Guilmartin, John F.

John “Joe” F. Guilmartin Jr.

John “Joe” F. Guilmartin Jr., Lt. Colonel, USAF (Retired)

September 18, 1940 – March 10, 2016

Professor John F. “Joe” Guilmartin Jr., Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force (Ret.), a prominent member of the History Department at The Ohio State University for nearly three decades, passed away on March 10, 2016. Born in Alabama on September 18, 1940, Joe grew up in San Antonio, where his father (John F. Guilmartin, Sr.) was a flight instructor. Joe got his first flight experiences with his father before attending the Texas Military Institute and then accepting an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy. He earned a BS degree in aerospace engineering and was graduated in 1962. After flight training, Joe began a twenty-one year career in the United States Air Force, flying search and rescue helicopters. He served two tours in the Vietnam War, logging more than 120 missions over Laos and North Vietnam in 1965-66 as a HH-3E “Jolly Green” helicopter pilot. In 1975 his crew assisted in the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon and fired the last shots of the American military in Vietnam as his door gunners suppressed enemy anti-aircraft fire on their final sortie from the carrier USS Midway. His crew also assisted in the operations involved in the Mayaguez incident. For his wartime service Joe was awarded the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters and two Silver Stars for bravery in combat.

Joe attended Princeton University, where he earned an MA (1969) and PhD (1971) in History, working with Theodore K. Rabb on the history of early modern Europe. He served on the faculty of the History Department at the Air Force Academy from 1970-74 and was later the editor of the Air University Review at the Air University in Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. After retirement from the military, Joe began a second successful career in the academy. He served on the faculties of the Naval War College and at Rice University; during the latter assignment he also directed the space shuttle history project at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Joe joined the History Department at The Ohio State University in 1987. Over the next twenty-nine years on campus he supervised twenty-six graduate students through to completion of their PhD degrees. The graduate students always simply called him, with great affection, “Dr. G.” Additionally, Joe sat on more than 270 student examination committees – senior research essays; honors theses; graduate exams – a number that, according to the Graduate School, is more than any other faculty member on record. In 2008, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee offered Joe a generous grant to support the research of his graduate students, the first such grant to an academic program in military history. The Foundation has since annually renewed the grant, and also (at Joe’s suggestion) extended its support to three other military history faculty members.

At various points in his career, Joe held the Charles Lindberg Chair at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., was a guest lecturer and visiting professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point, served on the Board of Trustees of the Society for Military History, and was a regular participant in the worldwide conferences of the International Commission on Military History. 

Joe was an authority on military and maritime history, airpower history, military technology, and the Vietnam War. When asked by a colleague about his research interests he replied: “Anything that involves technology and the socially sanctioned application of violence.” His first book, Gunpowder and Galleys: Changing Technology and Mediterranean Warfare at Sea in the 16th Century (1974), was derived from his dissertation and, with its emphasis on logistics and its skillful use of both material and written sources, became one of the very first works of the “new” military history. His other notable works included America in Vietnam: The Fifteen Year War (1991), A Very Short War: The Mayaguez and the Battle of Koh Tang (1995), Galleons and Galleys (2002), and a host of articles in learned journals. Joe was working on a comprehensive history of the Vietnam War at the time of his passing.

The culmination of Joe’s professional career was his receipt of the prestigious Goodpaster Prize, awarded by the American Veteran’s Institute and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation for his accomplishments as an outstanding soldier-scholar. Additionally, the Dr. John F. Guilmartin Jr. Scholarship for World War II Study Abroad was graciously funded in his name by alumnus Scott Laidig, a lasting legacy that will benefit future generations of Buckeye students.

Joe had a keen insight into the special challenges that confront veterans entering or returning to college after being under fire and helped many to make the transition. He will be fondly remembered for his teaching (his undergraduate classes regularly enrolled more students than almost any others), for his support of colleagues and students, for his ability to whistle on demand (whether as a call for silence or to help a friend in a lecture who could not remember the tune of “The White Cockade”), for his exceptional recall of “light verse,” and for his quick sense of humor. In September 2015, after a lecture on the end of the Pacific War seventy years before, the speaker received a question from the audience asking why General MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito got along so well: Joe observed from the back of the room “Because they immediately recognized that they were both semi-divine Beings.”

Joe’s advisees are hosting a conference at the Mershon Center on Saturday, September 24 to celebrate his career and scholarship. The result will be a volume of essays in his honor focused on war and technology. 

Joe is survived by his wife, Hannelore; by daughters Lore Guilmartin and Eugenia Guilmartin, Colonel, United States Army; by step-daughter, Karla Vick and step-son Kurt Vick; and by his grandchildren, Haley and Ranon Varney.

Gifts in Joe’s memory may be made to the John Guilmartin scholarship fund, which was established to support travel expenses for an undergraduate student participating in the WWII History Study Abroad program, in one of several ways.

Electronically at

By mail (and if sending a check, please make payable to The Ohio State University Foundation, reference the Guilmartin Scholarship #313906, and that your gift is in memory of John Guilmartin) to the following address:

The Ohio State University Foundation

1480 West Lane Avenue

Columbus, OH 43221

By phone to 614-292-2141 and have your credit or debit card information ready.

Joe’s widow will receive notifications from the OSU Foundation when gifts are made in his memory.

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