Brass Factory

Posted: Monday, July 2, 2012 12:00 am

Three graduates of Western Military Academy in Alton rose to the rank of general and led brave U.S. troops to victory in major World War I and II battles.
Gens. Edwin Randle, Fred Dean and Rolland Heiser learned their military tactics at Western Military Academy in Upper Alton and were recognized as great leaders in the annals of U.S. military history.
"Randle, Dean and Heiser were generals who earned their honors leading U.S. military forces on the field of battle," said C.B. Jackson, the historian of Western Military Academy in Alton.
The excellent educational, military and athletic training at Alton's world-renowned military academy helped produce 10 generals in the U.S. Army and Air Force, from World War I to Vietnam.
Western Military was founded on Seminary Avenue in Upper Alton by A.M. Jackson in 1879 and attracted talented young cadets from across the United States and foreign countries until it closed in 1971.
World War I was on the horizon when 14-year-old Edwin Randle came from his hometown in Indiana and entered the Alton military academy for training in the early 1900s.
Randle was a high honor student cadet and won praise from the military training staff for his excellence in learning military tactics.
Spectators gathered on top of the hill at the Western athletic field in Alton to watch Randle run against contestants of a dozen high schools in the annual Madison County track meet.
"He was a champion runner in the 440-yard dash," Jackson said.
Randle graduated from Western in 1913 and enrolled at Depauw College in Indiana. When World War I started, the young officer commanded soldiers on the battlefields of Muese-Argonne forest in France and was wounded three times.
Randle's military strategy and leadership earned him a promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel under U.S. Gen. John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces.
When World War II started, Randle was promoted to brigadier general leading troops in Europe and South Pacific. He was a commander of the 77th Division Infantry, which landed on the shores of Okinawa in the South Pacific.
Randle recommended that Pfc. Edwin Doss be awarded the Medal of Honor as a battlefield medic who saved the lives of wounded soldiers. Doss was a conscientious objector but showed his courage as a medic helping the wounded.
Randle returned to the academy in Alton in the 1950s to hand diplomas to the graduating class, Jackson said.
Fred Dean came to the academy as a cadet in 1930 and excelled as an honor student, athlete and editor of the academy newspaper, The Shrapnel.
He graduated in 1934 with top military credentials and was accepted in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1928.
When World War II started, Dean was chosen as commander of the 31st Fighter Wing Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps in Europe.
The young officer was an ace fighter pilot, flying 104 combat missions in a British Spitfire fighter plane and logging 3,400 hours in the air.
Dean's leadership as a fighter pilot was recognized by Gen. H. "Hap" Arnold, commander of the U.S. Air Force, who promoted the 27-year-old pilot to the rank of colonel.
"Col. Dean became an administrative assistant to Gen. Arnold," Jackson said.
Dean witnessed military history when he accompanied President Franklin Roosevelt to the Yalta conference and was alongside President Harry Truman at the Potsdam meeting.
Dean was awarded many military decorations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Rolland Heiser came to Western Military in 1939 and was selected as cadet company commander and chief of a barracks.
"Rolland was a superstar cadet at Western," Jackson said.
His educational excellence earned him a 4.0-point grade average on the academy's "400" high honor club and the National Honor Society. He was an outstanding athlete on the sports teams, earning a "W" for his athletic sweater.
He graduated from Western in 1943 and from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1947. He learned military diplomacy with a master's degree in international relations at George Washington University.
As a military leader, Heiser rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant general serving with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was commander of the 1st Army Division in Europe.
His skill as a military leader earned him the rank of Army chief of staff in Europe.
He served 16 years in Europe, 18 months in Korea and three years in Vietnam.
Heiser was a diplomat and educator who founded the Korean Military Academy in 1954, a year after the Korean War ended.
Heiser started the Vietnam Defense College in 1968. After his retirement from the service, he served as president of the New College Foundation of Florida State University.

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