In Remembrance of John P. Wheeler III

14 December, 1944 ~ 31 December, 2010
New York, NY, United States

True friends . . . face in the same direction, toward common projects, interests, goals.
- C. S. Lewis

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Memory by Fred Benson   Jul 21, 2011
My uncle, Haywood Benson served in the Vietnam War, and if it weren't for my uncle and Jack, we would have not won the Vietnam War. No matter what the mainstream media spun it (saying that the Vietnamese won the war), we won the war, and it was Jack Wheeler who helped us win. We lost an important man in the fight against the radical Muslims. Defeating Bin Laden was only the beginning, and the Navy Seals' killing of Osama would make Mr. Wheeler proud. Rest in peace, Mr. Wheeler.
Memory by Bruns Grayson   May 12, 2011
In the summer of 1969 I was 22 years old, a Captain in the Army, commanding a maintenance company in Long Binh, about thirty miles up the road from Saigon. I had gone into the Army straight out of high school –I was kicked out of a couple of them then tossed out of the house by an angry father so I enlisted in 1965 more or less to get away. I was in for a while and then applied for OCS; got to be 2nd Lieutenant in the Ordnance Corps in May of 1967 about a month before my 20th birthday.

I was a Captain because of the war. The Army promoted officers quickly as it built up troop strength. I arrived in Vietnam in July of 1968, spent eleven months, went home for a month then returned for another seven and the job of company commander. I planned to go home, get out and go to college. I started taking courses at night that I hoped would prepare me for going back to school. Long Binh was a huge logistics base; 50,000 or so men involved in supply, maintenance, transportation, medicine and administration. There were University of Maryland extension courses available from 8 to 10 at night in air-conditioned trailers. I took some history, some math and then signed up for a business course. It was supposed to be about organizational theory. The teacher was a Captain like me, a West Point graduate from the class of 1966 who had done a year of active duty and then gone to Harvard Business School. He finished there in June of 1969, had an odd interlude in California at Synanon and then came on to Vietnam. He was John Parsons Wheeler III, who, I was to learn, was the oldest son of an Army Colonel and West Point grad who had been a tank guy in Patton’s Army during World War II and of a mother for whom the phrase Steel Magnolia might have been coined.

I don’t remember any more exactly how Jack and I got started talking about things other than the course but it would have been hard not to do so. The fact was that he talked about whatever he felt like talking about and paid little attention to any of the course materials. The classroom was a launching pad for the considerable collection of ideas, arguments and viewpoints in Jack Wheeler’s head. He had, for example, gone to Synanon because he had heard that they were an alternative community organized around principles and methods that could transform human beings. He spent a month or six weeks or something like that at the place and decided that they might be on to an approach for making people happier and more productive. He had the zeal of a recent convert—an energetic, unqualified and contagious enthusiasm that I was to see spring to life again and again over the decades that followed.

Jack asked me what I was going to do when I got out and I told him that I wanted to go to college. He asked where and I said that if I could get into Cal Berkeley that would be great. He then asked me if I had taken the SAT’s and I said yes (in Vietnam). I had pretty high scores. After hearing them Jack announced that I should go to Harvard. When I asked why Harvard would take me he said that they wouldn’t have many who looked like me. When I was shocked at how high the fees were he explained about aid and loans. He understood both the process and psychology of admissions while I had no clue.

Over the next few months I became a Jack Wheeler project. I sent away for application materials to various colleges and labored through them as they arrived; no common app in those days so each differed somewhat but they covered the same general things. Jack was a constant adviser, editor and busybody. He had views about the content and tone of anything I wrote and was full of tactical advice about positioning myself with an admissions committee. Distance or some kind of confusion resulted in no application materials coming from Harvard for a long time. I had applied to Yale, Wesleyan and Trinity (all Jack picks as I had never seen any of the places I applied or even heard of the last two) with still no word from Harvard. I was getting nervous—by this time I was starting to hope that I might get in to one of these places—and Jack told me not to sweat it that we would simply make one up and send it in, that they were all the same.

And so we manufactured an application and sent it off to Nathan Pusey, then the President of Harvard, with a letter saying, in essence, that I didn’t meant to be bold but really hoped to be considered and thought that there must be some difficulty in the mail or something. Pusey replied in the kindest possible words, reassured me that I would be considered and said that he would be grateful if I would fill out the regular materials when they arrived. They did arrive and were quickly turned around.

During this whole time Jack was busy with other passions. He met Al Goldstein, a dentist who was opposed to the war and who had asked me to sign a petition against it while I was in the dental chair. I said no but mentioned the story to Jack who instantly wanted to meet Al. That happened at the Loon Foon Chinese restaurant on Long Binh. Jack’s West Point buddies Dick Radez and Art Mosley were there as well as couple of doctors or dentists who were buddies of Al’s and had signed his petition. There was a lively discussion of the war and its lack of merit. Dick and Art signed the petition as I recall but I would not and Jack wavered. In my case I thought that if I signed something like that it would be quite difficult to explain to the men in my company why they ought to follow the orders of an apostate.

Jack later spoke to the officer for whom he worked about the petition, a colonel who, quite predictably, used the word “treason” to describe signing such a thing. Jack was shocked. It was an instructive episode. All his life, Jack was guileless about people and their motives. He would simply not make the most ordinary calculations about likely positions or prejudices. He could be accordingly tactless and sometimes he needlessly put people off. His intensity and passion about whatever he was thinking about or working on could also cause others to be on their guard. He was the embodiment of putting his hand to what he essayed with all his might and he never quite realized the affect that such unbridled zeal has on people.

