John Fennelly Wiegand was born on April 24, 1961, to James Joseph Wiegand and Rita Ann Fennelly in Hartford, Connecticut. As a young adult, he is recorded working for some time with the Northwestern Railroad around 1980 in Illinois. Three years later, he attended Illinois State University and entered the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). This would prove a formative experience, as Wiegand spent the next 27 years of his adult life as an officer in the United States Army.
Wiegand was responsible for helping keep the Army well supplied as a Quartermaster Officer. The role of a Quartermaster in the US Army is aptly summed up in the Quartermaster ethos: “Logistics Warriors who are soldiers first, technicians second to none; battle focused; reliable professionals assuring victory by sustaining America’s Army in peace and war.” Wiegand served in this role during Operation Desert Storm. In this conflict, a coalition led by United States forces drove the Iraqi invaders out of the country of Kuwait. The expulsion of the Iraqi military was accomplished with blindly speed and effectiveness; made possible in no small part due to the hard work of the Army’s Quartermaster logisticians, Wiegand included. In addition to the role of Quartermaster, Wiegand would also serve as an Ordnance officer.
At some point during his service, Wiegand was transferred to Fort Clayton, Panama, to serve as the commander of an Ordnance Unit. This episode is related by Mario Chavez, a comrade and friend of Wiegand:
I first [met] John in Ft Clayton, Panama… when he walked into our unit day-room. We just had a Change of Command for our sister unit, and he walked in looking for the company commander. I asked him what he needed, and he stated he wanted to see the Commander and that he was going to be the new Commander for our unit. As this was an Ordnance unit and he was a Quartermaster officer I told him there was no way he was going to be our new commander. I talked a lot of smack to him during this first meeting and after finding out about 30 minutes later that he was, in fact, going to be my boss I felt about an inch [high] and for a minute it was very awkward. John didn’t hold a grudge and the next time I saw him it was like nothing had ever happened.
This phase of Wiegand’s career highlights two virtues possessed by Wiegand: adaptability and leadership. Wiegand’s adaptability is displayed in his willingness and ability to transition to a new role and a new unit, after having already specialized as a Quartermaster. His leadership is displayed in his willingness to move past minor squabbles with his soldiers; instead forging a bond of trust and confidence with his ability to brush off tense encounters.
The last vignette of Wiegand’s Army career comes from his service in the War in Afghanistan. After the Al-Qaeda terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11th, 2001, US President George W. Bush committed the Armed Forces to a war on terrorism throughout the globe. The first hotspot of this conflict was mountainous Afghanistan, the hiding place of Al-Qaeda’s leadership. The conflict that followed would be two decades of bitter struggle, a harrowing experience for many of the Armed Forces personnel involved. According to Wiegand’s comrade Greg Jackson, Wiegand was a guiding light for his men during the war: “In 2002 John and I were in the same unit that went to Afghanistan. We developed a fast friendship that has lasted over the last seventeen years. From the start, he was a total character always with a funny comment or story. In a place full of misery and death John was always upbeat. He was a true leader that cared about Soldiers and was ready to take on any mission.” In such a deadly and defeating environment, Wiegand’s stalwart optimism helped his soldiers to carry out their service.
After 27 years of military service, Wiegand retired to spend the remainder of his life with his family. He and his wife, Lourdes, had a son and two daughters, and enjoyed spending time with their three grandchildren. Wiegand was an avid sports fan, especially of football, and loved classic cars. Wiegand passed away on Friday, August 9, 2019. He leaves behind a legacy of leadership and optimism in the face of adversity.