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About William Alfred Eddy
William Alfred "Bill" Eddy, Ph.D., Col., USMC (March 9, 1896–May 3, 1962) was a U.S. minister to Saudi Arabia (1944–1946), university professor and college president (1936–42), and United States Marine Corps officer—serving in World War I and World War II, and U.S. intelligence officer.
After serving in World War I, Eddy had an academic career as a literary scholar and professor of English, at Dartmouth College and the American University in Cairo. He was later president of both Hobart College and William Smith College (1936–42). Dr. Eddy returned to military service just before the start of World War II, serving as an intelligence officer. From 1943 to 1945, he was the U.S. Minister to Saudi Arabia, a consultant for the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) and an instrumental figure in the development of the United States' relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. He was a key figure in the formation of the CIA.
In 2008 Arabian Knight: Colonel Bill Eddy USMC and the Rise of American Power in the Middle East, the first biography on Bill Eddy, was published by Selwa Press. It is written by the Middle East specialist, author and Washington Post journalist Thomas Lippman.
William Alfred Eddy was born in 1896 in the city of Sidon, at the time a part of Syria, now in Lebanon. His parents, William King Eddy and Elizabeth Mills (Nelson) Eddy, were Presbyterian missionaries from the United States. Eddy grew up speaking both English at home and in school and Arabic on the streets with his friends. He stayed in the Middle East until high school and then went to the College of Wooster for his college preparatory education. His overseas upbringing and firsthand knowledge of Arabic and Arab culture would play a pivotal role in his life and in American–Saudi relations.
World War I
Following his graduation from Princeton University in 1917 and marriage to Mary Garvin, Eddy was accepted into the United States Marine Corps on June 6, 1917 as a "temporary second lieutenant" and was a part of the first American Marines fighting in Europe in World War I, serving as an intelligence officer with the 6th Marine Regiment.
During the war he fought alongside other U.S. Marines in the German Offensive of 1918 and in the Battle of Belleau Wood against German Empire troops that same year. The battle is seen as an important success for allied forces against the Germans. Eddy was seriously injured at Belleau Wood, losing one leg because of his wounds, and was sent back to the U.S. to recuperate.
For his actions as a combat Marine in World War I, he received the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, and two Purple Hearts.
Teaching and academic years
After his military service, Eddy taught at Peekskill Military Academy in New York. In 1922, he received his doctorate from Princeton University. His dissertation was on Gulliver's Travels.
In 1923, he was appointed as the chair of the English Department at the American University in Cairo in Egypt. His wife and children found life in Egypt difficult, however, and Eddy returned to the U.S. in 1928 to accept a teaching position at Dartmouth College.
In 1936, he became president of Hobart College in upstate New York.
World War II
With the threat of another World War looming, Eddy returned to active duty in the United States Marine Corps at the rank of lieutenant colonel and in 1941 became the Naval Attaché and Naval Attaché for Air in Cairo. He would work with both Naval intelligence and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) for the duration of the war.
Early in the war, Eddy suggested that the United States try to become closer to Saudi Arabia because of its strategic importance and because of the country's relative independence and internal stability.
In December 1941, Eddy was redeployed as Naval Attaché to Tangier, Morocco in order to try to help secure areas of North Africa under threat by the Germans. He was instrumental in obtaining intelligence there and set up an intelligence network which streamlined the process of conveying information from the field back to the US.
While in Tangier Eddy was also part of a group which helped organize subversive fighting elements in Spanish Morocco in case the Germans made it west.
His intelligence work on the ground was a key to the success of allied operations including the pivotal Patton-led Operation Torch, which began in 1942.
In 1943, the Navy and the OSS agreed to cooperate in sending Eddy to Saudi Arabia as a U.S. State Department employee. His official title was "Special Assistant to the American Minister" resident at the American Legation in the city of Jeddah. He was told to visit neighboring Gulf states as well in order to begin and build the U.S.–Middle East relationships that were already beginning to emerge.
At the time, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had already begun in earnest to begin a relationship with Saudi Arabia, and oil exploration and drilling was continuing and building up via the US company CASOC, Aramco's predecessor.
In 1944, he met King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud (Ibn Saud) for the first time, and they would maintain a close relationship until the king's death in 1953. On September 23, 1944, he became the "Envoy Extraordinary and Ministory Plenipotentiary" to Saudi Arabia, remaining in this post until May 28, 1946—the 2nd resident U.S. chief of mission to Saudi Arabia.
On February 14, 1945, King Abdul-Aziz had a historic meeting with President Roosevelt on board the U.S. Naval ship the USS Quincy on the Great Bitter Lake of the Suez Canal in Egypt. Colonel Eddy was asked by the King to be translator for both the King and for President Roosevelt for their conversation. It was the first time the King had left Saudi Arabia. Much of the men's conversation was recorded by Eddy in a later work titled FDR Meets Ibn Saud.
During his brief stay in the kingdom, Eddy was instrumental in cementing the U.S.-Saudi relationship and in bringing in U.S. business to the kingdom and in keeping out other foreign, mainly British at the time, business interests.
Eddy left in 1946 and then spent some time in Yemen further developing U.S. relations with the Middle East.
On August 1, 1946, Eddy was appointed the post of Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Research and Intelligence. He was an instrumental figure in the passing of the National Security Act of 1947 which in essence allowed for the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency. Eddy and his family moved to Washington, D.C. where he worked on creating and developing the CIA and also on continuing the development of U.S.–Middle Eastern relations.
American support of the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state met with some skepticism throughout the Middle East. Despite the U.S. support of the Zionist cause, however, many Arab states like Saudi Arabia continued to build their relationship with the U.S. because of their strong ties with people like Colonel Eddy.
Writing from his new home base of Beirut in the late 1940s, Eddy included in his CIA assessment of the region a warning about religious fundamentalism that could grow with the continued US support of the partition idea.
During the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, Eddy worked as a consultant for the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco). He was an instrumental figure in keeping Aramco–Saudi relations as peaceful as could be. Given King Abdul-Aziz's relationship with Eddy and other Americans like Thomas Barger, the Saudis resisted completely nationalizing the company and instead brokered several key deals that would maintain American involvement and training while at the same time expanding benefits brought by the oil revenue to more Saudis.
His final days were spent in Beirut. Dr. William Eddy died of a stroke on May 3, 1962 at age 66 in the hospital of the American University of Beirut, which his father and family friends had helped to found.
He was buried in the city of his birth, Sidon, in an Arab Christian graveyard. His grave is inscribed: "William Alfred Eddy. Colonel, U.S.M.C. Born Sidon, March 9, 1896. Died Beirut, May 3, 1962."