Those of us who knew him well were quite aware of his weaknesses. He was highly intelligent and determined but mercurial and quixotic. He had a tendency to paint in broad brush strokes and to use black and white as his colors. He would become single-minded on some subjects and projects and convince himself that a differing viewpoint meant bad will. Even more often, however, he would assume the best of someone—everyone really—and be shocked when ordinary selfishness , vanity and self-seeking came along to disappoint him (the Synanon people he admired so much turned out to be not merely hucksterish frauds but somewhat dangerous as well). He was almost entirely free of irony or detachment. Sometimes he would react not at all to a wise crack or an ironic remark; other times he would do a sort of mental double take, then break into a kind of manic giggle. Then you knew that he had paused in the headlong rush of ideas and words he was creating to hear the last thing you had said.
But on subjects that concentrated his attention he would listen intently, so much so that it suggested near physical pain as he worked to develop a view on the subject at hand. That was usually the prelude to an explosion of words and ideas. And once launched Jack was a force. He did not have a scientific turn of mind; his job, he felt, was not to identify the data or analysis that might invalidate his theory but rather to marshal the arguments that supported his case, to overwhelm any objections with the sheer volume and force of his words. At such times his voice would change, he would assume a declamatory tone. Years after I knew Jack I read about Queen Victoria complaining about Gladstone that, “He addresses me as if I were a public meeting.” I smiled and thought of my old friend.

I was a 22 year old and not as sophisticated or educated as Jack but even then I was in many ways more worldly than he was—in ways that do not reflect well on my character and do on his. I was better at glibness and superficial charm than Jack who was interested in persuading you, not in cultivating you. It became obvious to me very early on that he would get things done because he would work at them incessantly; he relied on his intellect and energy to overcome any obstacles that he might face.
I went home in February of 1970, applications pending, to spend a last few months left in the Army at Camp Drum in New York. Spring came and I got in everywhere. Jack had been writing me with yet more advice all the time and he was not quite sure that Harvard was the right place—said that it seemed to be a spot where they looked at the world “through the wrong end of a telescope.” That advice I ignored and accepted admission to Harvard for the class of 1974. I finally got myself there later that summer to see the spot for the first time.

But first I was home in California, newly discharged and kicking around doing not much. Jack rotated back to the states and I went out to Travis Air Force Base to meet his plane then took him to my parents’ house in Alameda. Mom cooked him roast beef and he got pie and ice cream to punctuate an All-American dinner. He mentioned the meal and the welcome home to me many times over the years, always to recall and praise the kindness of my parents, never more touchingly than when he wrote me after Mom died.

Jack would check in on me from time to time at Harvard. He was in the Army at the Pentagon and anxious to get out. The war, or the American part of it, was winding down and the Army reducing troop strength rapidly so that he was eventually able to get out a few years early. Anyway, something would bring him to Boston from time to time and we would get together. When I was sophomore he asked me what my goals were. I had no real answer other than wanting to be a junior. Jack said that I ought to set out to become a Rhodes Scholar. “What’s that?” I replied. He explained the honor to me in the same way that he had college applications and while I don’t think that I actually set it as a goal I did end up becoming one. And when it was time to apply Jack was once again an adviser and advocate who wrote a letter on my behalf.

It is the most difficult possible thing to imagine my life without Jack Wheeler in it. Lightning struck me and everything was radically different. For several years I was a Jack Wheeler project and if not exactly his Pygmalion something quite close to it. He set out to improve me and my condition and however successful he was with the first objective he was enormously successful with the second. I am indebted to him beyond expression and heartsick at his loss.

Years passed and our lives took us separate ways but we had moments of intersection: a summer after college when we were both in DC and Jack and Lisa newly married, the Vietnam Memorial, transition work for the Carter and Reagan administrations, occasional visits when Penny and I lived in Baltimore, calls out of the blue after a couple of years absence. Always Jack would have a person or project in mind. He spent his time relentlessly on others to the neglect of himself and sometimes of those closest to him. Duty, honor and country had been etched into him by his upbringing and education and the intransigent demands of those principles never left him. Nor did a powerful sense of loyalty to soldiers and devotion to their welfare. Anything or anybody uncaring about or disdainful of GI’s had an implacable enemy in Jack Wheeler.

He never lost any of his seemingly infinite capacity for passion and enthusiasm. Never developed moderation or tempered his tone of voice. He was waiting all his life without knowing it for the advent of email which allowed him to broadcast what was on his mind at the moment to all of his considerable body of friends, acquaintances, antagonists and those he had decided out of the blue needed to hear from him on some subject or another. I thought that I would be in the cc line of such emails for the rest of my life and I was alternately amused and annoyed that I was being enlisted without consent in one of Jack’s public disputes or projects.

But I never said a word to him about copying me and I never would have. I decided from the first moment that Jack Wheeler could cc me forever and that I would never complain. However immoderate his viewpoint, however much his passion and impatience caused discomfort, those same qualities had been exercised on my behalf. And besides that, Jack was always on the side of the angels. He wanted better things for others and he wanted them RIGHT NOW. I never saw a single instance of venality or even of personal ambition at the expense of another’s interest. Jack was a high achiever and wanted to get his way but always in service of an idea or a group or a person. When he called me it was always to enlist my aid on behalf of another. He never asked me to do something for him alone. I wish that he had.

I was blessed beyond reason or belief when I met him. I do not think about, cannot think about, the brutal and dreadful way that he died when I think about him. I think about a thousand different moments but mostly I think about us all those years ago, young and full of possibility, enthusiastic and innocent. Years have passed and I am not those things any more. It was Jack Wheeler’s great blessing and occasional curse that he never lost those qualities. He was never jaded, cynical or despairing. He could not be kept down and always believed that the next task at hand was the greatest. “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.
Memory by Rick Atkinson    May 8, 2011
I met Jack for the first time in the summer of 1981, a few weeks after we moved to Washington from Kansas City. He took me to lunch at the Metropolitan Club, and in his Jack way, managed in ninety minutes to perfectly frame the meandering newspaper story I was chasing about his West Point class. By doing that, he also framed the eventual book. Among the last converations I had with him--when ironically I was trying to get him to back off from a piece I was writing for National Geographic about Arlington cemetery--I told him, "Jack, I love you like a big brother." I'm glad I had the chance to tell him that.
Memory by John Donovan   May 1, 2011
Almost exactly two years ago, when my 28 year old son had been diagnosed with MS, and I posted a question if anyone knew something about that incurable disease, Jack was not only one of the people who responded with valuable information, but he personally called me from Washington, DC on his way home on the train to give me the name of the foremost authority on the disease in San Francisco. What an incredibly nice thing for him to do.

