George W. Dunaway, the nation's second sergeant major of the Army, who restored integrity to the highest enlisted post after a scandal in Vietnam, died Wednesday at Valley Hospital from a series of heart attacks, his son said.
Dunaway was 85 and was looking forward to celebrating his 65th wedding anniversary today with his wife, Mary, his son, Michael Dunaway said.
"My life revolved around him for the last several years," he said. "It's a blow to me. Everybody calls him from around the world, but I could talk to him whenever I had a problem.
"He always said, 'Look at it from a different point of view.' That's the type of guy he was. I just leaned on him so much," Michael Dunaway said.
His father, he said, had enjoyed his usual Wednesday morning breakfast with comrades from the Special Forces Association Chapter 51 at a local diner. Afterward, he went to his office at Taylor Hall Army Reserve Center on East Sahara Avenue, where he experienced chest pains and collapsed on his desk. He was alert enough a short time later to call his son.
"He said, 'I just passed out. I need you right now,'" Michael Dunaway said.
His father was taken by ambulance to Valley Hospital, where he died at 1:35 p.m.
George Wilber Dunaway was born July 24, 1922, in Richmond, Va. He grew up to be an unassuming, patriotic man with a thick Southern accent who was called into active duty as a National Guard soldier in World War II. That launched a military career that sent him to airborne school in 1943, to southern France in 1945 and through noncombat service in the Korean War.
After stints in the 1950s with the 187th Regimental Combat Team and the 101st Airborne Division, Dunaway in 1961 trained troops as sergeant major of the 1st Special Forces Group in Okinawa. Later, he was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam, completing a year's tour in 1967 at Nha Trang.
He served with the highest airborne commanders of the Vietnam War. During the Tet Offensive 40 years ago at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Dunaway was caught in a firefight. Later he had a brush with death while flying into a "hot zone" with Maj. Gen. Olinto M. Barsanti, a Tonopah native.
In military history, Dunaway is noted most not for his medals of valor -- the Silver Star and Bronze Star -- or his Purple Heart or his days in Vietnam with Gen. William Westmoreland or fighting alongside Barsanti.
Dunaway is best known for what he did to restore the integrity of the sergeant major of the Army after a scandal involving his predecessor, William O. Wooldridge, tainted the position.
Wooldridge, who was the first sergeant major of the Army, serving from 1966 to 1968, was linked to fraud and corruption a year later involving merchandise and alcohol sold at noncommissioned officer clubs in Vietnam. He pleaded guilty in a Justice Department agreement in 1973 to accepting stock equity from a company that supplied clubs.
In a 2006 interview with the Review-Journal, Dunaway said the congressional inquiry into Wooldridge "really hurt me" when he became sergeant major of the Army from September 1968 to September 1970.
"It wasn't easy to overcome it. But I do believe that during my two years ... I did just that," he said.
He solved the reputation problem by going from post to post to talk to NCOs. "I took my wife with me. She talked to the wives."
Dunaway moved to Las Vegas 22 years ago to retire. He became a fixture at Army and Special Forces Association functions and was routinely on hand to bid farewell to troops departing for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was among the first to greet them when they returned.
He said in the 2006 interview that he thought the military can win the war on terrorism.
"It's going to take a little while. ... It's a tough war, let me put it that way," he said.
He said a measure of victory "is when insurgents over there change their strategy. Then we know we're winning. ... Of course people look in the paper and they say, 'Well, seven people were killed.' In World War II, I had 22 men killed. No news went out on them, you know."
On the 40th anniversary of the creation of the sergeant major of the Army rank, Dunaway wrote, "My life with soldiers, it was about soldiers and it was for soldiers. I knew them. They understood me. And I always looked out for their best interests within the confines of the organizational mission."
A Las Vegas friend and fellow Special Forces comrade, Sully de Fontaine, described Dunaway as a "top-notch guy"
"We go back many, many years," de Fontaine said Wednesday. "In my book, he's the one who put the NCO corps back in shape. ... His ethics were impeccable. He was a soldier's soldier."
With his wife and son Michael, he is survived by daughters Martha Barnett of Maryland and Suzanne Hunt of North Carolina; and another son, George of Texas.
A memorial service for him in Las Vegas is being planned by the Special Forces Association Chapter 51. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery near Fort Myer, Va.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 383-0308.