William Faulkner Amsden was born on 8 September 1884, in Washington, DC, son of Lieutenant Charles Heath Amsden, USN, and Mrs. (Elizabeth Faulkner) Amsden. Appointed to the US Naval Academy from Kansas in 1902, he was graduated in 1907. He was first assigned to USS Minnesota, and had duty in 1908 and 1909 in USS Severn, in connection with the Rifle Team. After continuous sea duty in USS Milwaukee, USS Vicksburg, USS Hartford and USS Castine, he returned to the Naval Academy, and later was sent to Wakefield, Massachusetts, for further duty with the Rifle Team.
After sea duty in 1912 as Assistant to the Senior Engineer Officer of USS Ohio, he was on duty in 1913 and 1914 at the Naval Training Station, Newport, Rhode Island, where he had additional duty as Inspector-Instructor, Naval Militia, State of Rhode Island, for Newport, East Providence and Bristol. In 1915 he was assigned to the Asiatic Station, and in 1916 assumed command of USS Barry, torpedo boat operating with the Asiatic Fleet.
As a Lieutenant Commander, during World War I in 1918, he served with destroyers based on Queenstown, Ireland, and commanded USS Balch and fitted out and commanded USS Laub. For distinguished service during the war period he was awarded the Navy Cross with the following citation:
"For exceptionally distinguished service in the line of his profession in command of the USS BARRY in making the trip of 11,000 miles from Manila, P.I., to Gibraltar, under very unfavorable weather conditions, the South West Monsoon being then at its height, and arriving in the Mediterranean with his vessel in readiness for immediate participation in the operations against enemy submarines in the Mediterranean and later in the Atlantic, also as Commanding Officer of the USS BALCH."
In 1919, after reporting to the Receiving Ship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he was placed in charge of the Navy Recruiting Station, Burlington, Vermont. He later had the same assignment, as Officer in Charge, at Manchester, New Hampshire, and in each case was designated a Special Disbursing Agent. He had successive command of USS Taylor, USS Graham, and USS Billingsley from 1921 to 1923, after which he attended the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. In 1924 he became Executive Officer of the Naval Training Station, Newport, Rhode Island.
After commanding USS Smith Thompson, with additional duty as Commanding Officer of Division 38, Destroyer Squadrons, Battle Fleet, he returned to the Naval War College for further instruction, in 1928. The next year he reported for duty in the Office of the Chief Coordinator, Washington, DC, with additional duty as Coordinator, First Area, Boston, Massachusetts. Duty as Executive Officer of USS New York preceded instruction at the Army War College, Washington, DC, which was followed in 1934 by duty in the Office of Naval Operations, Navy Department, Washington, DC.
Captain Amsden was in charge of fitting out USS Quincy at the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation, Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1935, and commanded that vessel from her commissioning, in June 1936, and during the evacuation of American Nationals from Spain during that Civil War. In 1937 he was ordered to duty as Captain of the Navy Yard, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and assumed command of Destroyer Squadron 4, on 13 June 1940. He was appointed Director of Naval Reserve, Ninth Naval District, 5 March 1941, and during his tour of duty at Great Lakes,
Illinois, was also District Personnel Officer for the Ninth Naval District.
Early in World War II, Captain Amsden had convoy duty in the South Pacific, leaving San Francisco in March 1942 with 20,000 men under command of General Patch for the Caledonian Islands, then occupied by the Free French. Captain John Jack London and Captain Amsden joined convoys to form the first contingent to arrive in any islands of the South Pacific outside of Australia. On 1 February 1943 he assumed duty as Commanding Officer of USS Hunter, officially known as the US Naval Training School (Women's Reserve), Bronx, New York, and continued in command of the Nation's largest WAVE school throughout the war period. He was Commanding Officer of the US Naval Training Station, Newport, Rhode Island, for a brief period before being relieved of active duty pending his transfer to the Retired List of the Navy on 1 April 1946.
In addition to the Navy Cross, Captain Amsden had the Victory Medal, Destroyer Clasp (USS Balch); the Second Nicaraguan Campaign Medal (USS Smith Thompson); the American Defense Service Medal; the American Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal. Also for World War II service, he was awarded a Letter of Commendation, with authorization to wear the Commendation Ribbon, by the Secretary of the Navy for "exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States as Commanding Officer of the Naval Training School (Women's Reserve), Bronx, New York, New York, from February 1943 to August 1945."