John Monroe Wack – Private, United States Army

John Wack; WWII Veteran, Landmine Activist

By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Saturday, January 15, 2005

John Monroe Wack, 82, a decorated World War II veteran who lost both legs on a minefield in Italy and then became a weapons engineer and activist in the Landmine Survivors Network, died of cancer December 29, 2004, at his home in Bethesda, Maryland.

During World War II, Mr. Wack served in the Army’s 39th Combat Engineers Regiment and went ashore in Italy at Anzio. On a picturesque September morning in 1944, Mr. Wack and six combat engineers traveled by jeep through Florence on a mission to place a large metal corrugated tube into a creek where a bridge had been blown up.

Mr. Wack and another engineer were chosen to clear the minefield around the damaged bridge, he recalled in a profile written for the Landmine Survivors Network. One mine already had been set off by the dozer operator as he scraped dirt to fill the creek. With a detector in hand, Mr. Wack carefully began clearing the 100-by-200-foot area.

“Boom! I flew in the air and landed on my head. I lay staring at wisps of smoke rising from the bottom of the hole blown in the ground,” Mr. Wack recounted on the LNS Web site. “My first thought was I was alive and reasonably all together. Next came the realization that I lost a leg and the thought that it was probably both legs.”

Another thought came, too, as he lay there, he said: “I would get to fly home and not suffer the violent sea sickness that I had coming to Europe.”

Mr. Wack eventually was flown to a military hospital in Atlantic City, where he stayed until his discharge in 1946. He was awarded the Purple Heart and other medals.

In 2000, Mr. Wack joined the survivor network in working for passage of the International Landmine Treaty and improving assistance to landmine survivors worldwide. He lobbied Congress and the State Department, spoke to the United Nations in New York and joined an international and intergenerational group of landmine survivors, as well as former Beatle Paul McCartney and Heather Mills McCartney, at a 2002 U.N. landmine conference in Geneva.

In 2003, his landmine experience was featured on the History Channel’s “Modern Marvels” program.

Mr. Wack, a native of Troy, Ohio, attended Harvard University before graduating from Catholic University with a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1951. He was elected president of the School of Engineering and Architecture.

He taught mechanical engineering at Howard University from 1951 to 1955 and then joined the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in White Oak. Mr. Wack worked in several departments during his 32-year career at what is now called the Naval Surface Weapons Center and was involved in several nuclear weapons development programs, including the Lulu, Hotpoint, Polaris and Subroc, a solid-rocket-powered underwater-air-underwater missile.

He also served as project manager of Kinetic Energy Weapons and of the ZAP Rocket System. He was chief engineer and later head of the High Energy Laser Division. In 1978, he became head of the Fuzes and Guidance System Division. He retired in 1987.

Mr. Wack received the Bernard Smith Award from the Naval Surface Weapons Center in 1985.

During the Vietnam War, Mr. Wack participated in a morale-boosting program visiting disabled veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

He was a graduate of the Naval War College in Providence, R.I., and worked after retirement at the engineering consulting firm, Epoch, in Rockville.

He was a member of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Kensington.

Survivors include his wife of 51 years, Judith Ann Heffernan of Bethesda; eight children, Dr. Mary Frances Wack of Pullman, Wash., Dr. Daniel Wack of Los Altos, Calif., Thomas Wack, Catherine Wack and John Wack, all of Fredericksburg, Elizabeth Wack of Kensington, Dr. Robert Wack of Westminster, Md., and Edward Wack of Waltham, Mass.; a brother, David Wack of White Plains, Md.; five sisters, Mary Catherine Teague of Galveston, Tex., Sr. Eleanor Wack of Akron, Ohio, Anne Roche of Tarpon Springs, Fla., Carol Bailey of Severna Park and Gretchen Griffin of Salem, S.C.; and 15 grandchildren.


On Wednesday, December 29, 2004, JOHN MONROE WACK, of Bethesda, MD. Beloved husband of Judith A. Wack; father of Mary, Daniel, Thomas, Catherine, Elizabeth, Robert, John and Edward Wack; brother of David Wack, Sister Eleanor Wack, O.P., Mary K. Teague, Carol Bailey, Anne Roche and Gretchen Griffin. Also survived by 15 grandchildren.

Mass of Christian Burial at Holy Redeemer Church, Summit and Cable Dr., Kensington, MD on Monday, January 10, at 1 p.m. Interment Arlington National Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to Landmine Survivors Network, 1420 K St., NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005.


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 12/31/1922
  • DATE OF DEATH: 12/29/2004

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