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Sgt. Major William O. Wooldridge : The First Sergeant Major of the Army

Discussion in 'WWII Obituaries' started by Biak, Mar 14, 2012.

  1. Biak

    Biak Adjutant Patron  

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    FORT BLISS, Texas (March 13, 2012) -- Hundreds gathered at the East Auditorium of the United States Sergeants Major Academy to pay homage to and celebrate the life of the first sergeant major of the army, William O. Wooldridge, at his memorial service today.

    "In our lives there was always music, laughter and celebration," said Patty Wooldridge during her remarks on her late husband.

    This funeral service was no different than that. There was music with several hymns sung. There was laughter, as many found humor in stories of remembrance of the first sergeant major of the Army. And there was celebration of the life he lived and his many accomplishments throughout his more than 30 years of military service.

    Wooldridge was born August 12, 1922, in Shawnee, Okla., but considered himself a Texan since he grew up on a farm in Brown County, Texas. At age 18, Nov. 11, 1940, he raised his right hand to serve after being turned away two years prior. He started off as a private and enjoyed an Army career which spanned three wars and 14 campaigns, during which he was twice decorated for gallantry in action and was adorned with numerous other decorations.

    His early assignments included detached service with British Forces in Iceland, rifleman and squad leadership with 1st Infantry Division in Europe as he participated in the North Africa and Sicily Campaigns and the D-Day landings June 6, 1944. He received two Silver Star awards for service during World War II, one for the battle for the fortress city of Aachen, Germany and another during the Battle of the Bulge, which he fought while wounded. He also earned the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during this time.

    Wooldridge was first promoted to first sergeant with Headquarters, Eighth U.S. Army, Seoul, Korea. His other first sergeant assignments were K Company, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, in Germany, G Co. of 3rd Infantry (the Old Guard) and 3rd Battalion, 26th Inf. Regt., where he also served as sergeant major. After two tours in Germany holding sergeant major positions in the 24th Infantry Division, he returned to 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan., as sergeant major of the 1st Brigade, then onto division sergeant major and was deployed to Vietnam in 1965.

    From a pool of 4,700, he was selected and appointed sergeant major of the Army July 11, 1966, and served until his term ended in 1968. He set the pace for how SMAs conduct themselves and acted as the "eyes and ears" for the chief of staff, visiting Soldiers on installations and combat zones. He chronicled his war experiences for Soldiers' reference in an article, "So You're Headed for Combat: How to Get Ready and What to Expect," published in the January 1968 Army Digest.

    "His ideas and his concepts are what we have here today," said current Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III. "His vision is what established the academy. He was about the people, taking care of Soldiers, quality of life, family programs and noncommissioned officer education"

    "We all follow his legacy," continued Chandler.

    Wooldridge died March 5 from a lung infection at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, Texas, with his wife by his side. He was 89 years old.

    "One of God's greatest blessings bestowed upon me was my husband, William O. Wooldridge," said Patty, beginning her memories of Wooldridge. Through stories and anecdotes, she gave personality to a stream of photographs on display at the East Auditorium.

    Chandler spoke of his first run-ins with the late command sergeant major.

    "When I first met him, he told me I needed a haircut," he said. "It was humiliating, but I learned a valuable lesson: never be too full of yourself."

    It wasn't until Chandler was appointed commandant of the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy that Wooldridge said he had seen the happiest moment of his life. The groundwork laid in 1966 to instill trust in the noncommissioned officer had finally come to pass in 2009. The commandant is no longer a commissioned officer's position.

    Years after retirement, Wooldridge supported the Army and the SMAs that followed him by attending events and inviting them to his home. The 13th Sergeant Major of the Army, Kenneth O. Preston, was one of them. Preston said Wooldridge personally congratulated him upon his election and he visited with him whenever he came to El Paso.

    Choked up, Preston told guests at the memorial, "I made a promise to him: That our Army will not fail and that our Soldiers would remain the centerpiece of our formation."

    "He loved Soldiers," said Chandler. "Even when he was sick, he was worried about that thing he loved so much -- the Army and its Soldiers."

    Steeped in military tradition, his memorial was followed by the internment at Fort Bliss National Cemetery. The casket was brought in on a caisson pulled by horses and then carried by a host of command sergeants major. With that, the American flag was lifted and folded, taps was played, tears were shed and the coffin, holding our nation's first, was left in its final resting place.

    Wooldridge is survived by his wife Patty and three children.

    In his honor, the USASMA commandant's house will now be named The Wooldridge House, as was declared by Fort Bliss and 1st Armored Division commander, Maj. Gen. Dana J. H. Pittard.
     
    Clementine, rkline56 and 693FA like this.
  2. 693FA

    693FA Member

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    Rest in Peace Sgt. Major:S!
     
