DOVER, Del. – The body of a military expert who served in three Republican administrations was found dumped in a landfill over the holiday weekend, and investigators said Monday they do not know who might have killed him.
John Wheeler III, 66, was last seen Dec. 28 on an Amtrak train from Washington to Wilmington. His body was found three days later, on New Year's Eve, as a garbage truck emptied its contents at the Cherry Island landfill. His death has been ruled a homicide.
Wheeler, who served in Vietnam, helped lead efforts to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington.
The former Army officer lived in New Castle and worked as a consultant for The Mitre Corporation, a nonprofit based in Bedford, Mass., and McLean, Va., that operates federally funded research and development centers.
Police have determined that all the stops made Friday by the garbage truck before it arrived at the landfill involved large commercial disposal bins in Newark, several miles from Wheeler's home.
"He was just not the sort of person who would wind up in a landfill," said Bayard Marin, an attorney who was representing Wheeler in a dispute over a couple's plans to build a new home in the historic district of Old New Castle where the victim lived.
Wheeler, the son of a decorated Army officer, was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. He retired from the military in 1971.
Wheeler served as a special assistant to the secretary of the Air Force under President George W. Bush, and in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He also was the first chief executive of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
As the first chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Wheeler led the multimillion-dollar fundraising effort to create the memorial on Washington's National Mall.
Fund founder and president Jan Scruggs said Wheeler dedicated himself to ensuring that service members were given the respect they deserve.
"I know how passionate he was about honoring all who serve their nation, and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice," Scruggs said in a statement released Monday.
In a forward for the book, "Reflections On The Wall: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial," Wheeler wrote that the beauty of the wall photos in the book comes from the black granite's reflective quality.
"Before construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, those of us working on the project knew the wall would be shiny and reflective," he wrote. "But no one anticipated the sharp, true, and expansive mirror quality of the wall. The high polish of the black granite surface reflects blue sky, green trees, the Washington Monument, the Capitol Dome, the Lincoln Memorial, and the expressive faces of visitors who approach the Wall."
Wheeler's military career included serving in the office of the secretary of defense and writing a manual on the effectiveness of biological and chemical weapons, which recommended that the United States not use biological weapons.
"He was a very humble kind of guy, actually," Marin said. "He was never the kind of person who would talk about all the wonderful things he did in his life."