PSS Spring '09 - The Houghton House Renaissance


WWII Intelligence Planner was HWS President

by John Heavey '09

Col. Eddy

Col. Eddy - photo Courtesy of Leath erneck Magazine

In 1941, as war continued to spread across Europe and pour into North Africa, former HWS President Colonel William Eddy was thrust to the international stage. In a scene that doesn't stray far from the Hollywood depiction of Casablanca, Eddy was deployed as a Naval Attaché to Tangier, Morocco, where he gathered intelligence in a matrix of double agents and international spies from all seven continents while also securing areas of North Africa under threat by the Nazis.

Amidst the political and military mayhem that was World War II, Eddy navigated a dangerous world of subterfuge and illusion, playing the role of spy, saboteur, political agent and military planner, and pulling global strings to gather, streamline and deliver intelligence.

But just months earlier, Eddy was known simply as the president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a scholar of some note with a decorated World War I record.

Born to American Presbyterian missionaries in Sidon, Syria, Eddy was always traveling. He grew up immersed in the language, traditions and cultures of the Arab world, but left his native bazaars for a formal education at Princeton University. He received his doctorate at Princeton and went on to teach at the American University in Cairo and Dartmouth University. He was a Renaissance man, visiting nearly every corner of the planet, fluent in multiple languages and as well-versed in classic literature as he was in world cultures.

Col. Eddy with General Naguib of Egypt in 1953. - photo Courtesy of Princeton University Library

Col. Eddy with General Naguib of Egypt in 1953.
photo Courtesy of Princeton University Library

Eddy was appointed President of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 1936, and in his inaugural address to the HWS community said, "Throughout the country, educators are coming to agree that progressive education must be characterized by personal guidance and integration of the curriculum to bring ordered minds to bear upon the chaos and bewilderment of modern life."

Eddy asserted that effective immediately every student at HWS would be required to take "a continuous, four-year course in responsible citizenship," which he believed to be a cornerstone of the undergraduate experience.

Eddy was well-versed in civic responsibility. Accepted into the United States Marine Corps on June 6, 1917, he was among the first Americans in Europe during World War I, serving as an intelligence officer with the 6th Marine Regiment.

During the legendary hold of the 1918 German Offensive and the Battle of Belleau Wood, Eddy often lay face down in the wet, uncut grass of the French Marne River Valley, just feet away from the enemy German post. Silently, Eddy would take note of their position and conversations, even as German soldiers walked by, boots crunching the gravel next to where he lay.

Wounded in battle, Eddy was stricken with the Spanish Flu in a French Hospital, and through a handwritten note from none other than fellow Princetonian and United States President Woodrow Wilson, he was shipped back to the States for recovery. For his service in WWI, Eddy received the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts, eliciting General George S. Patton to later say, "I don’t know who he is, but the son of a bitch sure has been shot at enough!"

Although the faculty at HWS were not always enthusiastic about what they considered to be Eddy's meddling with the curriculum, he was known as a man of the students. "Above all else, while at HWS, I considered him to be my friend," recalls Donald Goode '38. "He was really very down to earth and alwaysoffered a very personal experience." Goode, who served on the Colleges' Board of Trustees from 1958-73, remembers Eddy cultivating a nurturing and comforting environment.

"He never discussed his own politics or tried to force anything on us. Rather, he just wanted to facilitate political thought and action in others. I've known a lot of Generals, and I did my time in the service," recalls Goode. "But Bill didn't advertise it. He mingled with the students and listened to what they had to say. He was just that kind of guy."

On May 14, 1941, Eddy resigned his post at the Colleges, requesting a leave of absence in response to an urgent message from Washington that he was needed in the war effort. During his work in securing areas of North Africa under threat by the Germans in WWII, Eddy would prove essential to the key success of the Patton-led Operation TORCH, in which allied forces stormed the beaches of North French Africa, overtaking Nazi troops in 1942.

In November 1943, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was seeking "a senior officer expert in the Arabic language and political matters in the Arabic speaking countries," and Eddy was recommended by his coordinator of intelligence, WWI hero Colonel William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan to become Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary (a now-defunct diplomatic rank) to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Thomas Lippman, Eddy's biographer, writes: "Far from seeing Muslims as hostile and inevitably coming into conflict with 'the West' Eddy envisioned a grand rapprochement, a 'moral alliance' of monotheistic peoples of Christianity and Islam, such as he believed Richard Lion-Heart had forged in the era of the crusades."

As the nearest thing the United States has had to a real-life Lawrence of Arabia, Eddy accompanied Roosevelt as his right-hand-man at the post-war Yalta Conference to meet Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin and chalk out a plan for the rebuilding of Europe. On the tail end of this conference, Eddy arranged for FDR to meet Saudi King Abdul- Aziz Al Saud (Ibn Saud) aboard the USS Quincy on the Great Bitter Lake of the Suez Canal in Egypt. Eddy was asked by the King to be translator during the King's conversation with Roosevelt. It was the first time the King had left Saudi Arabia, and Eddy recorded much of the men's conversation in a later work titled FDR Meets Ibn Saud.

Eddy's diplomacy facilitated the construction of a U.S. Army Air Base in the city of Dhahran and established what continues to be a vibrant trade between the two nations. For the first time in history, two worlds - an ancient kingdom and the new world power - came together. Floating through the origins of civilization aboard the USS Quincy, Eddy articulated the ideas, philosophies and perspectives that set the political global stage for the rest of the century.


To learn more about Eddy's life, his time at HWS and his involvement in major historical events, check out Arabian Knight: Colonel Bill Eddy USMC and the Rise of American Power in the Middle East by Professor Thomas W. Lippman (Selwa Press).

An interview with Lippman is available online at



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