William O. Wooldridge

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William O. Wooldridge
William Wooldridge.jpg
SMA William O. Wooldridge
Born(1922-08-12)August 12, 1922
Shawnee, Oklahoma
DiedMarch 5, 2012(2012-03-05) (aged 89)
El Paso, Texas
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1940–1972
RankArmy-USA-OR-09b.svg Sergeant Major of the Army
Battles/warsWorld War II
Vietnam War
AwardsSilver Star (2)
Legion of Merit (2)
Bronze Star
Purple Heart
Air Medal (6)
Croix de guerre (Belgium)

William O. Wooldridge (August 12, 1922 – March 5, 2012) was a United States Army soldier and the first Sergeant Major of the Army.

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.

Military career[edit]

William Wooldridge was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and grew up in Texas. He enlisted in the United States Army at Fort Worth,[1] 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[edit]

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[edit]

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.[2] 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.


Wooldridge died in El Paso, Texas, on March 5, 2012, at the age of 89.[3] He is buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery in Section A, Lot 56.[4]

Awards and decorations[edit]

CIB2.png Combat Infantryman Badge, 2 awards
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Silver Star with oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster
Bronze Star Medal
Silver oak leaf cluster
Air Medal with silver oak leaf cluster[5]
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Army Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster
Purple Heart
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
Bronze oak leaf cluster
National Defense Service Medal with oak leaf cluster
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
Bronze star
Bronze star
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.

  1. ^ https://www.army.mil/article/75153/first_sma_wooldridge_take_care_of_each_man_as_though_he_were_your_own_brother_he_is
  2. ^ [Almanac 1969 "Senate hearings: Servicemen' Clubs, Black-Marketeering Investigated"] Check |url= value (help). Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  3. ^ Daniel Borunda (5 March 2012). "1st sergeant major of the Army dies at Beaumont". El Paso Times. Archived from the original on 21 January 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  4. ^ http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/index.html
  5. ^ "1st SMA - William O. Wooldridge". Association of the United States Army. Retrieved October 8, 2015.

External links[edit]

Military offices
New office Sergeant Major of the Army
Succeeded by
George W. Dunaway