"They shall be known by their deeds alone," the motto of the 4th Armored Division, was drawn from the words of its wartime leader who, more than any other man, forged that formidable fighting machine and led it gloriously in combat. This man has now passed on to take his place in the Long Gray Line.
If ever a military leader could write his own epitaph it should be drawn from these words that General Wood wrote in a letter to one of his former officers: “I had no ambition in the Army except to prepare myself and any unit I served with for its ultimate role—the defense of our country in battle. I shunned staff jobs and sought independent command, however small, in contact with the American soldier, professional or parttime, upon whom we counted for our security and the survival of our American System. To be with him and to direct him in combat was enough for me. Thus, the command of a fighting organization of all arms was my ultimate desire, and its performance under my command fulfilled all my hopes and desires as a soldier.”
In a career that spanned thirty-two years of military service and eight years with intergovernmental agencies, it truly may be said that John Shirley Wood lived the fullest of lives. For those close to him he was a “strong and gentle knight” who took deep interest in all things, and who saw and participated in many stirring events. To his intimates he brought good cheer, pleasure, and comfort of the enduring kind; to his men he gave strong personal example and courage; to all he came in contact with he brought an independence of mind, spirit, and deed. Such a legacy makes a suitable scroll to read as one looks back over his years. His record is one of Duty, Honor, and Service to Country. We are enriched for having known and loved him.
John Shirley Wood, known to his contemporaries at West Point as "P” Wood, was born at Monticello, Arkansas, on 11 January 1888. His parents, whom he admired completely and loved devotedly, were Justice Carrol David Wood of the Supreme Court of Arkansas and Reola Thompson Wood. Whatever of good there was in him he owed to them, and whatever he may have accomplished resulted from their inspiration and example. He developed early a love for the classics and a marked intellectual curiosity that destined him for youthful academic distinction and permitted him to enter the University of Arkansas at the age of sixteen. He graduated in 1907 after three years study, with a B.S. degree in chemistry. Many years later the same institution was to award him an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in recognition of his World War II accomplishments. It was here, as the star quarterback and captain of the University football team, that John S. Wood first made his mark as a consummate athlete. It was also here that his great zest for life was amply demonstrated by "certain experiments” that led to a series of minor explosions on the steps of the women’s dormitory and Wood’s consequent suspension from the university for part of his junior year. During this time he worked as a trainman in a Colorado silver mine and saved enough money to enter Stanford University in the fall of 1905. A combination of depleted funds, the San Francisco earthquake, and forgiveness from his own university (which needed a quarterback) brought him home to serve as an instructor in chemistry and to complete his studies. After graduation from the university in 1907, he served briefly as assistant state chemist prior to his entry into the United States Military Academy in 1908.
His career at West Point was marked by four years of honors in academics, military endeavor, and sports. The memories and friendships of his cadet days as a member of the Class of 1912 were cherished possessions throughout his life. He played four years on the Academy team and was named by Walter Camp for “All-America” honors. He also earned his “A” on the West Point wrestling and boxing teams. It was at the Academy that he earned the nickname “P,” the well known sobriquet for “professor,” as a result of his coaching his less fortunate classmates in preparation for their “writs.”
"P” Wood graduated 12th in his Class and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery Corps on 12 June 1912. He served at West Point until December 1912 as an instructor in chemistry and as end coach for the Academy team. He then moved briefly to Fort Monroe, Virginia, prior to commencing a tour of duty in January of 1913 at Fort Casey, Washington, where he remained until June 1916. He next served at the training camp at Monterey, California, until August 1916 when he returned to the Military Academy, again as an instructor in chemistry and as end coach of the Academy football team.
He was promoted to captain on 15 May 1917, was detailed to the Ordnance Department on 23 June 1917, anti assigned to Augusta Arsenal, Georgia. The following month he became Ordnance Officer of the 3d Division at Camp Greene, North Carolina. Less than a year later, on 18 December 1917, he was promoted to major. “P” Wood sailed for France in March 1918 with the 3d Division and participated in the operations of this division at Chateau Thierry from May to June of 1918. He was enrolled in the French staff school at Langres and subsequently graduated in September 1918. That same month he was transferred to the 90th Division staff and participated in the St. Mihiel offensive.
At Langres he served in company with such stalwarts as George Patton, Bill Simpson, and Sandy Patch. Studies were hard but life was not without its joys. These hardy souls earned a heady reputation amongst the townspeople of Langres by joining forces on one occasion with several British contemporaries in the late evening liberation of a wild boar. This hapless beast had been penned in a local butcher shop where it was to be summarily dispatched the next morning by a callous peasant who knew nothing of the joys and traditions of the hunt. Amongst cries of “Yoicks” and “View Hallo” our band of huntsmen pursued this noble sanglicr through the darkened streets of Langres, finally dispatching him with honor in a corner of the town square. The verdict of the citizenry was unanimous: "Commc its soul foils, Ira Allies" Upon his return to the United States in October 1918, “P" was ordered to Camp Travis, Texas, as Personnel Officer of the 18th Division. In February 1919, he was transferred to the Field Artillery and became Professor of Military Science and Tactics at the University of Wisconsin. Then came his assignment to the Command and General Staff School, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he completed the course as a distinguished graduate in June 1924. He was posted to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, as executive officer of the motorized artillery brigade and remained there until May 1927, when he returned to the United States to command the 16th Field Artillery battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. "P” was next sent to Paris to attend the people Superieure de Guerre, in July 1929. Following his graduation in August 1931, he returned to West Point as Assistant Commandant of Cadets. He next became Professor of Military Science and Tactics at Culver Military Academy, Culver, Indiana, in Septemher 1932, completing this duty in August 1937. “P” was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 1 August 1937, and assigned to command the 80th Field Artillery at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. He was next named chief of staff for General George Van Hom Mosley, Commanding General, Third Army, at Atlanta, Georgia, in September 1939. In November 1940 he was promoted to colonel and assigned as commanding officer, 1st Division artillery, Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont. From there he moved in April of 1941 to Fort Benning, to command the 2d Armored Division artillery under General Ceorge Patton. The following June found him assigned as chief of staff of the 1st Armored Corps, Fort Knox, Kentucky. After being promoted to brigadier general on 31 October 1941, "P” went to the 5th Armored Division at Camp Cook, California, as commander of CCA.
