Tatoo of LTG Joseph E. DeFrancisco
US Army, Retired
In the Mood
Joseph Emil DeFrancisco was born to Lisa and Mario DeFrancisco on March 9, 1942, in Albany, New York. As the first of three brothers, he would always be the big brother. They were the typical middle-class Catholic family and Joe attended parochial schools from kindergarten through his first year in college. He played multiple sports in high school and his American Legion baseball team was twice New York State champions. He was first exposed to the military as his father served in World War II as a bombardier in the Army Air Corps. He also had an uncle who fought in the Normandy Invasion and another who served in the Pacific Theatre in World War II. They all influenced young Joe but World War II movies at the Palace Theatre starring the likes of John Wayne and Audie Murphy were a huge influence as well.
West Point March
The United States Military Academy at West Point was only two hours from home so its presence was certainly felt, as well. To young Joe, West Point was the epitome of all that was good in the military, but admittance didn't come easy. Lacking an appointment out of high school Joe spent one year at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, before entering the Academy on July 1st, 1961. Initially, he felt a bit intimidated by his talented classmates but quickly adjusted and made many life-long friends.
US Field Artillery March
Upon graduation from West Point 1965, Joe branched Field Artillery because most of his favorite instructors were Field Artillerymen and when he was exposed to the available branches – five at that time – he felt Artillery would be the best for him. He did well in Ranger school and considered Airborne School a vacation compared to the rigors of Ranger training. A week after graduation from Airborne School in November he married Lynne Ruhland whom he had known since grade school. Second Lieutenant De Francisco packed up his bride and off they went to his first assignment, arriving in Germany on New Year's Eve in 1965. Because his unit, 1st Battalion 9th Artillery, a 175 mm gun battalion, had no officer vacancies, the battalion created a new one, assigning Joe as the Commo Officer. Since there was already an accomplished Master Sergeant Commo NCO, the 2nd Lieutenant was instructed to pay attention to the NCO and to stay out of the way. Good advice for any new officer! Because of the build-up for Vietnam, the three-year tour in Germany turned into a six-month tour and the DeFrancisco's were then sent to Fort Bragg where Joe served as a training officer in a basic combat training company. Orders to Vietnam followed quickly within seven months. But before deployment came to an important Artillery Orientation Course at Fort Sill. It was especially valuable because he did not have the opportunity to attend the Basic Course.
Garry Owen March
After the Fort Sill course, he returned to Albany where Lynne had decided to stay with her parents during the Vietnam tour. Their son, Eric, was born there on the 10th of June in 1967 and ten days later, First Lieutenant DeFrancisco deployed on the first of two tours to Vietnam. His initial assignment was HHB Commander of 1st Battalion, 21st Artillery Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He became a Liaison Officer and later S-3 (Operations) with that same unit. His most impactful job was as Liaison Officer (in today's parlance, Fire Support Officer) to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, part of the 1st Cavalry Division's Garry Owen Brigade. Because of the Division's mission, he saw combat in many parts of Vietnam highlighted by action in and around Khe Sanh, Hue, and the A Shau Valley in late winter and early spring of 1968. A Liaison Officer rarely saw other artillerymen except for his small team, his company Forward Observers, and the Direct Support Battery Commander. He spent most of his time with the Infantry, especially his Infantry Battalion Commanders Lieutenant Colonel Joe Griffin and Lieutenant Colonel Roscoe Robinson. Both were exceptional leaders and model officers. Lieutenant Colonel Robinson later became the United States Army's first African American Four-Star General. This was a time for Joe to be shooting 1053, 155s, 175s, and 8” howitzers as well as naval gunfire. After exciting times as an LNO, he assumed the relatively quiet position in his artillery battalion Tactical Operations Center as the Fire Direction Officer. One evening DeFrancisco and his men were on the night shift and they came under rocket fire which hit the main ammo holding area at Camp Evans destroying most of the ammunition and creating a spectacular show. Shortly thereafter the Division received the mission to move to the A Shau Valley but with no artillery. The division decided to emplace a provisional battery on a hilltop so DeFrancisco and his men took two guns and headed up the hill. The peak was so high it was partially hidden by the clouds. Then Captain DeFrancisco received a personal visit from MG John Tolson, the Division Commander; a rare event that impressed DeFrancisco. By the time his first Vietnam tour ended in June 1968, he felt that he, his unit, and the Army had done very well, accomplished the mission, that they had successfully countered the Tet Offensive and that war was headed in the right direction. Naively, he and those around him were focused on combat, not politics, and had little idea of what they would see upon returning home.
