William E. Butterworth, who wrote under the pen name W.E.B. Griffin has died. He was 89. His passing was acknowledged by his publisher, Putnam, but they didn’t add any other details. He also wrote under several other names as well.
Griffin was a prolific and very successful novelist whose, “Brotherhood of War” series along with “The Corps” and “Badge of Honor” series were all wildly successful. Perhaps his best work and our personal favorite here was his “Men At War” series which dealt with the O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services) in World War II.
Griffin/Butterworth was born in November 1929, in Newark, New Jersey but lived in his formative years in New York and Philadelphia. He joined the Army in 1946 and served as a counter-intelligence specialist in the Army of Occupation in Germany. One of his duties was delivering food to the families of German generals and staff officers, including the widow of Count Von Stauffenberg, who tried to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944.
Many of the people that he met would be the basis for characters in his novels, including Graf von Greiffenberg, who would be a regular in his “Brotherhood of War” series.
After his hitch was over, he was attending college in Germany when he was recalled to active duty and shipped to Korea when the war began. His war service began as a War Correspondent and later as a PAO with X Corps. He did spend time on the front line and was awarded a Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
After Korea, he was assigned to Ft. Rucker, Alabama as a civilian, working as Chief of the Publications Division of the U.S. Army Signal Aviation Test & Support Activity. While there, he published the first three of his novels. He then decided to pursue being an author as a full-time profession. He wrote more than 250 books of which 160 works of military fiction during his career. He sold more than 50 million books during his lifetime.
Griffin/Butterworth was the co-founder of the William E. Colby Seminar on Intelligence, Military, and Diplomatic Affairs at Norwich University. Vermont.
He said he wrote under so many pen-names was because he felt libraries across the United States may not accept so many submissions to their collections from one author multiple times in one year. So, he became Alex Baldwin, Webb Beech, and Walter E. Blake. He thought of W.E.B. Griffin as a pen name in the 1980s, adding on his web site that Griffin was “the mythical creature with the wings of an eagle and the loins of a lion, which of course is how most colonels think of themselves.”
Putnam Publishing posted on their official web site, “Known for his historical accuracy, richly drawn characters, thrilling adventure, crackling wit, and astute aptitude for the heart and mind of a military hero, Griffin delighted readers for decades with his electrifying novels about the military, police, spies, and counterspies,” they wrote.
“We at Putnam are saddened to share the news of W.E.B. Griffin’s passing,” they added while describing him as “a decades-long bestselling author, decorated military man, and one of the bedrocks of G.P. Putnam’s Sons.”
In a book review, we did on SpecialOperations.com, about “The Double Agents”, we wrote:
The one thing I like about Griffin’s novels is the meticulous detail to get every little facet of life during the World War II years as close to perfect that he can. He weaves his characters around real ones, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Wild Bill Donovan and sometimes you have to remind yourself that it IS a novel when you read the dialogue between FDR and Donovan.
Throw in the machinations of Charles “Lucky” Luciano, the jailed Mafia don who helps the Allies by getting the Sicilian Mafia on board (which really did happen), to pave the way for the invasion, and you have the stuff of intrigue. Griffin obviously had some fun by weaving in the characters of Ian Fleming (author of the James Bond books), and actors David Niven and Peter Ustinov as well in this tale. The two actors, Fleming and OSS operative Lt. Hoche weave a tale about a dead British Major’s body that washes ashore in Spain. It is it believable? Ah, no…but it makes for a fun ride.
That’s exactly what his books were, a fun ride. Meticulous historical detail that immediately transported the reader to another time and place. Whether reading novels or military history, the aim is to not only learn about the subject but to be entertained while doing so. Griffin did that unfailingly in all of his books.
And also from our review, I’ll close with this:
Like the jet-setting Green Berets in Griffin’s later series, one has to roll their eyes at times. But truth be told, I would have loved to serve in Griffin’s Special Forces.
Photos: W.E.B. Griffin and son courtesy AL.com /author