WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 6, 2012) -- The first sergeant major of the Army, William O. Wooldridge, died March 5, in El Paso, Texas, at age 89.
When Wooldridge beat out 4,700 candidates in 1966 for a new position created by the chief of staff of the Army, he had been serving for a year as 1st Infantry Division sergeant major in the Republic of Vietnam.
"SMA Wooldridge was a one-of-a-kind noncommissioned officer, selected to be the first sergeant major of the Army because of his initiative, intelligence, experience and drive to excel," said current Sgt. Maj. or the Army Raymond F. Chandler III. "His lasting impression lives on in the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy, the centralized NCO promotion system, and our professional NCO Corps."
"He was an innovator, a true inspiration to Soldiers, and the epitome of a professional warrior. Our hearts and prayers go out to Patty and the rest of the Wooldridge family during this difficult time," said Chandler, the 14th SMA.
Wooldridge served as sergeant major of the Army from July 11, 1966, after leaving Vietnam and arriving at the Pentagon in his jungle fatigues, through September 1968 and is credited with improving the status of the noncommissioned Officers Corps.
He did this by:
• Starting the first Major Command Sergeants Major Conference in 1966 which resulted in a multitude of proposals to enhance and improve the training, morale and readiness of noncommissioned officers across the Army
• Recommending the Sergeants Major Academy
• Recommending the command sergeant major program
• Recommending the standardized NCO promotion process
After serving as sergeant major of the Army, Wooldridge returned to Vietnam as sergeant major of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, becoming the only SMA to return to field duty after serving in the top enlisted position.
Born Aug. 12, 1922, near Shawnee, Okla., Wooldridge's family moved about five years later to his father's home state of Texas where he later enlisted in the Army after persuading his dad to let him go.
"I had this one thing on my mind," said Wooldridge in a Feb. 2001 interview with Sgt. Maj. Don Elder from the Center of Military History, "I wanted to wear a Soldier uniform. I wanted to be a Soldier, and I wanted to get the hell out of Brown County, Texas.
The interview was conducted at Wooldridge's quarters in Santa Teresa, N.M., near El Paso.
He enlisted at Fort Worth, Texas on Nov. 11, 1940 and served until 1972, amassing a much-decorated career over three wars and 14 campaigns.
He was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry at the battle for Aachen, Germany in October 1944 and also received a Purple Heart for injuries. He was awarded a second Silver Star for gallantry during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, while serving as a platoon sergeant.
As sergeant major of the Army, Wooldridge traveled wherever Soldiers were stationed to listen to their concerns while strengthening and preserving the rich history of the NCO Corps, "the backbone of the Army."
Wooldridge retired in 1972 after more than 30 years of service. He lived in Santa Teresa, N.M. He died Monday night at Beaumont Army Medical Center on Fort Bliss, Texas, and is survived by his wife Patty. Funeral services are still pending.