John Shirley Wood (1888–1966)
Drew County native Major General John S. Wood served for over thirty years in the United States military. He fought in both world wars and is considered by many military experts to have been one of the best divisional commanders of World War II.
John Shirley Wood was born to Arkansas Supreme Court justice Carroll D. Wood and Reola Thompson Wood on January 11, 1888, in Monticello (Drew County). While attending the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), he was the quarterback and captain of the football team. He graduated in 1907 with a BS in chemistry.
In 1908, he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, lettering in football, wrestling, and boxing. After his 1912 graduation, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery on June 12, 1912. He returned to the U.S. Military Academy faculty in August 1916 as assistant football coach and chemistry instructor. He was known for his knowledge and writing ability. During this time, he reviewed and wrote many articles on military topics for several professional journals.
On May 15, 1917, as the United States was preparing to enter World War I, Wood was promoted to captain, followed by a promotion to major on December 18, 1917. He sailed to France in March 1918, serving on the staff of the Third Division and Ninetieth Division. He participated in some of the early U.S. campaigns, including the battles of Chateau Thierry and Saint Mihiel. While attending the French Staff School, an officers’ training school, he became acquainted with George S. Patton.
In October 1918, he returned to the United States and became the personnel officer of the Eighteenth Division at Camp Travis, Texas. Early in 1919, he was transferred to the field artillery. He then became a professor of military science and tactics at the University of Wisconsin. In 1921, he became the executive officer of the Eleventh Field Artillery Regiment in Hawaii.
In June 1924, Wood graduated from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Until May 1927, he served as the executive officer of the Motorized Artillery Brigade at Schofield Barrack, Hawaii. From May 1927 to July 1929, he commanded the Second Battalion, Sixteenth Field artillery Regiment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In July 1929, he attended courses at France’s École Supérieure de Guerre, graduating in August 1931.
From 1931 to 1932, Wood was assistant to the commandant of cadets at West Point. He left there to serve as professor of military science and tactics at Culver Military Academy from 1932 to August 1937. On August 1, 1937, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and he served as commander of the Third Battalion, Eightieth Field Artillery Regiment until September 1939, when he was appointed chief of staff for General Stanley D. Embick, commanding general of the Third Army. Wood was later promoted to colonel and assigned as commanding officer of the First Infantry Division Artillery. In April 1941, he took command of the Second Armored Division, serving until June. Wood served as chief of staff of the First Armored Corps from June to October 1941. He was promoted to brigadier general later that year, taking command of Combat Command “A” of the Fifth Armored Division.
In May 1942, Wood assumed command of the Fourth Armored Division, responsible for the organization and training of the division. He was promoted to major general on June 21, 1942. On July 28, 1944, he led the Fourth Armored Division into combat in France. After the invasion of Normandy, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. His division led the Third Army’s drive east across France.
Known for leading from the front, Wood was also known for setting an example for his men by sharing their hardships, sometimes living in a tent. He was considered to be eccentric and outspoken, and he was a harsh critic of the battle plans of his superior, General Omar Bradley. In August 1944, he was bypassed for corps commander by General Bradley, causing conflict. He and the new commander, Major General Manton E. Eddy, did not work well together, and in some cases Wood failed to cooperate fully. Eddy complained to General Patton, who then replaced Wood on December 3, 1944, shortly before the Battle of the Bulge. Wood had been assured that he would either return to command of the Fourth Armored division or be promoted to command of a corps after a short rest. However, he received no battlefield command and instead was returned to duty in the United States. He completed his military career in 1946 as the commander of the Armor Replacement Training Center (ARTC) at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
After retirement, he worked at the United Nations as chief of mission for the International Refugee Organization in Austria from 1947 to 1952, followed by a stint as chief of mission for the United Nations Reconstruction Administration in Tokyo, Japan; South Korea; and Geneva, Switzerland, from 1952 to 1953. During his retirement, he resided in Reno, Nevada. He served as civil defense director for Washoe County, Nevada, from 1957 to 1958.
With his first wife, Marguerite Little, he had two sons and one daughter. Both sons graduated from West Point and served in the military. After the death of his first wife, he married Abigail Holman Harvey on May 17, 1957.
Wood received an honorary LL.D. from UA in 1946. His papers are part of the collection at the Syracuse University Libraries. He died on July 2, 1966, and is buried at West Point Cemetery.
For additional information:
Baldwin, Hanson W. Tiger Jack. Johnstown, CO: Old Army Press, 1979.
“Gen. J. S. Wood, Former Arkansan, Dies at 78.” Arkansas Gazette, July 4, 1966, p. 6B.
Irzyk, Albin F. “The Mystery of ‘Tiger Jack.’” Armor 99 (January–February 1990): 25–35.
“John S. Wood 1912.” West Point Association of Graduates Memorial Pages. http://apps.westpointaog.org/Memorials/Article/5029/ (accessed September 1, 2017).
John Shirley Wood Papers. Special Collections Research Center. Syracuse University Libraries, Syracuse, New York.
Last Updated: 02/28/2020