He has been in my prayers.
Memory by Jeff Rogers   May 1, 2011
Jack was the Best Man at our wedding. We shared a sandbox at Ft Riley in the mid-40's, and double-dated as teenagers. He and I and a few of you worked on the Pointer together. As zany as we could get, as cadets. He was my crew on the USMA sailing team for 4 years, and we raced competitively in the New York-New Jersey area for a year after graduation, when he was stationed at a Nike Base nearby. Won a few pewter cups, too. I visited him in Long Binh twice and tried to get him to turn in that stolen (sorry, long-term borrowed) jeep, or at least to repaint the bumper markings, to no avail. He never visited me in the sticks, but we did meet one time in Cam Ranh Bay. We did the plebe marchback together the first time a few years ago. We met cadet Kirsten Jenkins (Jim Jenkins' daughter) that day. He kept doing the plebe marchback every year, but I dropped out of that activity. I visited him at his house in New Castle several times, and he stayed with us in Hampton, VA several times. I stayed with them in his NYC condo as well. He attended the weddings of both my kids. I considered him one of my best friends. I actually considered joining him in the "Earth Corps" enterprise, but chickened out. I'm an engineer, not a sociologist. I knew of his many many enterprises -- MADD, the two Walls, the Deafness Research Foundation, the project to build schools in Vietnam, etc, etc, but am still amazed by the myriad little stories that keep popping up. The circumstances are all different, but there is one constant: he was helping someone who had a serious problem. He was a complex and sometimes strange guy, but there was never another quite like him.
Memory by Ralph Cruikshank    May 1, 2011
Many of us knew, talked with and even disagreed with Jack. But none among us could ever foresee what has happened. We live our lives doing good, being the best we can be, but never thinking where the end is. My thoughts, prayers, and tears go out to a friend, classmate and equal. GOD it is terrible that you chose to take one of us in our prime. May we remember the good times with Jack and hope that those who have taken him from us receive their just rewards. Jack we will always remember. Rest in Peace.
Memory by Art Shulcz   May 1, 2011
Jack's loss is more severe by the unexpected and tragic circumstances surrounding it; he was the last guy you would think would wind up murdered and discovered in a landfill.

King David expressed his understanding of how fragile our lives are: "Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. *** Each man's life is but a breath." Ps 39:4-5; 144:4.

May we treasure Jack's memory, and his contribution and input in our lives and our nation; pray for his family, and may we be also thankful God has given us breath.
Memory by William Bergman   May 1, 2011
The loss to our Class is just one more of the Good Guys, but the loss to the Country is enormous. Am I right? I could reverse the values in this sentence and it could maybe be more true.

What an incredibly productive patriot we lost; he did not hesitate to continue to contribute his talents for the greater good after leaving the Service, and considerable talents they were. Besides the Vietnam Memorial, didn't he also work to get our rail system out of the middle ages and get Amtrak going?
When I read the Forum, I'm amazed at the kind of things, and the many kind things to which he contributed his time and his leadership.
A superb sailor when teamed with Grog, aka our Jeff Rogers. Didn't they Beat Navy?

When I last saw Jack, strolling into NATO with our SecUSAF Mike Wynne, he was mobbed by folks who wanted his autograph on their copy of The Long Grey Line; I was surprised how many people at USNATO had read it, military and diplomats.
One of the few who could fairly criticize the French because he was one of the few to know and love the country and appreciate its people's sometimes odious ways; the most stalwart of Army veterans supporting the US Air Force's outrageous [from the perspective of a ground pounder] requirements and demands with tough reasoned realpolitik prose, while his more casual prose reached for and often surpassed the hilarious limits of polite satire.

When I first heard him, 1962, in the now renamed South Auditorium during Beast Barracks I thought he'd bring the wrath of Beast on us all.
Moral courage in the face of conformity and the ever awake Beast Detail: while we just prayed to survive until the next class, Jack dared to take the Chaplain to task for his slight modification of our Cadet Prayer. It is our prayer, and not his. You have no right but to leave it the way the author wrote it!
Already arguing like a lawyer. Never mind that decades later USMA caved into doctoring up a more PC version.

I bet you were still saying the old version.
Jack, rest in peace, requiescat in pace; you gave much, you deserved better.
Well done.
Memory by Dan Coonan   May 1, 2011
I am still in paralyzed disbelief at the news of Jack's death. He was one of the few who became the persona of our class, from the Wall to the "The Long Gray Line" to his steadfast commentary regarding air support of the foot soldier.

At the Delaware mini a few years back, Jack spent a long time in conversation with my father, a WWII B-17 pilot. Dad was impressed. The last time I saw Jack was here in San Antonio at a memorial dinner for the friends and family of Steve Singer. He and Mike Wynne walked away from activities at an Air Force Airpower symposium to be with us at Steve's event.

As a First Regiment guy, I had little contact with Jack. I wish I had known him better.

Go with God, Jack. You've served your country well.
Memory by Doug Thornbloom   May 1, 2011
Jack was my roommate plebe year. Always a character, his sense of humor got us both in trouble frequently- Believe me he had no easy plebe year, but he never let it get to him. Smart as a whip, star man, and he'd do anything for you. We'll all miss him for many reasons.
Memory by Doug Laipple   May 1, 2011
Jack Wheeler was the epitome of the words "magnanimous, patriotic, tireless, and dedicated", and he was just as much so in December of 2010 as he was in June of 1962 when we first met him. I will
remember him as being vibrant and fully aware of everything, as he was on 23 December, just as always.
Memory by Mike Brown   May 1, 2011
I'm sure that I'm not alone in my feeling of deep sorrow and shock at this news. I had great respect for Jack's intellect and for his deep faith. He and I corresponded fairly frequently off line. I regarded him as a close friend. I looked forward to introducing him to my wife. We have lost a treasure. Our nation has lost a treasure. I pray that the circumstances of his death are quickly resolved.

