Military man made bolstering Pacific forces a lifelong duty


POSTED: Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Retired Maj. Gen. Herbert Wolff, whose family left Germany in 1939 to escape the Nazis and whose enlistment at the outbreak of World War II was rejected because he had been classified as “;an enemy alien,”; died Friday. He was 83.

From 1977 to 1981 he commanded the U.S. Army Western Command, now known as U.S. Army Pacific, with headquarters at Fort Shafter.

After he retired with 38 years of service, Wolff joined First Hawaiian Bank and rose to senior vice president.

He also spearheaded the drive to save Battery Randolph at Fort DeRussy for use as a Pacific war museum. In 1976 he founded the nonprofit Hawaii Army Museum Society to support the development of the museum, and served as its president for more than 30 years.

“;The military and civilian communities will mourn his passing but forever benefit from his legacy,”; said Vicki Olson, executive director of the society. “;Gen. Wolff was a leader, a mentor and a friend for all time. He was one who enlisted the aid of so many in both communities because he never asked more than he was willing to do himself.”;

Wolff was eventually drafted in 1943 and served in the Philippines and New Guinea. He won his first Silver Star medal as an Army private first class.

In January 1945, while assigned to the Alamo Scouts, Wolff participated in a raid on a Japanese prisoner of war camp at Cabanatuan in the Philippines that rescued 511 American POWs.

That action earned Wolff a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant. During the Korean War he commanded two companies and a battalion in combat, earning his second Silver Star.

His later assignments included command of the Infantry Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga., 1967-1968; the Capital Military Assistance Command in Vietnam, 1970; and the U.S. Army Security Agency, Pacific, in Hawaii, 1970-1972.

He came to Fort Shafter in 1977 as commander of the U.S. Army CINCPAC Support Group and U.S. Army Support Command, Hawaii.

Wolff was instrumental in elevating the U.S. Army Western Command to a component command within the Pacific Command on par with the other services in 1979. In 1990 it assumed the historic name U.S. Army Pacific.

The current commander, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, called Wolff “;a great leader, warrior and statesman,”; adding, “;He will be truly missed by this community and the military. He laid the foundation for the Army here in the Pacific, which allowed us to accomplish many dynamic missions over the years during and following his command. His untiring efforts after his active service ended contributed significantly to this great community. His passing will leave a hole which will be very tough to fill.”;

Retired Gen. David Bramlett said, “;Gen. Wolff was an iconic figure in the Army, renowned for his combat record in three wars and deeply respected for his innovative thinking and brilliant organizational mind. He brought those same qualities to our state upon retirement from the Army, and his success in the business world as well as his extraordinary community service reflected his drive to do the job and take care of those around you. His soldiers always knew it, and our community came to understand it as well.”;

Wolff served on the boards of the Girls Scout Council of Hawaii and Boy Scouts Aloha Council, Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, USO-Hawaii, Armed Services YMCA, March of Dimes and Honolulu Rotary Club. He was the honorary consul general for Malaysia.

He is survived by sons Rick and Allen, eight grandchildren and longtime companion Harriet Aoki.

There will be an evening vigil and visitation beginning at 6 p.m. tomorrow at Borthwick Mortuary. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Central Union Church, with visitation beginning at 8 a.m.

Burial with full military honors will be at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at 1 p.m.

Another memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Fort DeRussy Chapel. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Hawaii Army Society, P.O. Box 8064, Honolulu 96830.