John P. Wheeler III

  • "I was so sorry to hear of Jack's death. I remember him..."
    - Ellen Mahar
  • "Dear Katherine: I read with great sadness of the untimely..."
  • "Jack Wheeler was one of our brightest and best at Hampton..."
    - Nancy Harris Stacks
  • "Many people in Hampton High School who graduated with John..."
    - Karen Ashbrooke Linett
  • "May God continue to surround you with the love and comfort..."
    - Nicole Powell

WHEELER JOHN PARSONS WHEELER, III John Parsons Wheeler III, known to his friends and family as "Jack", died December 31, 2010 at the age of 66, after a life of public service. The cause of death was blunt force trauma inflicted by unknown assailants in Wilmington, Delaware not far from his home in New Castle, Delaware. At the time of his death, he was a consultant with the MITRE Corporation. Mr. Wheeler was best known for his Chairmanship of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which raised over eight million dollars in private donations and succeeded in getting Congress to pass a bill approving a site on the National Mall for Maya Lin's controversial design, now known simply as the Wall. Upon its completion and dedication on November 13, 1982, even those who had originally disliked the design recognized the stunning beauty of the reflective black granite and the healing power of the names. The Memorial came to occupy "remarkable place in America's collective heart," said Colin Powell. Mr. Wheeler had served in Vietnam as a member of the General Staff at Long Binh Post and was deeply affected by the loss of ten percent of his West Point class and the shabby treatment of those who survived to come home, according to Rick Atkinson whose book The Long Grey Line chronicled the lives of several members of the, class of '66 including Mr. Wheeler. Mr. Wheeler explored the affects of the war in his own book, Touched With Fire: The Future of the Vietnam Generation in 1984 and in The Wounded Generation: America After Vietnam to which he contributed. After his work on the Wall was finished, Mr. Wheeler took on other charitable causes. He was Chairman and CEO of MADD, 1983-8, founding CEO of the Vietnam Children's Fund, an advisor to Support Our Aging Religious, and to Victims of Pam Am 103 on building the Memorial Cairn, dedicated in Arlington Cemetery in 1995. He conceived of and effected the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection, a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History of objects left at the Wall. On a professional level, he was President and CEO of the Deafness Research Foundation, 1997-2001, and a Consultant to the JED Foundation and to Mercy Ships. He also worked in corporate restructuring and served as Special Counsel to the Chairman in the Macy's bankruptcy. Mr. Wheeler was happiest, however, in government, especially military, service. He held positions in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. From 1971-72 he was a Senior Planner for Amtrak. From 1978 - 1986, he was first General Counsel, then Special Counsel to the Chairman, and finally Secretary of the Securities and Exchange Commission, taking off one year during that time to set up the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program. From 2005 to 2008 he served as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force where his main focus was assisting the Secretary in standing up the Air Force Cyber Command, the first such Command in any of the services. Being concerned about the separation between the military and civilian worlds with an all-volunteer military, Mr. Wheeler agitated constantly for the return of ROTC to elite colleges, believing it imperative that the country's future political leaders have military experience. A prodigious e-mailer, Mr. Wheeler sent messages regularly to President Drew Faust and Alumni of Harvard. "For... many years, decades" he wrote on December 19, 2010, "Harvard and West Point together produced America's best warfighters. And Harvard and West Point graduates fought and led together. OW Holmes Jr for one. Elliot Richardson for another." Mr. Wheeler came by his affection for soldiers naturally. Both his father, John Parsons Wheeler, Jr., and his grandfather were cavalrymen and ancestor Fightin Joe Wheeler, was a hero first in the Confederacy and later in the Spanish American War. When Mr. Wheeler, the first of three children, was born in Laredo, Texas to Janet Conly Wheeler, his father was commanding a tank battalion at the Battle of the Bulge. Like most army children his childhood was spent at various army posts, including one in Feudenheim, Germany during the American occupation after World War II. He was a Distinguished Graduate of West Point ranking near the very top of his class. He later said that, in trying to decide whether to accept a National Merit Scholarship to Yale or the appointment to the USMA, he chose the latter because he wanted his life to be "useful." Before deployment to Vietnam, he graduated with distinction from Harvard Business School. During the downsizing of the military after the war ended, Captain Wheeler resigned from the Army and spent a year attending Virginia Theological Seminary, before deciding to go to Yale Law School, after which he clerked for Judge George E. MacKinnon at the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The breadth of Mr. Wheeler's education served him well even though he spent little time in private law practice and did not go into business. In 2008, upon his retirement from federal service after a total of 20 years "in harness", as he liked to say, he was presented with the Air Force Exceptional Civilian Service Award with Bronze Device. The citation ended with this sentence. The singularly distinctive accomplishments of Mr. Wheeler in the dedication of service to his Country reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force. Mr. Wheeler is survived by his wife Katherine Perrow Klyce, his mother Janet Conly Wheeler, his two children, John Parsons Wheeler IV and Katherine Marie Wheeler, his two step-children, Byrd Schas Chaskes and Meriwther Klyce Schas and sister Janet Wheeler Gilani. He was predeceased by his brother Robert Conly Wheeler. In March, 2011, just three months after Mr. Wheeler's death, Harvard formally announced its plan to welcome the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) program back to campus. Earlier this month Columbia University followed suit announcing its intention to reinstate the ROTC program. Mr. Wheeler will be interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. Contributions in his memory can be made to the West Point Fund for the John P. Wheeler III Endowment, West Point Association of Graduates, 698 Mills Road, West Point, New York 10996. This endowment was established to support the Sunday School Program at the West Point Chapel. Krienen-Griffith 302-994-9614

Published in The Washington Post on Apr. 27, 2011
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