John Theodore King – Major, United States Army

From a contemporary press report:

John Theodore “Jack” King III, a retired Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. executive and a highly decorated World War II veteran, died Friday (November 2, 2001) of complications from pneumonia at Union Memorial Hospital. He was 84 and had lived for 35 years in Guilford before moving to Roland Park Place, Maryland,  in 1995.

In June 1944, King, then a Captain, received an order from the 29th Infantry Division commander in Normandy that he compared to the Charge of the Light Brigade: march his 150 men in Company K three miles to the Vire River, secure the bridge and seize the village of Auville – linking the Omaha and Utah beachheads.

“Nobody had the faintest idea what we  were up against,” Mr. King recalled of  Auville in a 1990 interview in Folks: News and Views, a  BGE magazine. He  worked for BGE for 45 years in a variety of capacities, and rewrote the company's history  before retiring in 1992.

Approaching Auville, Captain King said he had his men move in a single skirmish line – firing rapidly from the hip – in hopes of making the Germans think he was leading a major force. They had to wade across the river because the Germans had blown up the bridge, and Captain King was seriously wounded in both thighs by fire from a machine gun nest. His force took the town – meeting up with paratroopers of the 101st Airborne arriving from inland.

“Auville was a very key event in the whole Normandy campaign,” said Joseph Balkoski, a local historian and author of 1989's Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy, who interviewed King for his book in 1988. In July, the historian visited the spot where King was shot – and was shocked.

“He had described this particular action to me in detail,” Mr. Balkoski said, but the river was so wide – 70 to 80 yards – and the approach to the village so open, unlike most of the hedgerowed countryside, that the men were vulnerable.

“The pure guts of the thing really took the Germans by surprise: To see this line coming across, firing as they went. Just the spirit of this really shocked the Germans, because they … took off as fast as they could go,” Mr. Balkoski said. “It was audacious.”

Auville was but one of the engagements of Captain King and the 175th – known as the “Dandy Fifth,” from which Baltimore's 5th Regiment Armory took its name, Mr. Balkoski said. They landed on Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944, the day after D-Day and marched 14 hours to liberate the port city of Isigny, then moved on to Auville. Months after he was wounded, Mr. King, who had been promoted to major, rejoined his regiment.

He was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action, the Bronze Star with oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Arrowhead, campaign stars and the Purple Heart. In June 1945, The Sun reported on the ceremony in which Major King received the British Military Cross for gallantry in battle from General Bernard L. Montgomery.

Nevertheless, Mr. Balkoski said, “He was a very modest guy. He didn't really like to talk about this … like most of these guys.”

King was recalled to service from 1951 to 1953 during the Korean War.

Born in Baltimore, King was the son of a prominent cardiologist and was educated at Boys Latin School, Gilman School and Princeton University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1940. He worked briefly for Standard Lime and Stone Co. (now part of Lockheed Martin Corp.) before he was called to active duty in 1941, and again for two years after his honorable discharge in 1945.

In 1947, King joined Consolidated Gas, Electric Light and Power Co. of Baltimore City, the precursor to BGE, said George W. Gephart, a longtime friend and retired manager of BGE communications and public affairs.

“He could speak to the chairman of the board with the same ease as to the linemen in the trenches,” Mr. Gephart said.

“Jack was a great employee,” said C. Edward Utermohle Jr., former BGE president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board. Mr. Utermohle was a vice president in charge of a committee to restructure company personnel when he met King, who later became his right-hand man as executive assistant to the chairman.

King was active in many groups, serving on the boards of Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Private Industry Council, the United Negro College Fund, Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, Gilman School, St. Paul's School for Girls, and the William G. Baker Jr. Foundation and the Baker-King Fund, established by his parents for groups or individuals not eligible for help from other foundations.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St. He will be buried with full military honors at 11 a.m. November 28, 2001, at Arlington National Cemetery. The family suggested contributions be made to the Enoch Pratt Free Library, 400 Cathedral St., Baltimore 21201.

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, the former Elizabeth Davenport Plant; a son, John Holmes King of Wilmington, N.C.; a daughter, Elizabeth Leighton King Wheeler of Baltimore; a sister, Virginia King Whittlesey of Baltimore; two brothers, James Sydney King of Baltimore and Dr. Joseph D.B. King of Silver Spring; three grandchildren; and two step-grandchildren.

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