In May 1942, he was named commanding general of the 4th Armored Division, then at Pine Camp, New York. From the deep snows of the Canadian border to the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee, the California desert, the plains of Texas, and the downs of England, "P” Wood took his men, training them to react instinctively to any type combat situation and to work as one gregarious family. He gave orders to his field commanders verbally and in person to make sure that they were understood, and his commanders passed them on in the same manner. Radio code words, for instance, were not used. “P” Wood so mixed his units during the course of their training that every commander was able to recognize the voices of all other commanders over the radio. The basic hallmarks of the division, later proved in combat, were rapid flanking movement, deep penetration, and constant momentum-all coupled with violent execution employing fire and maneuver. When the division finally entered combat in France during August of 1944, it was ready—a fact soon made abundantly and painfully clear to the enemy.
The rest is history. Through Normandy, Brittany, and central France, "P” Wood led his division, spearheading Patton’s Third Army. Patton declared "there has never been another division like it," and the Germans dubbed Wood “Tiger Jack” and called his command the “elite 4th Armored Division.” Patton’s confidence and the German fears were rightly justified. By September 1944, the division had destroyed 400 enemy tanks, captured 15,000 prisoners, killed 5,000 Germans, knocked out 140 artillery pieces, destroyed 1,500 miscellaneous vehicles, and defeated elements of 18 German divisions. Recalling the memory of General Wood and the fierce pride he instilled in them, his men can now say, "Why men would leave their foxholes and crawl two or three hundred yards just to salute the General when he passed!” and again, “Loyalty with him was a two-way word, and in his everyday work he studiously practiced loyalty to those under his command as well as to those who commanded him.” Liddell Hart, the eminent British military historian, wrote: "John S. Wood [was] one of the most dynamic commanders of Armor in World War II, and the first in the allied armies to demonstrate in Europe the essence of the art and tempo of handling a mobile force."
His accomplishments were noted not only by his men and historians, but by appreciative governments as well. France awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Palm for his World War I service, and the Rosette of the Legion of Honor and a second Croix de Guerre with Palm for his World War II service. His battle decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Bronze Star Medal with cluster, and the Air Medal with cluster. He valued and wore these decorations as evidence of the achievements and the sacrifices of the men he had the honor to lead into combat.
In December 1944 "P” Wood returned to the United States and was assigned as Commanding General. Armored Replacement Center, Fort Knox, Kentucky. On retirement in 1946 he sought service abroad in the restoration and rehabilitation of war-torn lands and people. It was then that he joined the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees as Director of Field Operations in Germany and Austria. This organization became part of the International Refugee Organization in 1947. He was named Chief of Mission in Austria for the IRO from 1947 to the end of 1951 maintaining headquarters in Salzburg and Vienna. When IRO was discontinued, “P" joined the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency and served with it as Chief of Mission in Tokyo and in Korea. Later he served as its representative with the United Nations in Geneva until the end of 1953.
After returning to the United States he finally settled in Reno, Nevada, where he served as Civil Defense Director from 1957 to 1959. The Nevada country suited him perfectly, and he remained there, enjoying his home and his friends, playing tennis and squash racquets, and continuing his correspondence and contacts with people around the world. He read five languages easily, and rapidly followed events at home and abroad by close, daily perusal of our own and foreign papers and journals.
“P" was taken from us on 2 July 1966 by a sudden stroke. He was laid to rest with full military honors at West Point in the company of his loved ones and a distinguished assemblage of friends and fellow soldiers. Arch Arnold ably represented the Class of 1912.
We all mourn his passing. He loved life, its comedy, and its laughter. Beauty, and grace, and harmonious rhythm in every form meant much to him, and he hated notliing except meanness and cruelty. His friendships and loyalties were deep and abiding, and he could neither understand nor condone disloyalty.
This, then, is the story of one of a rare breed; the true and perfect soldier, the indomitable fighting man. This is the story of my father who is survived not only by his loved ones but by a great band of military men with whom he served in peace and war. He has gone to join the ranks of those that passed before him—brave men who gave the fullest measure of final devotion to their country.
This, the final formal accounting to the Long Gray Line of “P” Wood’s activities, began with his own urgent reminder to all military men. It is fitting, therefore, to terminate the General's life story, as William Cullen Bryant concluded his Thanatopsts, with the comforting words applicable to those who, like “P” Wood, lived with the reminder ever before them.
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber m the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.