RIP and God Bless you, good friend,
Memory by Floyd Culhane, USMA '66   May 1, 2011
Huge loss for our class and our country.

I sought his advice on cochlear implants for my grandson and learned how much Jack had done to promote implants. My grandson's doctor spoke of Jack as a hero.

Jack was special.
Memory by Jim and Diane Connell   May 1, 2011
This is a terrible shock.
Jack was a keystone in our class and one who could be relied on for help and advice at any time.
When my wife was undergoing some confusing and scary medical tests for a then unknown problem, Jack stepped right in and passed her name on to several prayer groups and contacted me daily until we had a resolution.
I know my wife, Diane, felt she had a very special relationship with him , although she never had the opportunity to meet him. She loved his sense of humor and wit ,as expressed in this forum, and she looked forward to seeing his comments and erudite critiques.

Jack, Truly well done. Be thou at peace.
Memory by Wes Clark, USMA '66   May 1, 2011
Jack was incredibly committed to the military profession. He loved West Point, the country, and, yes, the Army. Especially the Army. And he did much for many of us. I worked with him and Matt Harrison on some of the initial ideas for a memorial at West Point. Then he teamed up with Jan Scruggs on the Washington Vietnam Veterans memorial.

He was just seized with the project. I recall his tough argument with Jim Webb about the Memorial in DC concerning Maya Lin's design, and Jim's demand for a more heroic representation. I sat through a tough breakfast meeting in August of '82 between the two of them trying to work through that issue. Later, Jack befriended my son as he was entering the workforce. I'm sure lot of us have stories we'll be swapping about Jack for a long time.
Memory by Wilson V. Kone, USMA '66   May 1, 2011
Jack was a friend to all veterans. To many he was even a closer friend. He will always be remembered for his hard work in support of veterans. I was fortunate to have several opportunities too interact with Jack both as a classmate and in his role in government. He always made time for me to express my concerns about activities in the government, or to merely exchange thoughts about life while relaxing after dinner.

Jack will be greatly missed, but will always be in our hearts.
Memory by John Swensson, USMA '66   May 1, 2011
Excerpts from a speech I delivered on 15 January, 2011, to the Silicon Valley Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution :

Jack Wheeler would have been 66 today, though today is not his birthday. But Jack Wheeler was found in a landfill, his body having been dumped there by a garbage truck. Security Video tapes show him wandering in a daze, holding his shoe and saying that he had been robbed of his briefcase and he was cold. The police initially said it was murder, but it is also possible that he was struck on the head causing brain damage or may have had a stroke. We do not know and it does not matter.

Jack Wheeler was a giant. He was a plebe in my squad and lived across the hall from me at West Point. Smarter than I, he earned the distinction of Star Man, someone who was in the top 5% academically.

He was a former chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, former senior planner for Amtrak (1971-1972), held various positions at the Securities and Exchange Commission (1978-1986), former chief executive and CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, consultant to the Mitre Corporation (2009-death), member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a presidential aide to the Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations, as well as other positions in the US military, the US government, and US corporations. He also wrote the book TOUCHED WITH FIRE: THE FUTURE OF THE VIETNAM GENERATION. The book about Jack is Rick Atkinson's THE LONG GREY LINE: the American Journey of the West Point Class of 1966

After Jan Scruggs had raised $144.50 for the Vietnam Veteran's memorial, Jack asked to join him, and they founded the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Fund. They soon recruited a young ex-Marine Captain and author by the name of Jim Webb, the current Senator from Virginia. Jack Wheeler made the Memorial happen. He led the fund raising, the fights, the racial objections of those who maintained that an Asian woman and Yale student Maya Lin should not have been the designer of a memorial to American boys. Martin Luther King would have recognized the objections for what they were. That wonderful Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, whose detractors initially called it "the black gash of shame" happened because of Jack Wheeler. Before he died Jack was working on a day of reconciliation when across the country citizens would work to return ROTC to the college campuses. He was a dreamer who lived his dreams and achieved much. We do not know the causes of his death, but we do know the contributions of his wonderful life.

Jack . . . did great things and contributed to our own humanity. [He was a] Son of the American Revolution, not biologically, but in the spirit of [his] accomplishments.

Jack, we will miss your spirit, and we thank you for your many contributions. And we will get ROTC back on the campuses.

Your friend, John Swensson, USMA'65
Memory by Marcia Landau, Burkland Farm, Virginia   Apr 30, 2011
On a bright spring morning full of the fragrance of new mown grass and early May flowers we buried my friend Jack at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

To the world he was the builder of the Vietnam veterans memorial at West Point, and the Wall, a veterans advocate, a brilliant man with impeccable credentials - West Point, Harvard, Yale, a military advisor, champion of worthy causes, servant to three presidents, author, celebrity.

In my life he was the man with the lantern -- my friend, my boss, my mentor, at times my adversary, my pain in the neck. For exactly 30 years we laughed together, cried together, screamed at each other, hugged each other, loved and hated each other. Perhaps even understood each other. If I look up complicated in the dictionary I would find him.

When Ronald Reagan was elected president I was in California on hiatus from my job with a Washington lobbyist and determined to manage a rock and roll band. A call from a friend brought me back to Washington and a job offer that sparked something in my heart. In those days the image of a Vietnam veteran was from a widely touted PBS special about veteran Frank who claimed he had become a drug addict during his time as a soldier in Vietnam. And of course the Rambo movies. We don't remember that now.

In that context my friend said: Come help us network Vietnam veterans; we'll find the guys who aren't getting the press - the ones who just came back and went on with their lives. We want to, you know, change the image to one of respect for service.

So I asked my father if he would hire a Vietnam veteran to work in his factory. No he told me, aren't they unstable?

