John Shirley Wood, Jr. was born on 23 Feb 1920 in Madison, WI, to a military family. His father (USMA 1912), whose name Jack also bore, commanded the 4th Armored Division in World War II, arguably one of the best U.S. combat divisions. His mother, Marguerite Little Wood, grew up on Walnut Grove cotton plantation near Greenville, MS. His older brother, Carroll ’37 commanded a 90-mm tank battalion against the Japanese in the Philippines in 1945. Jack attended Culver Military Academy, 1934—37, before entering West Point.
All this military background, when added to an ebullient personality, created a man of vast enthusiasm for life in general, and military life in particular. At West Point, this bubbling energy led to two years of polo, the wrestling squad, and, for contrast, the 100th Nite Show and cheerleading. His love of competition made his assignment to the Field Artillery only a way station on his path to greater challenges in more daring fields. The Office of Strategic Services, predecessor of Central Intelligence Agency, called, and Jack applied.
Jack was one of the rare ones who survived the tough tests, both physical and mental, to become an OSS parachutist and to enter France on D-Day to start organizing, training, and operating resistance groups. As luck would have it, Jack worked in the Brittany area, where the 4th Armored Division of his father, “Tiger Jack,” was operating. But, as France became liberated, Jack worked with the Belgian Secret Army Headquarters in Brussels. After the fall of Germany, Jack was responsible for countersabotage in the U.S. Zone of Occupation. He had truly an unusual record, and one rewarded by a Bronze Star, the French Legion d’Honneur, two awards of the Croix de Guerre avec Palme, and the rare Medaille de la Resistance.
Jack remained in Europe for several years after the war. He had spent three years as a child in the French school system and was bilingual as a result. His OSS experience not only renewed his proficiency in the French language but also helped him develop a French persona which he took on when he spoke or interpreted. He married Georgette Benoit of Dijon, whom he had met while she was a member of the French Resistance. They had one son, John Shirley Wood III.
When NATO was formed and the military headquarters for Europe, Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe, came into existence in France, Jack was called to be senior aide to GEN Gruenther, Ike’s Chief of Staff, who would himself become the third Supreme Commander in Europe. When he moved up, Jack was retained as his senior aide for another year. His knowledge of France and the French was invaluable.
By 1954, when he returned to the U.S., Jack had spent most of the decade in Europe and France with his French wife Georgette and their son John III. Sadly, the marriage did not last. Their son remained in France while Jack was deeply involved in Southeast Asian counter-insurgency.
The rest of the 1950s saw Jack with an airborne battalion command. After that, he had a key post in the Army General Staff, followed by the Marine Corps Senior School at Quantico, and then three years of service in Laos. His French ability helped him gain influence there, and he became personal advisor to General Phoumi, the Defense Minister. Jack was awarded the Legion of Merit for his work in Laos. From Laos he moved to Hawaii as staff officer and then chief of the Unconventional Warfare section of CINCPAC Headquarters.
In 1964, Jack left Hawaii for the Army War College with his wife, Cecily, a Stanford graduate who was the Command Headquarters librarian. With her calm and cool demeanor, she made a wonderful contrast to Jack, and one whose steadiness of support modified his swings of enthusiasm while encouraging his projects. In 1965, Jack reported to Ft. Bragg, where he commanded the 82d Airborne Artillery and then served as the XVIII Airborne Corps chief of staff. Jack moved to the Army Materiel Command for his final three years of active service, retiring with another Legion of Merit.
For the next 20 years, Jack continued his fast pace by forming his own consulting company, Security Arms Company. He had a long relationship with Heckler & Koch and with MECAR of Belgium. Despite a horrific schedule, he always had time for a classmate, West Point Class activities, and his beloved grandchildren, Marie-Charlotte and Benjamin.
In 1990, Jack closed the SACO office, and he and Cecily moved to California, where they settled in Air Force Village West in Riverside. Here, his energy found a new outlet as mentor to the officers and men of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at Ft. Irwin. He honored the service of his dad by semiannually sponsoring “Tiger Jack” awards to outstanding commanders and NCOs of the regiment. He also provided black stallions for the mounted Honor Guard of Ft. Irwin’s National Training Center.
Sadly, the Center has lost its champion. On 8 Jul 2004, John S. Wood, Jr. left us unexpectedly. He was a noble and dedicated member of the Long Gray Line and the Class of January 1943.
Jack is survived by his widow Cecily, his sister Shirley Merriweather Wood, his son and daughter-in-law, John and Caroline Wood, and two grandchildren, Marie-Charlotte and Benjamin Wood.
—WAK and family