Back in Albany he gathered his wife and son and moved to Fort Sill for the Officer Advanced Course to, in his words, "learn something about the artillery". After graduation, he had the big idea of teaching ROTC at Notre Dame. Branch had other ideas like a choice of Fort Sill, Fort Knox, or Germany and they said - by the way, after one year - you are headed to Vietnam again. Lynne was heartbroken and angry and even told Joe this wasn't the life she signed up for, but she later changed her tune and would continue to support her husband through the many moves they would make together in support of our Army. Captain DeFrancisco was also busy making future plans. He had been contacted by the History Department at West Point and was told that after he returned from Vietnam, he would be given a teaching position in the Military History Department. The decision was made to follow that path so the DeFrancisco's remained at Fort Sill where he commanded Battery C, 4th Battalion, 14th FA. During that assignment, the DeFrancisco's welcomed a daughter, Laura in 1970.
Stars and Stripes Forever
Soon the family packed up and headed back to Albany where Lynne would establish a household while Captain DeFrancisco went back to Vietnam on a second year-long deployment. Having already commanded two batteries, he was destined for a staff assignment and was assigned to Provisional Group Headquarters in Dalat. The Group Commander, Colonel Richard Tuck, had other ideas and sent him to command Battery B, 5th Battalion, 27th FA Regiment at LZ Sherry. LZ Sherry was an isolated, permanent Fire Base in the southern part of Il Corps near Phan Thiet. Besides the firing battery, it had two radar detachments and two Quad 50 air defense sections. It was a well-planned unit ideally suited for the limited missions of supporting US Army engineering and small unit ARVN operations while providing adequate self-defense.
After seven months on Sherry, leaving the firebase only three times, Joe was assigned to Field Force II Artillery (Corps level) in Vietnam. It was there that Captain DeFrancisco got to see the difference in living conditions between the Army and the Air Force. The Air Base had sidewalks, billiards, air-conditioned clubs...all sorts of things soldiers seldom saw! His job was to inspect all the firebases in the Field Force area of operations. A highlight of that time in his life was that he took a Graduate Record Exam in a trailer at Cam Ranh Bay so he could be admitted to graduate school. Thankfully the rest of the tour was uneventful. He was accepted to Rice University where he earned a Master of Arts degree and made a close circle of life-long friends, who by coincidence were Armor and Infantry officers. Upon graduation, he went to CGSC at Fort Leavenworth, and in 1974, became an instructor at West Point and later an Assistant Professor in the Department of History, and later Associate Director of the Instructor, Support Branch in the office of the Dean. While an instructor he was promoted to Major. As those who lived through it will remember, making Captain took around two years, but making Major took nearly eight.
Architect of Victory
Following a very enjoyable and fulfilling tour at West Point, the DeFrancisco's were sent to Augsburg, Germany, where Joe became successively, Operations Officer of 17th Field Artillery Brigade, XO of the 1st Battalion, 18th Field Artillery, and officer in charge of the Operations Element, VII Corps Artillery. During that assignment, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. The most memorable and influential officers he worked within Germany were Lieutenant General Julius Beckton, VII Corps Commander, and Colonel Gordon Sullivan, VII Corps G3. A very satisfying tour in Germany culminated with selection for battalion command in the 9th Infantry Division and in the summer of 1981, the family moved to Fort Lewis, Washington. While waiting for his battalion command, he became Special Assistant to Assistant Division Commander later Assistant Fire Support Coordinator, 8th infantry Division. Finally, in 1982 Lieutenant Colonel DeFrancisco became Battalion Commander of 1st Battalion, 84th FA regiment, 9th Infantry Division in Fort Lewis and then spent another six months in the I Corps G3 office. Time at Fort Lewis was exceptional from both a family and professional standpoint. The entire family enjoyed the camaraderie of on-post living and a wide circle of friends. Son Eric became a high school All-American swimmer and was admitted to West Point. All the while Joe enjoyed the mentorship and example of truly exceptional leaders. First among the distinguished list was Colonel, later General Binnie Peay, the Divarty Commander. Joe also had the pleasure of sharing command time with some wonderful peers, like Russ Richardson, who currently lives in the Southwest Oklahoma area.
