Born on August 1, 1899, in Carlyle, Illinois, Dean graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1922. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the California National Guard in 1921, he was tendered a Regular Army commission on October 18, 1923. Promoted to Brigadier General in 1942 and then to major general in 1943, Dean served first as assistant division commander and later as division commander of the 44th Infantry Division. In 1944 while serving in southern Germany and Austria, his troops captured 30,000 prisoners and helped force the surrender of the German 19th Army. There he won the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery. In October 1947, he became the military governor of South Korea. He took command of the Seventh Infantry Division in 1948 and moved it from Korea to Japan. After serving as Eighth U.S. Army chief of staff, he took command of the 24th Infantry Division, and then headquartered at Kokura on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, in October 1949. When the Korean War began in June 1950, the 24th Infantry Division was the first American ground combat unit to be committed. General Dean arrived in Korea on July 3, 1950. He established his headquarters at Taejon His orders were to fight a delaying action against the advancing North Korean People's Army. Although he planned to withdraw from Teajon, he was asked by General Walton H. Walker, the Eighth U.S. Army Commander, to hold that city until July 20,1950, in order to buy time necessary for deploying other American units from Japan. His regiments had been, decimated in earlier fighting, and Dean personally led tank killer teams armed with the newly arrived 3.5-inch rocket launchers to destroy the attacking North Korean T-34 tanks. He gained acclaim by such exploits as attacking and destroying an enemy tank armed with only a hand grenade and handgun. The T34 Tank knocked out by General Dean in the battle of Tajon, July, 1950 it was still there in 1977 as a memorial to General Dean and the twenty five day battle of Taejon. On July 20, as his division fell back from Taejon, General Dean became separated from his men. He hid alone in the woods around the countryside during the day and traveled at night for over a month. On August 25,1950 after a hand to hand struggle with fifteen North Koreans he was captured, and remained a POW with the North Koreans until his release on September 4, 1953. In 1951 Congress voted General Dean the Medal of Honor for his actions during the defense of Tajon. The Medal was received from President Truman, on January 9,1951 by his wife Mildred Dean, son William Dean Jr. and daughter Marjorie June Dean. General Dean was still reported missing in action in Korea. General Dean had no contact with the outside world until he was interviewed on December 18, 1951 by an Australian, Wilfred Burchett who was a correspondent for Le Soir, a French left-wing newspaper. This was the first time that anyone had any idea General Dean was alive since being reported missing in action. General Dean, the highest ranking prisoner of war in the conflict, later he tried to commit suicide during his confinement because he feared "he might squeal when they started to drive splinters under my fingernails." He was given a hero's welcome upon his return to the United States in 1953 and showered with military and civilian honors. General Dean however, insisted he was no hero but "just a dogface soldier." Three months after his return from Korea General Dean was assigned as the Deputy Commanding General of the Sixth U.S. Army at the Presidio of San Francisco in California. When he retired from active duty on October 31,1955, he was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge for his front line service in World War I I and Korea, an award he particularly cherished.
"If the story of my Korean experience is worth telling, the value lies in its oddity, not in anything brilliant or heroic.
There were heroes in Korea, but I was not one of them. There were brilliant commanders, but I was a general captured because he took a wrong road. I am an Infantry officer and presumably was fitted for my fighting job.
I don't want to alibi that job, but a couple of things about it should be made clear. In the fighting I made some mistakes and I've kicked myself a thousand times for them. I lost ground I should not have lost. I lost trained officers and fine men. I'm not proud of that record, and I'm under no delusions that my weeks of command constituted any masterly campaign.
No man honestly can be ashamed of the Medal of Honor. For it and for the welcome given to me here at home in 1953, 1 am humbly grateful. But I come close to shame when I think about the men who did better jobs some who died doing them and did not get recognition. I wouldn't have awarded myself a wooden star for what I did as a commander.
Later, as fugitive and prisoner, I did things mildly out of the ordinary only at those times when I was excited and not thinking entirely straight; and the only thing I did which mattered to my family and perhaps a few others was to stay alive. Other prisoners resisted torture, but I wasn't tortured. Others hid in the hills and finally escaped, but I failed in my escape attempts. Others bluffed the Communists steadily, whereas I was lucky enough to do it only once in a while.
Others starved, but I was fed and even learned to like Kimchee. Others died for a principle, but I failed in a suicide attempt.
My life was an adventure, I did see the face of the enemy close up. I did have time to study his weaknesses and his remarkable strengths, not on the battlefield but far behind his lines. I saw communism working with men and women of high education or none, great intelligence or little and it was a frightening thing.
I ought to know. I swatted 40,671 flies in three years and counted every carcass. There were periods when I was batting .850 and deserved to make the big leagues.
General Dean died on August 25, 1981. General William F. Dean is buried at the Presido of San Francisco along with his wife