Americans

John C. Woods

John C. Woods, Master Sergeant and U. S. Army hangman, was born in Wichita, Kansas on June 5, 1911.  Prior to his induction in the Army on August 30, 1943, he lived in Eureka, Kansas; he was married with no children.  After his parents separated, Woods attended high school for one year, before dropping out.  In 1933, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, but was dishonorably discharged on September 27, 1933 after being AWOL for six days and refusing to work.  At his induction, he was listed as having blue eyes, brown hair with a ruddy complexion, standing 5’4½” tall and weighing 130 pounds.  He reported to basic training on September 19, 1943; in early 1944, he deployed on a troopship to England and was assigned to FFRD #4.  On March 30, 1944, he was assigned to Company B of the 37th Engineer Combat Battalion in the 5th Engineer Special Brigade.  Morning reports for that unit do not indicate that Woods was ever absent from the command in the first six months; he therefore likely took part in the Normandy Invasion, where Company B invaded Omaha Beach, losing 4 KIA, 15 WIA and 3 MIA in just the first day.

Woods left Company B on October 3, 1944 for duty in the Normandy Base Section.  He was attached to the 2913th Disciplinary Training Center in 1944; orders in December 1944 show him assigned to the Provost Marshal Section in the Headquarters of the Brittany Base Section.  Woods was formally assigned to the 2913th Disciplinary Training Center on February 12, 1945; on May 7, 1945, he was assigned to the Headquarters of the Normandy Base Section, but was attached back to the 2913th for duty.

However, unknown to the Army, there was a dark secret about John C. Woods.  On December 3, 1929, John Woods joined the United States Navy.  He reported to the west coast.  After initial training, he received an assignment for the U.S.S. Saratoga.  Within months, Woods deserted.  Authorities apprehended him in Colorado and returned him to California, where he received a General Court-Martial.  After the conviction, a Navy medical officer recommended that a medical board examine Woods.  This happened on April 23, 1930.  The report following the examination read:

“This patient, though not intellectually inferior, gives a history of repeatedly running counter to authority both before and since enlistment.  Stigmata of degeneration are present and the patient frequently bites his fingernails.  He has a benign tumor of the soft palate for which he refuses operation.  His commanding officer and division officers state that he shows inaptitude and does not respond to instruction.  He is obviously poor service material.  This man has had less than five months service.  His disability is considered to be an inherent defect for which the service is in no way responsible.  [He] is not considered a menace to himself or others.”

The report also provided a diagnosis for John Woods – Constitutional Psychopathic Inferiority without Psychosis.  The Navy then discharged him.

On September 3, 1945, Master Sergeant Woods was released from attachment and assigned to the Headquarters CHANOR Base Section.  During 1944 and 1945, Master Sergeant Woods hanged about thirty U.S. soldiers, who had been sentenced to death.  After the war, he hanged dozens of Nazi war criminals at the Landsberg Military Prisoner, often in conjunction with Johann Reichhart – who had executed thousands of condemned persons during the Third Reich.  Woods gained international fame in October 1946, as the official hangman for the International Military Tribunal at Nürnberg. Woods executed ten senior German military and civilian officials previously convicted of egregious crimes against humanity, crimes against peace and war crimes – the condemned included Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Colonel General Alfred Jodl, former head of the SS Ernst Kaltenbrunner, former Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Fritz Sauckel and Arthur Seyss-Inquart.  Post-execution photos indicate that the trap door mechanism was flawed and that several of the condemned hit the door with their face as they plummeted downward.  During his supposed 15-year career as a hangman, he reportedly executed 347 men, but this is undoubtedly a large exaggeration as Woods was a heavy drinker and self-aggrandizer.  An 11-year search of military records indicates that it is far more likely that Woods had a 2-year career and hanged 60-100 men.

Dual gallows at Landsberg Military Prison, May 1946.  Johann Reichhart hanged the condemned on the right gallows.  Master Sergeant John C. Woods used the left gallows.

Master Sergeant Woods was accidentally electrocuted on July 21, 1950 on Eniwetok Atoll, while attempting to repair an engineer lighting set (not while constructing an electric chair, which is part of his myth.  Another anecdote from Europe after his death was that German scientists on Eniwetok as part of Operation Paperclip murdered Woods and made it look like an accident.)

He was survived by his wife.

John C. Woods with wife in 1946; this photo and several others of Woods in The Fifth Field were graciously supplied by the Associated Press archives

Woods is buried in the modest city cemetery in Toronto, Kansas, a small town 60 miles east of Wichita.  John C. Woods received no individual military awards during his career for his service as a hangman.

Grave stone for Master Sergeant John C. Woods

John C. Woods2016-07-26T21:49:47-06:00

David Petraeus

David Howell “Dave” Petraeus, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and former Commander, Central Command (CENTCOM), was born at Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York on November 7, 1952.  He graduated from the United States Military Academy (ranking 39 of 833) with a Bachelor of Science degree and a commission as an Infantry officer, on June 5, 1974.

