Germans still resisted.
After WWII, Bill graduated from Boston College and worked for the Malden Public Schools and other school systems for 52 years and served as Principal at Linden School for 26 years. In 1947 Bill married Teresa M. “Terry” Leary who graduated Regis and Staley Colleges and worked as a schoolteacher In Malden and later at St. Catherine’s of Genoa Somerville.
Together they raised four children, James, Joseph, Mary Ann, and Jean. Bill and Terry were married for 64 years, and she lived a long and productive life as an educator and was the oldest grandmother ever to complete the Outward-Bound program at Harvard University. Like Bill, Terry also served as a Eucharistic Minister.
Every year Bill could be counted on to lead his fellow veterans at Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day ceremonies especially when he served as the Commander of the American Legion! Throughout his whole life Bill Dempsey has honored his fallen comrades by decorating their graves in all our cemeteries throughout Malden. He is true inspiration and a “true Greatest Generation WWII hero” who has served our city and country, the American Legion and the Kiwanis Club with pride and distinction.
The Linden Delta in Linden Square will be forever known as Corporal William T.J. Dempsey Memorial Square!
Pictured (from left): Veterans Services Director Kevin Jarvis, Corporal William T.J. Dempsey and Mayor Gary Christenson