William T. “Tom” Meredith is the father of today’s US Air Force (AF) civil engineer (CE) forces. He led the development and fielding of Prime Base Emergency Engineer Force (BEEF) and Rapid Engineer Deployable, Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, Engineer (RED HORSE) units, providing comprehensive engineering and heavy construction support in combat theaters. These units form the modern combat engineer forces that have provided premier expeditionary construction support for every US contingency since Vietnam. Meredith was born in Halifax, Virginia, in 1919.
He graduated from high school in Brandy, Virginia, in 1937, and attended the College of William and Mary on a sports scholarship. With World War II raging, he walked away from a professional baseball career and enlisted as a private in the US Army in 1941. After basic training, Meredith was selected for the Corps of Engineers and sent to trade school. Upon graduation, he was assigned to the Haynes Mission in the China-Burma-India theater, where he partnered with British engineers to lead airport construction operations in multiple theater locations. In November 1942, Meredith was transferred to India as a guerrilla scout leader, leading a group of local tribesmen to provide terrain reconnaissance supporting the security of the Allies’ critical northern Burmese supply routes.
In March 1943, Meredith was escorting senior US leaders when they were ambushed and surrounded by Japanese forces. After evading capture and being re-supplied by airdrop for two weeks, Meredith engineered the group’s escape, leading them 127 miles back to safety. In the midst of this incident, Meredith was awarded a battlefield commission. He separated from the Army at the end of World War II, but returned in 1947 and transferred his commission to the AF in 1949. From 1949 to 1961 he served in various roles, including overseeing construction of US facilities in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, garnering congressional approval for construction AF-wide and attending Air Command and Staff College and Air War College.
In July 1961, Meredith began restructuring CE to provide direct combat support. He developed the Prime BEEF and RED HORSE concepts while assigned to AF headquarters, fielded those units as commander of the CE Construction Group at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, trained them as commander of the 560th CE Squadron at Eglin AFB, Florida, and carried out the mission as commander of the 554th RED HORSE unit in Phan Rang, Vietnam. Meredith retired as a brigadier general in 1973, but continued as a leader in private industry and government service, including leading a US delegation to the Philippines in the mid 1980s. In 1986, the AF honored Meredith’s vision and leadership by creating the Meredith Trophy, awarded to its best contingency engineering skills team at the conclusion of a biannual competition. He is now retired and lives in Canton, North Carolina, with his wife Patricia.