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JOHN “JACK” WINTHROP ARMSTRONG, “the All American,” was born on Staten Island, New York, the second of four sons and a daughter born to Richard N. Armstrong II and Nan Hancock Armstrong of Grand Rapids, Michigan. His dad, a Cavalry officer in World War I, was recalled to combat duty in Europe during World War II; this time along with three of his four sons. All four Armstrong men retired from active duty careers. Jack considered each day after WWII a day of God’s grace.
At an early age he told his sister, Betty Lou (married to William Reckmeyer ’47), he would be a soldier. At 14, Jack entered Staunton Military Academy. He was cadet captain, graduated 12th of 60 in 1937. His expectation to receive an appointment through Staunton did not materialize, as none were received that year. Undaunted, he applied to his congressman from Utica, New York, for an appointment. Leaving nothing to chance, he enlisted and was sworn into the Army by SGT Cleo Bishop, who would later graduate with him in January 1943. They remained life-long friends. Nearly a year later, while taking the West Point Candidate Program competitive exams, he received and promptly accepted a congressional appointment. Staunton and the Army prepared Jack well for Beast Barracks and his cadet years. He was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the Infantry after graduating on 19 January 1943, in the middle of an ice and snowstorm.
In August 1944, Jack joined “The Old Reliables,” the famed 9th Infantry Division, just as they broke out of Normandy. He was initially a platoon leader, and then CO of F Company, 47th Infantry Regiment, and was later promoted to captain. He saw action in the Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, and Rhineland Campaigns (Falaise Gap, Seigfried Line, Schevenhutte and Huertgen Forest, Bulge, Roer River). In early March 1945, he was severely wounded in a night attack and was lost to F Company just before its crossing the Rhine River at Remagen. Only his indomitable will and keen desire to be a soldier sustained him through 18 months of hospitalization and rehabilitation, regaining a class one profile as mandated by the Army’s medical board if he was to preclude retirement on disability. His decorations and medals include the Belgian Fourragere, two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, and the Expert and Combat Infantry Badges, which are his most valued.
He returned to Germany as a major with the 27th Constabulary. Upon completion of The Infantry School at Ft. Benning in 1951, he volunteered for Korea, but was assigned to the AFF Test Board 3, Recoilless Rifle Section as test officer for the 106MM Recoilless Rifle and the 3.5" Rocket Launcher. After his promotion to lieutenant colonel in 1953, he attended CGSC. Other assignments included battalion commander, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, 1954–55; Advisor, Vietnamese Military Academy, 1955–56; USMA, as a TAC one year and S-3 for three years, 1956-60); Army War College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania; MAIA from George Washington University, 1960-61; JUSMAGG Athens, Greece, 1961–63, with family; promoted to colonel in 1963; CO 3rd Brigade, 2d Infantry Division, Ft. Benning, 1963-65; Pentagon, OPO & Per Diem Committee, 1965–68; Vietnam, 1968–69) as G-1, XXIV Corps for three months, CO 101st ABN Division Rear, Bien Hoa Army Base (Legion of Merit); Mai Lai Special Review Board, 1969–70; Heidelberg, Germany, with HQ US Army, ACS Operations, 1970–71; Pentagon, DA, OACS, Intelligence, (second Legion of Merit).
Although the embodiment of “Duty, Honor, Country,” one would be remiss to define Jack by his military career alone. Retiring on disability in 1973, he successfully established a business consulting and tax practice, which daughter Susan joined in 1990 and purchased in 1992. Always the optimist and idealist, Jack’s motto was “Every day is a great day; some are just better than others.” Rudyard Kipling’s “If” and “The Ballad of Johnny Armstrong,” whose refrain is “I am wounded but not slain, I will lay me down and bleed awhile, but shall rise and fight again,” always inspired him.
In July 1988, he suffered a heart attack, underwent quintuple by-pass surgery, and suffered kidney failure from the surgery. Over the next six years, he endured — without complaint — dialysis sessions and numerous other surgeries. Although very ill, his sudden and unforeseen death was a severe shock to the family.
Jack’s wife Jackie, whom he met and married at Fort Benning, daughter Susan, sons Jack and Stuart, six grandchildren, and extended family and friends were all beneficiaries of his great love, direction, and sense of self. His personal integrity, courage, intelligence, love of God, respect for others, and infectious laugh left an indelible imprint on all who knew him. He outlined and began to write his memoirs, whose prologue expresses his love of family and closes with the following:
“These memoirs are dedicated to Jacqueline R. Armstrong, for it is her love for me and my abiding love for her that makes our lives together such a joy of living.”
The unfinished memoirs end on an upbeat note for Jack, as he was, at last, on his way overseas and into combat.
Jack truly was a unique individual. The following excerpts from condolences and his son Stuart’s eulogy reflect a measure of the man and testify to and celebrate the essence of his life’s ministry:
From a classmate:
“His friends, civilian and military, were legion and his staunch integrity left its mark.”
From his battalion commander of the 47th Infantry, 9th Division in WWII:
“An outstanding and courageous leader, respected by subordinates and superiors alike — he was one of the sturdiest of oaks in the forest. There will always be a void where he once stood.”
“One of our bravest and most loved — a man of rare courage and a man who was proud and supportive of those who served under him!” came from the men of F Company, 47th Infantry.
From a 1946 graduate:
“He was a magnificent infantryman — loyal and honest beyond description — gracious, and above all, a highly competent professional. He had it all and was of such character that others profited by attempting to emulate him.”
Jack’s son, Stuart, spoke of his dad in his eulogy, “Farewell to a Soldier,”
“His kindness and respect for others stands out the most for me. He brought smiles and comfort to anyone he met and lived each day of life with such joy and gratitude.”
Paramount, above all for Jack, was “Duty, Honor, Country.” His well-earned and desired epitaph — “A Good Soldier.”