Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, USA, Ret., former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and supreme allied commander Europe, died July 23 at Madigan Army Medical Center, Wash., after fighting a long battle against complications from a stroke he suffered in 2004. He was 75.
Shalikashvili was the first draftee and the first foreign born American citizen to serve as chairman, a position he held from 1993-1997.
"General Shalikashvili was an important contributor to the Council of Trustees of the Association and served from 1999 to 2002," Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., president of the Association of the United States Army, said.
Adding, "He was a unique soldier who had a soldier’s touch and a stateman’s approach which combined to make him a leader of stature and accomplishment worthy of note."
Born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1936. Shalikashvili’s father was of royal Georgian lineage and had served as a cavalryman in the Imperial Russian Army. He became a lieutenant colonel in the Democratic Republic of Georgia Army after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Soviet forces invaded and occupied Georgia in 1921, and the Shalikashvili family ultimately joined other Georgian exiles in Poland where they lived through the Nazi occupation during World War II.
When the Soviet army approached Warsaw, he, his mother and two brothers again fled to Germany, living with relatives for eight years.
In 1952, when John was 16, his reunited family immigrated to the United States, living in Peoria, Ill., where John is said to have learned English from school and by watching movies, particularly westerns. Later in life, he said the often repeated story that he learned English from John Wayne was only a slight exaggeration.
He became an American citizen in 1958, the same year he received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Bradley University in Peoria. He was drafted into the U.S. Army, and a few months later went on to Officer Candidate School where he was commissioned a second lieutenant of artillery.
He also received a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University in 1970.
Following his tenures as a company commander and staff officer, he served in Vietnam as a senior district advisor from 1968-1969. He went on to command the Division Artillery of the 1st Armored Division in Germany, and later became an assistant division commander of the 1st Armored Division.
In 1987, he assumed command of the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Wash.
Shalikashvili gained international prominence as the commander of Operation Provide Comfort, which provided humanitarian aid and protection for the embattled Kurds and other tribes in northern Iraq from the continued wrath of Saddam Hussein’s regime following the 1991 Gulf War.
After serving as supreme allied commander Europe, President Clinton chose him as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993.
Shalikashvili retired from the Army in 1997 after a 38-year career.
In addition to a continued career in civilian business and international strategy organizations, he was a visiting professor at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.
He is survived by his wife, Joan, and son, Brant.
President Obama said in a White House statement issued after the general’s death:
"With the passing of General John M. Shalikashvili, the United States has lost a genuine soldier-statesman whose extraordinary life represented the promise of America and limitless possibilities that are open to those who choose it.
"From his arrival in the United States as a 16-year-old Polish immigrant after the Second World War, to a young man who learned English from John Wayne movies, to his rise to the highest ranks of our military, Shali’s life was an ‘only in America’ story. By any measure, he made our country a safer and better place.
"As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he strengthened our alliances in Europe and in Asia, forged closer ties with Russia, and championed the Partnership for Peace with the former Soviet state.
"At the same time, he oversaw successful military operations in Bosnia and Haiti, and elsewhere. Most of all, he fought tirelessly to improve the quality of life for our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen and their families who serve to keep us safe.
"Michelle and I extend our heartfelt condolences to General Shalikashvili’s wife Joan and their son Brant."