With that I returned to Washington and signed on to a young Reagan initiative, the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program (VVLP). I was directed to the 6th floor and walked into an office to meet the program director. He had his back to me leaning over one of what seemed to be 50 cardboard boxes all over the place stuffed with papers. There was a desk piled with papers, a chair piled with papers and a table piled with papers. I coughed. Jack turned and we introduced ourselves. Mad scientist I thought.

In the 3 years we worked together he never unpacked the boxes, the piles of paper never got filed and he knew exactly and immediately where to find what needed at any given time.

We were joined by two deputy directors - Ed Timperlake, a Marine fighter pilot and Bill Jayne, the Marine grunt who had made it through Khe San and morphed into an unflappable curmudgeon at a young age. They stood in Jack's office one day. Bill said to Ed you see that table? Jack is going to make it fly. That nobody in the room had any doubt about it made us all wonder what we had gotten into. And for the next 3 decades through one impossible challenge after another we helped or watched Jack make those tables fly.

And fly they did. At the same time he was working all day with the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program he was working through the nights as Chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, building the Wall on the Mall. He had a wife and small twins. His daughter
had been born with a dangerous malfunction. She could not be left alone. Jack would get home at 2, 3 or 4 in the morning and doze in a chair by her bedside attuned always to her breathing, making sure she was breathing. This was long before the days of high tech anything. We watched Jack barely sleep and continue to work at his breakneck pace. And expect the same from us. He was passionate, driven and committed beyond all reason.

The VVLP established successful programs in 50 cities. We taught our volunteer veterans how to use the media and achieved what we had set out to do. The Wall was built and dedicated and part of the program was the reading of the names at the National Cathedral - through days and nights until every name of the lost and missing had been spoken aloud. (These days, as during the 9-11 ceremonies, the reading of the names has been integrated into the national rituals by which we mourn our dead. Few will remember this was one of Jack's brilliant gifts to all of us.)

So the VVLP was done and the Wall was completed and one by one we moved on. Every now and then Jack would call me. I have a project he would say. And I would say yes before I even knew what it was. He was the visionary, the dreamer. I was logistics, The one who knew how to move the pieces of physical reality into finished sculptures. But Jack was the one who saw the creations long before they were real. All accomplishment starts as a dream. He dreamed in brighter colors than the rest of us and he took no prisoners.

He made more than a few powerful enemies in Washington. Several times he disappeared for months at a time. Sometimes to a monastery when he needed to chill out and find some peace. Now and then the mail brought me a box of Gethsemane made bourbon fudge. But Jack always returned. He had to. He could never rest for long. He took his allegiance to God and country seriously. It was who he was. He was a patriot.

A few years went by and suddenly he called me. I have a project he said. He called it the Vietnam Children's Fund. We worked to get the embargo lifted. Jack made that table fly. We made the first post-war money wire transfer from New York to Hanoi. It took 4 months. (Now it takes a day or less.) And then we began to build elementary schools in Vietnam with Lew Puller and Kieu Chinh and Terry Anderson and Ed Timperlake. Lew died and Jack redoubled the commitment. As always the day to day fell to me. He managed the big picture. And as we gathered at Arlington to bury Jack, on the far side of the world in a poor village outside Danang, the Vietnam Children's Fund dedicated our (Jack's) 45th school.

Jack taught me more than I can easily remember. Use exclamation points when you write he said. For emphasis. Gets their attention. Always sign letters with a blue felt tipped pen. Sends a message of strength he said. You never want a stupid enemy, too unpredictable.

We had one of our periodic falling outs a few years ago. I knew he continued on his missions and his work would never be done. I knew, like so many of those we ran with, he would die in the saddle and want it that way.

I am proud to know, as his daughter Katie told me, that he considered me a weapon in his arsenal.

I am grateful to you, Jack, for holding the lantern so high.

Memory by Melissa Hathaway   Apr 29, 2011
It is with my deepest respect and admiration of Jack Wheeler that I dedicate this memory and poem.

Years ago, in December 1986, when I first visited Washington, D.C. and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I was incredibly struck by the monument's simple beauty, its powerful meaning, and how deeply it touched me emotionally. I wrote a poem to capture my thoughts and feelings and I tucked it away with other special papers that I keep to this day.

I met Jack in 2007, when he was Special Assistant to Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne and I was leading the development of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. Jack was a big proponent of the mission and my efforts and he always provided me and the team help behind the scenes and moral support on the toughest days. I stayed in touch with Jack through the years--as we shared a common passion--a deep commitment to security of our nation. Of course, I didn't know Jack at that time that I wrote the poem and only after his death did I learn of his involvement in the Wall's creation.

I am so proud to have served shoulder to shoulder with Jack. I will miss his endless energy, his ideas, and his friendship.

May Jack rest in peace knowing that we will carry his passion for this country in our daily lives - and - may his family find comfort in these shared memories.

The Wall, by Melissa Hathaway

A moonlight stroll through memorial park
Unseen tear drops in the dark
Shadows of Lincoln cast
on the wall of names whose memories last.

A hand to hold, shoulder to cry
A stroll in the moonlight, the sadness of why.

Happiness crushed,
from ashes to dust,
I ask my country why
They elude the reply.

One by one etched in stone
we look for peace, brought them home;
flowers, cards, our hands on names
silently mourn yet place no blame.

Candles, moon and silvery light
We recognize the families' plight.
Let each man know that he stands proud 
cloaked in the honor of Lincoln's shroud.
Memory by John Zierdt Jr USMA 1966   Apr 27, 2011
Thank you for the information. My wife and I will be there as will our son, Michael who is currently a Plebe at West Point. 

Jack joined Gina & me at West Point on R-Day last June for Michael's swearing in. We stood together by a central area sallyport for several hours watching the festivities and reminiscing about our experiences. Jack then joined us as we attended Catholic Mass to pray for Michael and his classmates. 

Jack returned to West Point the Sunday evening before the Plebe Hike. He somehow found Michael at Lake Frederick talked to him and took several pictures. I believe Jack planned to march back with Michael but you or another of Jack's daughters had a medical problem in NYC so he had to depart unexpectedly. 