In his early career, Petraeus served in the 509th Airborne Battalion Combat Team at Vicenza, Italy and the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia. After serving as the aide-de-camp to Army Chief of Staff Carl Vuono, Lieutenant Colonel Petraeus commanded the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault.)  He almost died in 1991, when he was struck in the chest by an errant M-16 rifle bullet on a training exercise. He later commanded the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division.  Petraeus subsequently broke his pelvis, during a hard landing on a parachute jump, but again recovered and commanded the 101st in Iraq.  In July 2004, he was promoted to lieutenant general and selected to command the Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq.

Dave Petraeus was the General George C. Marshall Award winner as the top graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in 1983.  He later received a Ph.D. degree in International Relations in 1987 from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, which led to an assignment as Assistant Professor of International Relations at the United States Military Academy.

After several years in Iraq, General Petraeus concluded that a risky “Surge Strategy” was perhaps the only way to bring Iraq out of its semi-civil war status.  In January 2007, he was selected to command the Multi-National Force – Iraq.  On October 31, 2008, David Petraeus assumed command of the U.S. Central Command.  This assignment was interrupted in June 2010, when he was selected by the President to become the Commander, U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.

General David Petraeus retired from the Army on August 31, 2011.  In his remarks at David Petraeus’ Army retirement, Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, compared Petraeus to Ulysses S. Grant, John J. Pershing, George Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower as one of the great battle captains of American history.

David Petraeus was sworn in as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency on September 6, 2011.  However, on November 7, 2012, CIA Director Petraeus submitted his resignation, stating an adulterous affair as the reason.  The following day, the President accepted this resignation.

A later investigation found General Petraeus had improperly stored classified information and had not fully cooperated with investigators into this matter.  He pled guilty to several misdemeanors and received probation, with a $100,000 fine.  During the following years, he held several prestigious academic posts and served as a high-level consultant to government officials and private businesses.

 

David Petraeus2015-08-28T22:41:23-06:00

Jack Pattison

Jack E. Pattison, the 103rd First Captain of the United States Military Academy at West Point, was born in Washington, Pennsylvania on November 13, 1949. Prior to attending West Point, he served as an enlisted soldier in Vietnam. While assigned to Company A, 2nd Battalion, 501st Airborne Infantry Regiment, Jack served as a radio operator, standing next to his company commander during the Battle of Hamburger Hill and later receiving an Army Commendation Medal for Valor. U.S. casualties for the battle were 72 killed in action and 372 wounded. The U.S. Air Force dropped almost 500 tons of bombs and 70 tons of napalm on enemy positions during the fight.

After graduating from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree and a commission in the Infantry, Lieutenant Pattison served in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), before commanding Company C, 1st Battalion 58th Infantry in the 197th Infantry Brigade at Fort Benning.  He commanded a second company in the 3rd Infantry Division in Germany and helped introduce the Bradley Fighting Vehicle to the field force. Major Pattison graduated from Army’s Command and General Staff College in 1988 and then was selected to attended the prestigious School for Advanced Military Studies (The graduates of which were referred to as “Jedi Knights.”)  He then served as the XO for the 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry in the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Hood and “Operation Desert Storm.”

Lieutenant Colonel Jack Pattison later served as a strategic planner on the Army Staff in Washington, DC and then served with the Headquarters, Forces Command in Atlanta, Georgia.  He retired from the Army in 1998.  After working as a consultant, Jack Pattison founded his own company, Pattison Enterprises LLC.

Jack Pattison2015-08-28T22:43:58-06:00

Raymond Odierno

Raymond T. “Ray” Odierno, the 38th Chief of Staff of the Army, was born in Dover, New Jersey on September 8, 1954. A Field Artillery officer, he graduated from West Point in 1976.  During “Operation Desert Storm,” he served as the executive officer (XO) for the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery in the 3rd Armored Division. He later served as the XO for the Division Artillery in that unit.  General Odierno later commanded the 4th Infantry Division and the III Corps at Fort Hood. During his career, he earned a Master of Science Degree in Nuclear Effects Engineering from North Carolina State University and a Master of Arts Degree in National Security and Strategy from the Naval War College.

In Washington, DC, General Odierno served as the Director, Force Management in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, United States Army, and as Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, D.C., where he was the primary military advisor to United States Secretary of State.  He followed that in October 2010 as Commander U.S. Joint Forces Command.  On September 7, 2011, he was sworn in as the 38th Chief of Staff of the Army.  He held this position until August 2015 when he retired from Active Duty.

