FORT BLISS, Texas--March 5 marked one year since the death of William O. Wooldridge, the first sergeant major of the Army. To honor Wooldridge on the anniversary of his death, U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy staff held an informal wreath lying at his gravesite at Fort Bliss National Cemetery. Patty Wooldridge, the widow of the first sergeant major of the Army, spoke a few words of remembrance.
"I don't feel that he is [at the cemetery]. I never have when I come to visit," Patty Wooldridge said. "When I honor my husband with flowers, or to replace the flag that's by his grave, I still do not feel that he is here. I feel that he is in a unit someplace giving orders to somebody, kicking [butt] and taking names wherever he is."
Wooldridge was a veteran of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He served as sergeant major of the Army from July 1966 to September 1968. After relinquishing the Army's top enlisted position, he returned to field duty, the only sergeant major of the Army not to retire from the position. Wooldridge retired from the Army in 1972 after 32 years of service.
In retirement, the Wooldridges settled in the El Paso area. Although he was never a student at USASMA, Woodridge developed a close bond with the students and faculty of the Army's highest NCO school. It was common for Wooldridge to take trips to USASMA for a haircut, then walk into a Sergeants Major Course classroom to sit down and listen to the instruction being given to the Army's future sergeants major.
Prior to his passing, Wooldridge asked USASMA to handle the details of his funeral and burial.
"He had all the plans in place," Patty Wooldridge said. "The Academy would be the responsible people for that day, and he wanted to make sure that everything was done right, by his NCOs, because if the sergeants major weren't responsible for taking care of everything [with the funeral], then it wouldn't be done right."
During the ceremony, Wooldridge's life and legacy was remembered.
Jesse McKinney is the director of personnel and administration at USASMA and a retired sergeant major. As a Sergeants Major Course instructor, he developed a close friendship with the Wooldridges.
"There was never anything he wouldn't do for folks that he considered friends," McKinney said. "Above all else, he was more than the first sergeant major of the Army; he was my friend."
McKinney said Wooldridge was humble man, and Soldiers today can still look to his leadership for guidance in their military careers.
"[Sergeant Maj. of the Army] Wooldridge was once quoted, 'Treat every man as though he was your brother - because he is.' That thought pretty much summarized a long life well lived. His humbleness is best exemplified by just two simple words on his burial marker at Fort Bliss National Cemetery, 'A Soldier,'" McKinney said.
"He was bigger than life," Patty Wooldridge said. "We had a wonderful life together and I was so fortunate to have him as husband and a friend. I miss him terribly, as you may know. But he will always be a part of me, and he will always be a part of the Academy."
Wooldridge will be honored again in April when the USASMA commandant's house on Sheridan Road will be named in his memory.