Michael was very touched by Jack's attention and has been working with West Point to be allowed to attend the funeral. Michael is on the Army golf team and playing at Annapolis in the Patriot League Championships this weekend so we will need to leave immediately after the burial and cannot attend the Ft Myer Reception. We hope to be at Mike Wynn's tomorrow night. 

Just wanted you to know who the strange Cadet is you see at your Ceremony. Please let your family know and say hi to Michael if you can. 

We are so sorry about Jack and cannot imagine how hard it is on the family. We are pleased to be able to make it up from our home in Alabama to pay our respects. The USMA Class of 1966, of which I am a member, really missed him, his support and his wit. 

Regards, John Zierdt Jr

Memory by Lorenz Textor   Apr 11, 2011
I met Jack during my time at Fordham through my classmate and friend Meriwether. Having just moved to New York, Jack, Kathy, and Meriwether became like a second family for me. I will never forget how they always made me feel welcome at their house. I often think back at those Thanksgiving dinners or at the vacation spent in Delaware, where I had the chance to appreciate Jack's humor, knowledge, and storytelling. Last but not least, I am very thankful for his support with my job search.

I was very sorry to hear about Jack's death, and I still struggle with accepting how cruel a place the world can be. Though, I'm truly grateful that I met Jack, and I will remember him as a helpful, incredibly smart, humorous, and warm person.
Memory by Brian Ashbaugh   Apr 8, 2011
Jack's death profoundly touched my daughter, Kirsten, as well as me. Last year when Kirsten, a student at American University, was looking for an internship in DC, I sent her resume out on the West Point Class of 1966 Forum (I am a classmate) asking our DC classmates for assistance. Jack stepped up and arranged an interview with the folks who operate Second Line Defense ( Jack, Mike Wynn, Kirsten and the couple who operate SLD met over lunch where Kirsten was interviewed and hired as an intern. She now has a paid position with SLD. Jack submitted articles to be published on the SLD website on a regular basis and Kirsten would format, check links, and Photoshop the photos. Later last spring, Kirsten had to write a paper for her English class on the Vietnam Memorial. Needless to say, Jack met with her at the Memorial and provided insight as only Jack could.

Jack was one of a kind. Generous with his time and always willing to give his assistance more than anyone I know. Our class has lost a gem. Kirsten and I will miss him dearly.
Memory by Russ Grant - USMA '66   Apr 4, 2011
I first knew Jack when we were in jr. high school in Arlington, VA, Kenmore Jr. High. We became fast friends; on many a Saturday I could be found at his house – or he at mine – for lunch, always a sit down affair and always with his parents. Come to find out, our fathers had served together in the 57th Tank Bn. in Sandhoven, Germany, in the mid-50s. Their house in Arlington was located at the foot of a large hill down which in normal times ran a street; in snow times, however, it was the best sledding hill in Arlington which made their house a very popular place.

Through the Wheelers I first visited Washington National Cathedral. In those days, it was completed through one of two transepts, but was still overwhelming. Years later as a cadet in the Cadet Chapel Choir we would sing there once a year (around Veterans Day?) and I ultimately concluded that if God had a house, this is where He would live.

I moved away from Arlington after my sophomore year in high school and really didn’t think I would see Jack again. Lo and behold! We were plebes at West Point together. When we could we would get together. H was in a different – much looser – regiment than me and had to exercise the maximum of discretion to visit me in my regiment, a place not known for its tolerance of plebes. There is a picture that Bill Hughes – he was also with us in Arlington – sent me of he, me and Jack at Jack Dempsey's Restaurant in NYC. We were plebes and were in the City on some football weekend.

It was Jack who first introduced me to the Episcopal Church. And then the Cadet Chapel service, then based on the Book of Common Prayer, really pulled at my heart strings and I became confirmed in the Church my junior (“Cow”) year. A large part of this I attribute to Jack.

Of about 5 or 6 classmates invited to be in my wedding to Janice Lockley in November of 1966, only Jack could make it. He was a groomsman and told me later that he had barely resisted saying to me the old airborne command to “Stand in the door!” when my bride-to-be arrived at her appointed position in the wedding ceremony. Classic Jack! For reasons I never understood, we grew apart after than and I only saw him at class reunions. Whenever I had his address he was on my Christmas card list but I rarely received a reply.

And now, other than in memory, he is lost. His death has affected me more than that of any other classmate. He was probably the smartest person I have ever known with the most vivid imagination – and good humor! I extend my deepest sympathies to his family.
Memory by Anna Power   Apr 2, 2011
I first met Jack when he visited England with his daughter, Kate. They very kindly visited us as we were friends of Jack’s wife, Kathy, and took us out for dinner. Jack’s love for all his family was to prove a very strong, consistent theme throughout the years that I knew Jack. I frequently had occasion to notice that he was a very compassionate, affectionate, and warm person. When my Mother and I visited Jack and Kathy, Jack very thoughtfully arranged a tour of the Whitehouse for us which was a very exciting and wonderful experience. He then took us for lunch at his Club and he even extremely generously arranged for us to stay in an amazing hotel in Washington. During our visit we were very privileged as Jack gave us a personal tour of the War Memorials including the very moving Vietnam War Memorial. I wish I could turn the clock back now and I would have found out more about it before I visited so I would have known more about it in advance. Jack literally planned for my Mother and me a trip of a life time. I was extremely grateful to Jack for his kindness to my Mother and I. Jack was a very good and decent man and he changed my life for the better.

