December 30: John Parsons Wheeler, III (2010)

John Parsons “Jack” Wheeler III was a consultant to the Mitre Corporation, senior planner for Amtrak, official of the Securities and Exchange Commission, chief executive and CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and a presidential aide to the Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations. He also held numerous other positions in the United States military, government, and corporations. Wheeler is best known for his Chairmanship of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Wheeler was descended from a family of military professionals. He graduated near the top of his West Point Class of 1966, which lost thirty of its members in the Vietnam War. Before deployment to Vietnam, Wheeler graduated with distinction from Harvard Business School. During the downsizing of the military after the war ended, Wheeler resigned from the Army and spent a year attending Virginia Theological Seminary, before deciding to go to Yale Law School.

From 1979 to 1989, Wheeler was chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund which built the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Working with Jan Scruggs and Robert W. Doubek, he supported the controversial Maya Lin design. He raised over eight million dollars in private donations and succeeded in getting Congress to approve a site on the National Mall for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, now known simply as the Wall. In the 1980s, Wheeler was a parishioner of the Church of the Epiphany and a member of the vestry. In 1984, Wheeler had just published a book called Touched with Fire: The Future of the Vietnam Generation. An April 1984 pew sheet advertises the new release with a “Book Celebration” in the Willard Room on a Thursday afternoon. Wheeler’s death at the end of the year in 2010 remains shrouded in mystery. His body turned up in a Wilmington, Delaware landfill. Police ruled his death an assault with “blunt force trauma” without further elaboration. In April 2011, Wheeler’s remains were inurned with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

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