  3. muscogeemike

    muscogeemike Member

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    Do we just ignore that he was forced to resign in disgrace and admitted to taking bribes from NCO/EM club suppliers?

    And that, despite this, after retirement both he and his wife were paid “consulting fees” by various groups for years?

    While stationed at the US Army Sergeants Major Academy I dared to bring this subject up (the Academy was one of the groups paying them) - and suffered for it.
     
  4. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    I am using Wiki in this instance only because I don't have time to do the research:

    I think we can honor his service and recognize that he did make some mistakes.
     
  5. muscogeemike

    muscogeemike Member

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    I got this from another site:
    Actually there was evidence of wrongdoing. Wooldridge was engaged in a conspiracy that began when Wooldridge was Command Sergeant Major of the 24th Infantry Division in Ausburg and continued when he became Command Sergeant Major of the 1st Infantry Division at Di An, Sergeant Major of the United States Army, and in his subsequent assignment as Sergeant Major of MACV.

    In those positions he used his influence to arrange the assignment of co-conspirators into the military club system and used his influence to impose restraint on Army investigators who sought to investigate wrongdoing in the club and mess system.

    The co-conspirators in this scheme were Wooldridge, Sgt Narvaez Hatcher, William Higdon, Seymour Lazar, Theodore Bass, John Nelson and William Bagby.

    When called to testify before the Senate Subcommittee investigating the allegations, all declined to testify relying on their 5th amendment right against self incrimination.

    Subsequently, in February 1973 Wooldridge and his co-conspirators were convicted in federal court after pleading guilty, part of the plea bargain required that all defendants testify truthfully before the Senate Subcommittee.

    During his tenure as Sergeant Major of the Army, Wooldridge was involved in the smuggling of a number of cases of liquor into the United States aboard General Abrams aircraft at Hickam. The Army investigation was curtailed by Provost Marshal Major General Turner. Turner also prevented the CID from reviewing investigative files compiled during Wooldridge's tour of duty in Ausburg.

    During his testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on May 8, 1973, Wooldridge admitted that while SGM of the Army he received over $11,000 in kickbacks from Lazar. Lazar testified that the payment was for past favorable assignments, protection, and future anticipated favors.

    Wooldridge testified that he was directly involved in covering up illegal activities carried out by Lazar and his assistant Sgt Myers. In September 1967, when Wooldridge was SGM of the Army, Lazar and Myers were arrested in Vietnam for black market currency violations. Wooldridge testified that he contacted the 1st Division staff judge advocate and arranged for the charges to be dismissed.

    The investigation also disclosed that Wooldridge, Hatcher, Higdon, and Lazar set up a company named Maradem to sell supplies to the military club system in Vietnam. Wooldridge was still SGM of the Army at the time. Maradem in fact did sell to the military clubs and overinvoiced, paid kickbacks to custodians and also charged transportation fees - even though transportation of commodities was actually provided at no expense by the military.

    Wooldridge returned to Vietnam in 1968 as Command Sergeant Major MACV - he testified that he used his influence to strengthen Maradem's position and he was fully aware that the company was paying kickbacks to club custodians amounting to 5 or 10 percent of purchases.

    Higdon alone had a Swiss Bank account with over $300,000 dollars in it. Wooldridge testified as to ownership of a Swiss account with a balance of $6,000.

    Some few years ago - I requested my military pay records,so that I could pay into my federal retirement and receive credit.

    During my two years in the Army from 66-68 - I earned about $2,400.00.

    Woodridge did retire from the service and said this about his DD-214 - "Well, let me just say in my own behalf, that if the Army and gone ahead - on my statement of service, which you get when you retire. It is called a DD-214, they refused to characterize my service, which should have said "Honorable", but they put on there "To be determined".

    Source: Deposition of William O Wooldridge, Los Angeles Ca 3-29-1973, and Senate Subcommittee Hearing May 8, 1973
    This subject is a “dead horse” and I don’t want to whip it anymore. His record speaks for itself and, I guess, over rides his indiscretions. To be honest the Army club system, after SMA Wooldridge, was never the same - it seemed to be better during his time. But isn’t that what people say about crime bosses too?

    I know that I was loudly booed for my opinion of his conduct when I stated the contradiction during ethics, integrity and morels discussions at the Sgt‘s Maj. Academy.

    But - if past record means a soldier is excused from current sins, what about SSG Robert Bales (the guy who just murdered those Afghanis)? He was on his 4[SUP]th[/SUP] (I believe) combat tour, how much is he excused from
     
  6. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    Mike, I don't think that this forum is the proper place for a debate of this sort. I do encourage you to start a thread in an more appropriate forum section if you would like to pursue the discussion further (i.e. WWII Today or WWII General).
     
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  7. Spitfire_XIV

    Spitfire_XIV Member

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    Rest In Peace Sgt. Maj. Wooldridge!
     

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