I can see that a lot of people have written some very profound comments on this site which have been very moving so I do hope what I am about to write does not seem trivial, because, actually, to me, it is very significant. Sometimes, I can have a tendancy to have little arguments and debates with people. The time I was honoured to spend with Jack was always very intense time because it was always during holidays with Jack and his family and I know from experience with other families that intense time during holidays can be risk times for disagreements. But I can 100% say that in all the intense time I spent with Jack, he was always, always the most pleasant, agreeable, lovely company – he was literally a complete joy to be with. Every single moment was always full of friendliness, warmth, and harmony. I believe that for Jack to have achieved this with me, is a great triumph of Jack’s and a testament to his truly good nature! I also always remember Jack as brilliantly presented, always dazzlingly clean and beautifully dressed. I always felt so relaxed and comfortable in his benign presence.

My Father also very much enjoyed his conversations with Jack and discussing politics with Jack. Jack was an extremely intelligent and interesting conversationalist. My Mother deeply appreciated Jack so thoughtfully taking us to the ballet in New York and also Radio City.

Jack was very special person and I wish I had told him.

I am deeply sorry and I am also very grateful to Jack for his great kindness and thoughtfulness in giving lovely experiences to me and to my family.
Memory by Paul Davis   Mar 31, 2011
On Wednesday, March 30, at 11 a.m., veterans from across the state celebrated the first Vietnam Veterans Day in Delaware at the Kent Co. Memorial Park on S. Little Creek Road, Dover.

They also honored the memory of the late John P. Wheeler and hosted his widow Katherine Klyce, who was welcomed by veterans, women’s groups, and elected officials.

John Wheeler, an attorney and Vietnam veteran, chaired the Vietnam Wall Memorial Fund in Washington, having been one of its greatest advocates, in addition to serving in the administrations of three US presidents.

“By any standard he led an outstanding life,” said Delaware Vietnam Veterans of America President Paul Davis.

“But his most relevant accomplishment to us and following veterans was his vision and work in making The Wall a reality despite ongoing opposition. That internationally-known and most-visited memorial not only underscored the reality of the sacrifice in our conflict, but also set a tone of respect for the losses in all wars.”

“We took his passing personally and are honored to have John’s widow, Ms. Klyce, join us at the ceremony,” said Joe Startt, Kent. Co., Chapter 850 president. A special brick will be placed in front of the memorial stone.
Memory by Bob Paulson   Mar 27, 2011
While Jack and I were not in frequent communication, he has been a very special and enduring element of my life for more than forty years. I remember our fist night together as new students and roommates at HBS. Jack's intense work ethic was quite apparent to me, as another Type A student. We worked late that night preparing to debate our first case called Hesper Silver, concerning the marketing of silverware. What on earth did two young Army officers know about selling silverware to housewives? We sat next to each other in class the next morning, as we did for the entire first year, hoping not to be called upon. When another student "aced the case," Jack turned to me and said, "It's going to be a really long year." Decades later he mailed me a copy of that same case document, signed for me by the professor who taught our class that morning. Jack had arranged it. To this day, that case hangs on the wall in my Office. I will always admire Jack's passion for and commitment to national service. I have often quoted his views from his book "Touched With Fire" about the profound implications for our nation when our elected leaders no longer share the bonding experience of military service. I an grateful that I, to a much smaller degree than Jack, can still be counted among those who have chosen the honor and duty of military service to our nation. Periodically Jack would contact me after long periods of silence to ask for my help for something--the Vietnam Memorial, MADD, Ivy League ROTC, or some other equally worthy cause. Like so many others, I could never say no to Jack. His genuine zeal for each chosen cause was too compelling to ignore. Today I a proud that he "made" me contribute. Our nation has benefitted greatly from his unyielding dedication.
Memory by Tarang   Mar 22, 2011
I met Jack the morning after the Eastern seaboard blackout of 2003. Meriwether so kindly sheltered a houseful of us overnight in her home because none of us had any way to get home with the trains and buses all out.
When I met Jack the next morning, I was a little intimidated by his soldierly bearing. At first. Then he started talking and I saw how very soft spoken he was. So kind. And most importantly, so very proud of his kid: None of us had any idea that after making us all so comfortable, Meriwether herself had slept on the floor. And he wanted us to know what a wonderful, amazing person she is. I will always remember his face as he talked about her, so obviously full of pride and love.
My thoughts and prayers are with Jack's family.
Memory by Anna Duerr   Mar 18, 2011
Mothers Against Drunk Driving is saddened to hear of John Wheeler’s death. John was a tremendous public servant and an important part of MADD’s early years, during which great strides were made to change our culture’s view of drunk driving. He was integral to MADD’s fundraising efforts, and served passionately as a volunteer and an executive committee member, in addition to serving as chairman of the board and CEO from 1985 to 1987. Our thoughts are with his loved ones during this difficult time.
Memory by Garry Loysen   Mar 13, 2011
I was a member of the West Point Class of 1966 and as such a classmate of Jack’s. While we were not close personal friends, our paths crossed from time to time during our four years at the Academy. I will always remember Jack as being one of the most erudite individuals I have ever met. I can still remember his deep voice expounding upon area of academia, some aspect of cadet life. I will always remember aspiring to the rarefied academic heights to which he rose but which were beyond my grasp. I am stunned and saddened by the tragedy which has befallen him – he has been taken from us far too soon. My world, our world is a lesser place without him. I will forever be honored to be a member of the Class of 1966 and the Long Gray Line and as such be able to say that I was a classmate of John P. Wheeler III. My wife Diane joins me saluting Jack and sending our prayers to his family.
Garry Loysen
USMA ‘66
Memory by Albert Nahas   Mar 12, 2011
I was preparing a copy of my book Warriors Remembered for Jack when I heard of this terrible tragedy. When writing the book, Jack was extremely helpful in sharing his story of the memorials at West Point and The Wall in Washington, D.C. and also in recommending others to me for their stories. I really could not thank him enough for his contributions to Warriors Remembered, but more importantly for all that he did over a lifetime for Vietnam veterans. His pioneering effort in building these two memorials set an example for many others throughout the country.

Jack's loss is felt by every Vietnam veteran and every member of the Long Grey Line. Jack will be missed by all who knew him and by all whose cause he championed. He was truly our nation's servant.

Jack and his family are in our prayers.