After four great years in the Pacific Northwest, Joe was selected and went to the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. Before leaving Fort Lewis, he was advised to go directly to the Pentagon after Carlisle, so he did. Lieutenant Colonel DeFrancisco went as Chief of the Force Planning Integration Team and later the Chief of War Plans Division and then Deputy Director for planning In the Directorate of Strategy Plans and Policy in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans. While in DC he was promoted to Colonel and selected for Colonel Command. After two years in the Pentagon, he headed to Fort Ord, California, as Commander of the 7th Infantry Division (Light) Artillery. While stationed at Fort Ord the 7th Division fielded the first 119 howitzers and played a key role in Operation Just Cause to capture Manuel Noriega in Panama in December 1989. While still at Fort Ord, Colonel DeFrancisco was assigned to work in the office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff working for Lieutenant General Howard Graves, Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Later, while he was training the National Guard at Fort Bliss, he received a call that he needed to see the Secretary of the Army in DC. He realized he has no good clothes – no greens - nothing. He ended up flying to the interview in his worst Battle Dress Uniform. The Secretary of the Army was looking for an Executive Officer and had interviewed six or seven highly recommended Colonels. The Secretary of the Army Michael Stone wasn't sure about any of them so he asked his serving XO if he knew anyone and told him to look at the list of Colonels coming out of command. Joe made the interview and got the job. The job began the day before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. Meanwhile, Joe was selected for Brigadier General, and after his year was up with the Secretary, he was offered an opportunity to stay for another year.
Hands Across the Sea
After that, Team DeFrancisco was headed down south to Fort Stewart, Georgia, where Brigadier General DeFrancisco's next assignment was Assistant Division Commander, 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized). After a year of mint juleps and southern cooking, the Chief of Staff sent him to Korea as Assistant Chief of Staff, C-3/J-3/G-3, United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command (Operations Officer) and during this assignment, he was promoted to a Major General. After just 11 months, he received the call to Command the 24th Infantry Division back at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and reported just in time for another 4th of July in the south. While in this Command, the 24th Infantry became the 3rd Infantry Division in April of 1996. The summer started with him receiving another star and becoming Deputy Commander in Chief/Chief of Staff, United States Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii. There he worked for a great officer and leader name Admiral Joseph Preuher. While in Hawaii, the DeFrancisco's met many distinguished leaders from the US and from numerous nations around the Pacific.
Caissons Go Rolling Along
Lieutenant General DeFrancisco retired from active duty in the fall of 1998. After 23 moves in 34 years, they settled into civilian life in Arlington, VA. He began working in the defense industry in business development with a number of companies including Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, and SAIC which later became Leidos. He has been active on many pro-bono boards. He is Chairman of the West Point Association of Graduates and serves by assisting chaplains during Catholic funeral services before burials at Arlington Cemetery. He has been a Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army since 2007 serving under five consecutive Secretaries. He is Past - President of the AUSA George Washington Chapter and a former board member of the Army Historical Society, Army Distaff Foundation, and Army and Air Force Mutual Aide Association. In 2013 Joe was named a Distinguished Graduate of West Point. He and Lynne enjoy traveling and spend much of their time with friends in the DC area. He has always cherished his association with the Field Artillery, a passion that persists in his life.