William O. Wooldridge
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|William O. Wooldridge|
SMA William O. Wooldridge
August 12, 1922|
|Died||March 5, 2012
El Paso, Texas
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1940–1972|
|Rank||Sergeant Major of the Army|
|Battles/wars||World War II
|Awards||Silver Star (2)
Legion of Merit (2)
Air Medal (6)
Croix de guerre (Belgium)
Wooldridge served on active duty from 1940 to 1972. His military career spanned two wars and 14 campaigns, during which he was twice decorated for gallantry in action. He was sworn in as the first Sergeant Major of the Army on July 11, 1966 by Chief of Staff of the Army, General Harold K. Johnson. Wooldridge's appointment was recorded in the Congressional Record of the 89th Congress Vol. 112, No. 110.
William Wooldridge was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and grew up in Texas. He enlisted in the United States Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas on 11 November 1940. Wooldridge served first with Company F, 23rd Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. In December 1941 he was assigned to detached service with the British forces in Iceland. The following year, he was released from detached service and assigned to Company K, 26th Regiment, 1st Infantry Division when it arrived in England. He served with his division throughout World War II in an infantry rifle company, being promoted through the ranks to first sergeant. Wooldridge landed on D-Day as a squad leader (sergeant).
He was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry at the battle for Aachen, Germany in October 1944. He also received a Purple Heart for injuries in this battle. He was awarded a second Silver Star for gallantry during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, while serving as a platoon sergeant.
Wooldridge returned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas in May 1945. In October he was assigned to the Pacific Theater. After attending the 1st 3 Graders Course, Oahu Officer Troop and Staff School, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, he was assigned to Headquarters, Eighth United States Army, South Korea as a member of the occupation forces.
In July 1948 he was assigned as a platoon sergeant in the 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, at Bamberg, Germany. He was promoted to first sergeant in Company K, 26th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, in 1950.
In May 1954 Wooldridge returned to the United States as first sergeant of Company G, 3rd Infantry, at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. He rejoined the 1st Infantry Division as first Sergeant of Company D, 26th Infantry at Fort Riley, Kansas in December 1955. On 20 December 1956, he was appointed sergeant major of the 3rd Battalion, 26th Regiment. He left Fort Riley as sergeant major of the 2nd Battle Group, 28th Infantry Regiment, for duty in Germany in December 1958, and became the 24th Infantry Division's sergeant major in March 1963.
Wooldridge returned to the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley as sergeant major of the 1st Brigade in February 1965. In June 1965 he was selected by the division commander, Major General Jonathan O. Seaman, as the Division Sergeant Major. The next month he deployed with the division's advance party to the Republic of Vietnam. He served as division sergeant major until his selection as the first Sergeant Major of the Army in July 1966.
Sergeant major of the army
Wooldridge was chosen for this important new position from thousands of candidates. He served as Sergeant Major of the Army until September 1968. He is credited with improving the status of the non-commissioned officers by convening the first Major Command Sergeants Major Conference and recommending the Noncommissioned Officer Candidate Course, the Sergeants Major Academy, the Command Sergeant Major program, and a standardized NCO promotion process. Wooldridge and General Johnson worked together as an effective professional team. He came to revere Johnson, calling him "the finest officer I ever served with in my life".
After serving as Sergeant Major of the Army, Wooldridge returned to Vietnam as sergeant major of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MAC-V). He is the only SMA to return to field duty after serving in the top enlisted position.
Controversy and PX scandal
In 1969, while Command Sergeant Major of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Wooldridge was accused in a congressional inquiry of fraud and corruption related to the military club system, amounting to more than $150 million annually. This resulted in Wooldridge being tried in the court of public opinion. In 1973 the Department of Justice and Wooldridge reached an agreement whereby Wooldridge pleaded guilty to accepting stock equity from a corporation engaged in providing merchandise to the non-commissioned officers' clubs in Vietnam. The government did not find any wrongdoing on his part while serving as the Sergeant Major of the Army. "Although the investigation tarnished the final years of Wooldridge's career, it could not diminish his heroic wartime exploits or his arduous labors on behalf of enlisted soldiers and non-commissioned officers as the first Sergeant Major of the Army."
He was earlier awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal, but it was withdrawn following this episode. In Robin Moore's novel Khaki Mafia, a fictional character in a criminal cartel is based on Wooldridge in Vietnam.
Awards and decorations
|Combat Infantryman Badge, 2 awards|
|Silver Star with oak leaf cluster|
|Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster|
|Bronze Star Medal|
|Air Medal with silver oak leaf cluster|
|Army Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster|
|Army Good Conduct Medal (ten awards)|
|American Defense Service Medal|
|European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Medal|
|Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal|
|World War II Victory Medal|
|Army of Occupation Medal with Germany and Japan clasps|
|National Defense Service Medal with oak leaf cluster|
|Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal|
|Vietnam Service Medal with two service stars|
|Belgian Croix de guerre with palm|
|Vietnam Campaign Medal|
The Sergeants Major of the Army, Daniel K. Elder, Center of Military History, United States Army Washington, D.C. 2003. Page 67.
- "Senate hearings: Servicemen' Clubs, Black-Marketeering Investigated". http://library.cqpress.com. CQ Almanac 1969. Retrieved 21 March 2015. External link in
- Daniel Borunda (5 March 2012). "1st sergeant major of the Army dies at Beaumont". El Paso Times. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
- "1st SMA - William O. Wooldridge". Association of the United States Army. Retrieved October 8, 2015.
- Wooldridge's Army career on the Association of the Army site
- The short film STAFF FILM REPORT 66-29A (1966) is available for free download at the Internet Archive
- The short film STAFF FILM REPORT 66-30A (1966) is available for free download at the Internet Archive
|Sergeant Major of the Army
George W. Dunaway