Albert Nahas
USMA '67
Memory by Gabe Perez-Giz   Mar 11, 2011
I always looked forward to my time with Jack, and in particular to our conversations. He was always magnanimous with me and held me in what I felt was much higher esteem than was warranted. Over the years, that meant a great deal to me. I was myself greatly upset by his death and will miss him dearly.
Memory by John Eckert   Mar 9, 2011
Jack and I shared a special bond in that our fathers were classmates in the West Point Class of January 1943. And, of course, we are and will forever be classmates in the WP Class of 1966. Jack was thoughtful enough to invite me to his farewell ceremony at the Pentagon. Despite the demands on his time at that important event, he managed to spend more than a few moments with mne in a separate room to reconnect and reminisce. This was but a small moment in Jack's glorious history but it is a memory that I will have forever.
Thank you for the opportunity to let you know how much Jack meant to me.
John Eckert
Ellicott City, Maryland
Memory by Ray Haller   Mar 9, 2011
I would like to extend my condolences to Jack's family on his tragic death. It was my pleasure and honor to work with Jack these past two years, and I found him to be a truly unique individual. Always passionate and insightful, Jack helped me in countless ways to reach out across the community to increase awareness of the many issues and opportunities associated with improving cyber defense capabilities.

While the greatest loss is certainly to his family, the nation also has lost a great patriot and a man whose unflagging passion for public service and justice helped make a real difference. It is inspiring to think back to the controversy surrounding the Vietnam Memorial and recognize the amazing vision and dedication that Jack demonstrated to make it happen. He was a tireless worker whose zeal and enthusiasm set an example for all of us. He will be missed greatly.

My thoughts and prayers are with Jack's family, at this most difficult time.
Memory by John Sloan   Mar 7, 2011
I knew Jack when he was a cadet and I taught history and organized a fine arts group to attend events in NYC. He was a leader-always interested in learning more about ballet and classical music and fine art museums. I much enjoyed our many associations. Recently, I had been in email contact with him about his concerns over the Association of Graduates Distinguished Graduate Award Program. He was always eager to try to right wrongs and advance the cause of justice.
Memory by Jack Gatesy   Mar 7, 2011
I was a classmate of Jack's at West Point and while I knew of him at the Academy, we were not close--different Companies and activities. He moved in different circles given his academics. I was more in the middle of the Class.

Two years ago, I took a job in DC and had to move there from IL. It was a short term position as the CFO of a not-for-profit, the Project on National Security Reform. I reached out to my DC classmates for help and Jack was the one of the few who offered to help with an offer to give me the lay of the land.

He graciously took time off to show my wife, Janette, and me the Northern Virginia area and the Pentagon. I had never been in the Pentagon. Jack took us into Mike Wynne's office and gave us a tour we could have never gotten otherwise. Afterwards, we had dinner at Joe Theismann's in Alexandria and had a chance to get to know each other better. During this time with Jack, we learned a lot about him. He was very proud of his work on the Viet Nam Memorial, his support for Mike and had a strong dedication to the troops on the line.

Jack was a great person and gave us a wonderful introduction to DC. It was a treat to have spent those five hours with him. Janette and I were very saddened to hear about what happened to him. We thought an awful lot of him even though we only spent a short time with him.

Jack and his family are in our prayers.

Jack and Janette Gatesy
Memory by Paul Davis   Mar 7, 2011
The tragic loss of Jack has been felt far beyond his family, particularly to his brother and sister Vietnam veterans. His outstanding career alone made him a giant. But in leading the committee that constructed the Vietnam Wall, he brought attention not only to those who made the ultimate sacrifice but also to their families.

Words cannot express the dept of gratitude we hold in our hearts for his efforts on this internationally known memorial. The Wall eloquently signified and legitimized the sacrifice and heartache of an unpopular war. I truly believe that structure, which many of us have visited multiple times with muted voices, set the tone of respect for the warriors of subsequent conflicts. Its effect has spanned generations of Americans and personifies the VVA's national Motto of "Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another."

For that we are grateful to John and you, Kathy, and in all your family who supported his noble efforts.

Paul Davis
President, Delaware State Council
Vietnam Veterans of America
Memory by Kip Becker   Mar 5, 2011
Jack enlisted me for the VVLP and I have been grateful to him since the first day. Grateful to have known John and grateful for the experiences. He had more than a wish to enrich the lives of others it was a personal drive. He leaves me and all of us "VVLPers" proud to have been his fried and sadden that we have lost him. Thank you John for the wall you created. Someone of merit once said "walls make great neighbors". Your wall made that great neighborhood for all Vietnam Vets. We Thank you.
Memory by Meriwether Schas   Mar 5, 2011
A Poem for Jack

Richard Lovelace

Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.

True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such
As thou too shalt adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more.
Memory by Bobby Marko   Feb 27, 2011
The following is a letter I sent to Jack on 12/21/10. I feel so lucky I got to tell him how much he meant to me.


As you know, I never really had a cogent idea of what the word "father" meant in terms of a solid, practical thing. I understood the concept, but divorced from reality, the concept never really attached to anything concrete.

These are things I think you deserve to hear. You are a singular and rare person, Jack. Everything I have ever known or seen about you tells me that you are governed in all the things you do by two powerful tides: 1) your profound sense of duty to your country and its people; and 2) your love and devotion to your family.

These are both selfless and deeply personal duties and I see them in everything you do. I admire and respect you more than you can know, and for exactly those things. Every minute of your waking life seems, to me, structured toward those two ends. And that, by me, is as powerful a template of what it means to be a MAN and a FATHER as I could ever aspire to. As MW and I set out to make a family and a life of our own, I look to you, Jack, more than anyone else in my life, as a model.

This is meant less as a compliment and more as a note of thanks. And as an acknowledgment of a deeply true thing that you deserve to hear. Your birthday is/was a proper venue for it, but, in my way, I'm more comfortable setting these things to paper (electronic or otherwise) than at a brunch table. I love you very much Jack, and feel a profound sense of privilege and security in calling you family.


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