Like his predecessor, Martin Dempsey, General Odierno spent many years in Iraq, helping to stabilize the situation and implementing the successful “Surge Strategy,” conceived by General Dave Petraeus.

Raymond Odierno2015-08-28T22:46:40-06:00

Montgomery Meigs

Montgomery Cunningham “Monty” Meigs, former Commander, U. S. Army Europe (USAREUR,) was born in Annapolis, Maryland on January 11, 1945.  His father, a lieutenant colonel and tank battalion commander, had been killed in action in France exactly one month before his son was born.  The great-great-great grandnephew of Montgomery C. Meigs of Civil War fame, the younger Meigs graduated from West Point in 1967.  He served as a cavalry troop commander and a squadron operations officer in Vietnam.  After receiving a Ph.D. in history at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and attending the Army’s Command and General Staff College, he taught in the History Department at West Point, spending one academic year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an International Affairs Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Lieutenant Colonel Meigs assumed command of the 1st Squadron, 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Armored Division in June 1984.  Two years later, he attended the National War College as an Army Fellow and then served as a strategic planner on the Joint Staff for three years.  Colonel Meigs then returned to USAREUR and assumed command of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division on September 26, 1990, later fighting in “Operation Desert Storm.”  Promoted to brigadier general, Montgomery Meigs commanded the Seventh Army Training Command in Grafenwöhr, Germany, as well as serving as Chief of Staff of V Corps and Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations of the U.S. Army, Europe, and Seventh Army.  He later commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Bosnia, and after receiving a fourth star, became the commander of the U. S. Army in Europe.

After his retirement in 2002, Montgomery Meigs served as a professor at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, director of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) and as Visiting Professor of Strategy and Military Operations at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is also the President and CEO of Business Executives for National Security (BENS), a national security public interest group.  He currently resides in Texas.

Montgomery Meigs2015-08-28T22:50:38-06:00

Martin Dempsey

Martin E. “Marty” Dempsey, the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was born on March 14, 1952 in Bayonne, New Jersey. Growing up in Goshen, New York, he graduated from the United States Military Academy (ranking 257 of 833) with a Bachelor of Science degree and a commission as an Armor officer, on June 5, 1974. During “Operation Desert Storm,” Dempsey served as the Executive Officer of the 3rd Brigade in the 3rd Armored Division “Spearhead.” He later commanded the 4th Battalion, 67th Armor. In June 2003, he assumed command of the 1st Armored Division “Old Ironsides” and remained in command until July 2005. He then became the Commander, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, where he helped train the new Iraqi Army. Later serving as the Deputy Commander, U. S. Central Command, he became the acting commander, following the untimely departure of Admiral William J. Fallon. Promoted to a fourth star, Martin Dempsey became the commander of the U. S. Army Training and Doctrine Command in December 2008.

General Dempsey held this position for twenty-eight months and then became the 37th Chief of Staff of the United States Army (CSA) on April 11, 2011. But his tenure as CSA was short. On October 1, 2011, General Martin Dempsey became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  He held this position until September 2015 when he retired from Active Duty.

Martin Dempsey2015-08-28T22:54:15-06:00

George Custer

George Armstrong Custer, Civil War hero and Indian War immortal, was born in New Rumley, Ohio on December 5, 1839.  “Autie” was admitted to the United States Military Academy (West Point) in 1858.  He would graduate last in his class in 1861, after which he went directly into the Civil War.  Showing numerous examples of courage under fire, Custer was promoted to brevet Brigadier General in 1863 and given command of a cavalry brigade.  On July 3, 1863, Custer led his unit in an attack against Confederate cavalry, causing the enemy to withdraw.  A year later, George Custer married Elizabeth Clift Bacon.

After the Civil War, the U. S. Army dramatically shrank in size and Custer found himself a lieutenant colonel and commander of the newly formed 7th Cavalry Regiment. He led this unit against the Southern Plains warriors at the Battle of the Washita River in November 1868.  In 1873, Custer led an expedition of the cavalry to protect a railroad survey party.  The following year, Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills – sacred territory to the Lakota tribe – and discovered gold.

Custer gained permanent fame (or infamy) on June 25, 1876, when he led the 7th Cavalry Regiment against a huge Lakota and Northern Cheyenne village along the Little Bighorn River.  Dangerously splitting his command, Custer led five of the twelve cavalry companies around the east flank of the village.  Two hours later, his entire command lay dead. The remnants of the regiment withdrew to what would later be called “Reno Hill.”  Putting up a stiff resistance for two days, most of these troopers survived the battle, unlike their regimental commander.

George Custer’s mutilated body was initially buried on the battlefield.  The Army later removed his remains and transferred them to the military cemetery at West Point.  His widow, “Libbie,” continued to defend the honor and capabilities of her deceased husband, until she died in New York City on April 4, 1933.

George Custer2015-08-28T22:57:27-06:00
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