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2005 Distinguished Graduate Award


Throughout a lifetime marked by extraordinary achievements, General John A. Wickham, Jr. has exemplified the ideals of West Point. In a remarkable display of professional excellence and ethical leadership, he has provided selfless service to the United States Army, its soldiers, their families, and the Nation for over five decades. His tenure as Chief of Staff of the Army resulted in his being named by Army Times as one of the ten leaders who most changed the Army. He is truly a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Military Academy.

Upon graduation from West Point, John Wickham was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the 18th Infantry Regiment and, subsequently, the 6th Infantry Regiment. He served as a platoon leader and company executive officer in the 511th Airborne Infantry Regiment and was an aide-de-camp in the 37th and 10th Infantry Divisions. After receiving two master´s degrees from Harvard University, he returned to West Point to teach in the Department of Social Sciences from 1956-1960. Thereafter, he served as the operations officer of the 1st Battle Group, 5th Cavalry, in Korea, and later commanded the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam. In the latter position, he was seriously wounded during a North Vietnamese attack, but remained on the radio throughout the night, coordinating fire support to prevent his firebase from being overrun. For his heroic actions, he received the Purple Heart and Silver Star.

Following an overseas command of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, he returned to Vietnam as the Deputy Chief of Staff, MACV. Next, he commanded the 101st Airborne Division and following that, became Commander in Chief of the United Nations Command and of the United States Forces and Eighth Army, where, in 1979, General Wickham played a leading role after the assassination of President Park Chung Hee in diffusing public criticism of United States, both politically and militarily.

His staff assignments included Deputy Chief of Staff of MACV, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Four Party Joint Military Commission in Saigon, and Director of the Joint Staff. He also served as senior military assistant to Secretaries of Defense Schlesinger and Rumsfeld.

In 1983, President Reagan appointed John Wickham as Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and in that position he had an enormous positive impact on the Army. He focused much of his attention on five initiatives that resulted in lasting change. He implemented the Army Family Action Plan to ensure that families were receiving the care and support they deserved. He focused on leadership development and officer education, thus significantly improving the professionalism of the military force. He implemented the Joint Warfighting Doctrine that held the Soviet Union at bay during the Cold War and proved to be brilliantly successful in Operation Desert Storm. Finally, he oversaw the creation of the Aviation and Special Forces branches.

John Wickham also fostered technological advances, including lighter weapons systems, longer range howitzers, and improved avionics. His insight led to the integration of command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence systems, one of the early steps in the Army´s information-dominance effort. His emphasis on strategic deployability resulted in the creation of two additional light infantry divisions, and one of these, the 10th Mountain Division, has been instrumental in fighting the global war on terrorism. His emphasis on developing the Round Out Brigade led to a greater reliance on the Army Reserve in warfighting effectiveness. Finally, John Wickham´s care in the stewardship of Army resources resulted not only in monetary savings, but also in a wide range of improved benefits for soldiers.

General Wickham retired from the Army in 1987 after 37 years of active service. His awards include eight Distinguished Service Medals, two Silver Stars, four Legions of Merit, eleven Air Medals, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart. He continues to be an outstanding citizen, serving as a Town Council President in Sun City, Arizona and as an elder at his church. He served as Chairman of the Board for Honeywell Federal Systems and Nortel Federal Systems. His extensive background led him to be named the vice chairman for the United States-China National Committee, a body focusing on security issues. He has served as a member of the Secretary of Defense Policy Board, providing exceptional input on operational deployments and personnel issues. He is also an active member of the United Way in both Virginia and Tucson.

Through a lifetime of service to the Nation, this superb son of West Point has been a truly outstanding leader who has embodied the ideals, "Duty, Honor, Country." Accordingly, the Association of Graduates takes great pride in presenting the 2005 Distinguished Graduate Award to John A. Wickham, USMA Class of 1950.

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