Large and In Charge
Some dads insist they know what's best for the kids—you know, unreasonable stuff like not going to a midnight movie the night before the SATs, or thinking that a bag of Doritos and Dr. Pepper isn't a nutritious dinner. What do they know?
Still, dads like that do exist, and in CE3K, Major Walsh is that guy. Major Walsh was mail-ordered right from the Hollywood character-type catalogue. He's a gruff, hard-nosed, cigar-smoking officer who sees military efficiency as the solution to every problem.
He's the overprotective father who shields his civilian "children" from the truth about what's happening at Devils Tower. He's on the lookout for misbehavior like trying to subvert his operation. He doesn't trust the kids one bit, and when they do pull one over on him, he's not shy about discipline.
For Major Walsh, it's his way or the highway. He knows what's best for the populace; they don't call that kind of behavior "paternalistic" for nothing. We're not saying he's not overprotective for the civilians' own good, but he's not the most flexible guy in the world.
Just Following Orders
When there's something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? The government.
As a military man, Walsh represents the government. Professor Telotte characterized the government in Close Encounters as "a kind of protective parent: determining what we should know; trying to insulate us from any disturbing and thus potentially dangerous revelations" (Source). In that case, Major Walsh is our daddy.
When we first see the Major, he and his boys are trying to think up a cover story to evacuate everyone from the Devils Tower landing site.
MAJOR WALSH: What I need is something so scary, it'll clear 300 square miles of every living Christian soul.
Major Walsh doesn't want to hurt or coerce anyone into leaving. We'll even give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he believes he's doing what is best for the people. Still, he's willing to lie to them if he thinks it's for their own good.
Like an overprotective parent, Walsh sees danger everywhere. He disagrees with Lacombe's decision to bring Roy, Jillian and the others into the decontamination zone, claiming "somebody could be trying to subvert this whole operation by sending in fanatics and cultists and Christ knows what all." He also refuses to consider Lacombe's take on their appearance—that it's a cosmically significant sociological event. He can't see past his own worldview.
Finally, Major Walsh's bosses aren't above administering a little punishment for those who don't follow the rules. It's nothing lethal, but Major Walsh goes ahead and decides to use E-Z-four, a sleep aerosol, to keep Roy, Jillian, and Larry from reaching the alien landing site. No big deal. "They'll sleep for six hours and wake up with a hell of a headache." In other words, a chemically-induced timeout.
"But who's Wild Bill?" we hear you ask.
That's what we'd like to know.
Lacombe and the commander definitely refer to the character as Major Walsh, and the actor playing said character is none other than Warren Kemmerling. So why at the final credits do we see Kemmerling billed for the character "Wild Bill"? We're guessing the character name in the credits comes from an earlier draft of the script, but in case you noticed the discrepancy, too, we wanted you to know it isn't just you.