Dr. Roger Spiller
BA Political Science and English '69; MA History '71
George C. Marshall Distinguished Professor of Military History, Emeritus
Fort Leavenworth, KS
Remarks by Dr. Mary Brennan
Chair, Department of History
Roger Spiller is one of the best known and respected military historians of our day.
He sees war as “the most fascinating problem there is to test the intellect.” Through teaching and scholarship, he tries to help us understand the human dimension of warfare, from the point of view of the foot soldier fighting battles. His writing examines historic armies and wars through topics such as combat behavior, soldiers’ battlefield memories, and shell shock. His unconventional approach to military history has earned him a reputation as an imaginative, varied, and remarkably sensitive historian.
Roger grew up in a ranching and farming family in North Texas. His father served with the Texas Rangers in the 1930s as part of an organization called The Special Force. After high school, Roger served in the Air Force in Europe as a medic. Although he majored in English and Political Science at Texas State, he discovered his affinity for military history in his last semesters, in courses taught by Dr. James Pohl. Both the teacher and the subject engaged him fully, leading him to pursue a master’s degree in history at Texas State and then a PhD in military history at LSU. Besides finding his profession at our university, Roger also found Irene, his future wife, a Sociology major. Their son Galen is a senior at the University of Kansas.
After teaching history for three years at Texas State, Roger became the first civilian to hold a permanent faculty appointment at the Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. There, he rose to become the College’s first George C. Marshall Chair of Military History, and he helped to found the Combat Studies Institute. He also served as a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Military History at the United States Military Academy at Westpoint. He has taught a generation of America’s leading professional soldiers, and I’m told these high-ranking men pay homage to Roger as “The Professor.”
Outside the classroom, the Army’s leadership has relied frequently on Roger’s expertise. For the U.S. Readiness Command, he has written Congressional testimony and national budget submissions, analyzed intelligence, and planned strategic operations relating to the 1980s insurgencies in Central America.
As personal historian to the Army’s Chief of Staff, he outlined strategy for a possible war with Iraq, which later played out in Operation Desert Storm. In 2003, his well-known paper on urban warfare became top-priority reading among the commanders taking troops to Iraq.
And when the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns was looking for a military historian to advise on his 2009 film on World War II, he came to Roger. Roger found himself not only checking the script for accuracy but also writing part of it, consulting on the soundtrack, and editing the movie. He is now advising on Ken Burns’ 10-part series on the Vietnam War, to be aired in 2016.
Roger has received many awards for his outstanding scholarship and meritorious service, including medals from the Department of the Army and the Secretary of Defense. And he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of Texas State in 1998, an honor of which he is very proud.
Roger has been broadly influential as a military historian, teacher, and advisor. College of Liberal Arts is pleased to present him with its highest honor, the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.