A Texas A&M University graduate who was among the most honored soldiers of World War II and whose heroics were chronicled in the “Texas Aggies Go to War” exhibit at Texas A&M has died. William M. Peña was 99.
The 1942 Aggie graduate majored in architecture and was a member of the Corps of Cadets. He was commissioned in the Army immediately after graduation and served in three major battles with the 28th Infantry Division: Huertgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge and the Liberation of Colmar. He was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart and retired from the Army as a captain in 1947.
His exploits were featured recently in the exhibit, “Texas Aggies Go To War,” and they tell the tales of Peña, James Hollingsworth ‘40, Turney Leonard ‘42, Joe Routt ‘37 and James Earl Rudder ’32, who helped repel Germany’s final major World War II offensive in the Battle of the Bulge.
These five heroes were among the more than 610,000 American forces that fought in the campaign from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945, during which approximately 89,000 were injured or killed.
Peña, who recalled his service in a memoir, “As Far As Schleiden,” was deployed to Europe in September 1944 after reporting to officer training school just hours after he graduated from Texas A&M. He led a heavy weapons platoon through the dense, snow-covered forests of Germany and Belgium during the battle. After the pivotal engagement, Peña lost a leg from a mine explosion while repairing an Allied communications line in Germany.
The exhibit also featured Rudder, the future Texas A&M president, who led a group of U.S. Army Rangers that performed one of the war’s greatest feats, scaling the 90-foot cliffs at Normandy’s Pointe du Hoc under heavy enemy fire to help secure an Allied victory on D-Day.
Peña returned to Texas A&M after his service and earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1948, and he began what would become a legendary career in architecture by joining Caudill Rowlett Scott Architects in 1948. He became known as the “father” of architectural programming and in 1969 co-authored the first edition of “Problem Seeking,” which remains a standard textbook in architectural education.
In December 2016, Peña was presented with Belgium’s second-highest order of chivalry, the Commander in the Order of the Crown, by Princess Astrid of Belgium and a host of international dignitaries during a ceremony at Texas A&M’s Rudder Theatre.
In 2013, he received France’s highest honor, the medal of Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honour, during a 2013 Veterans Day ceremony at Minute Maid Park in Houston for his role in liberating France in World War II.
In 2016, he endowed an architecture scholarship at Texas A&M. It was the largest single gift the College of Architecture has ever received.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.