General John Rogers Galvin

Like any other small town in America, Wakefield has had its share of great and good men and women who were born and raised within its town limits. One of the greatest of these was John Rogers Galvin.

Referred to as “a consummate soldier-statesman” by the Washington Post, he would serve as the NATO top military commander in the five years that ended the Cold War, and play a part in some of the defining issues of our time, including support for the Gulf War, the Patriot missile defense of Israel, the rescue of 450,000 Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq, U.S. military operations in Zaire, Liberia and other African nations and humanitarian support for Central and Eastern countries. He has been decorated by 21 countries. And it all began right here in Wakefield.

A Wakefield Boyhood

Born in May 1929, Jack Galvin grew up in Wakefield, attending Wakefield public schools and retaining fond memories of his past teachers and classmates. In 1948, he enlisted in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, where he served in the 182nd Infantry Regiment until 1950, when he received a National Guard appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he received a B.S. in Engineering and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant.

A Brilliant Military Career

Most of his early military career was spent in parachute and light infantry units, with command at all levels. In the 1950s he served in infantry units in Puerto Rico and as a Ranger instructor in Columbia. His military service also included two years in the Vietnam War as staff officer in plans and operations and as commander of the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry.

A seven-year term of service in Europe, begun in 1973, would culminate in the appointment as Assistant Division Commander of the 8th Infantry Division in Mainz. He also served as the Commanding General of the United States VII Corps in Stuttgart, moving to Panama as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Southern Command with the rank of general.

After five years of service in Latin America, in 1987 General Galvin was appointed Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (NATO), and the Commander of Chief of U.S. Army, Navy and Air Forces in Europe. After retiring from these positions in 1992, he was appointed Olin Distinguished Professor of National Security at West Point. He would go on to become Distinguished Policy Analyst, Mershon Center, Ohio State University, and to serve on the board of the Raytheon Company, the Center for Creative Leadership, the Institute for Defense Analyses, the National Defense University and Chairman Emeritus of the American Council on Germany. He also served as an envoy of the United States State Department with the rank of Ambassador while assisting with negotiations in Bosnia.

Writer, Professor, Author, Dean

Given his brilliant military career, it’s easy to forget the General’s impressive academic career. After his degree at West Point, Jack Galvin would continue with post-graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, gain a Master of Arts from Columbia, and hold a research fellowship at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He has taught English Literature and writing at West Point and in the University of Virginia continuing education program. In 1995, he became the sixth dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, serving until 2000.

General Galvin is an accomplished writer, having published articles on strategy, history and leadership, as well as Air Assault (1969), an analysis of the development of air mobility in twentieth century warfare. Having perhaps inherited a love of history from his father, who was a favorite speaker at the Wakefield Historical Society, General Galvin has also published two books on American history: The Minute Men (2006), a study of the first battle of the American Revolution; and Three Men of Boston (1997), covering political events in Massachusetts before the American Revolution.

Proud to call Wakefield his hometown

Even in retirement while living in Georgia, General Galvin never forgot his roots and his hometown. On the eve of his becoming Dean of the Fletcher School, he found time to write the Foreword to the town’s 350th anniversary history, Wakefield: 350 Years by the Lake, in words that reveal his enduring affection for the town:

“It is a town of extraordinary beauty, lying as it does in a gentle valley, with Crystal Lake near one end and Quannapowitt at the other, and down the centerline between these two runs the unusually broad Main Street, with its long town square, Rockery, Park and Common surrounded by the guardian churches – what could be more beautiful?”


General Galvin while on a visit to his former school, the West Ward School, now the Wakefield History Museum.  Among the items in the collection are many objects from his NATO years donated by General and Mrs. Galvin.

And Wakefield is unabashedly proud of perhaps its greatest native son, naming the Middle School in his honor and hoping that some of the students that emerge from that school will achieve the greatness of the man whose name is on the door, General John Rogers Galvin, an author, scholar, statesman and soldier par excellence.

General Galvin died on September 25, 2015, but his name lives on in the Middle School that bears his name, where his legacy will remain to inspire greatness in its students.


John Rogers Galvin, author, scholar, statesman and soldier par excellence, 

May 13, 1929 – September 25, 2015.

Link to WCAT, Wakefield youtube video biography.

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