James Alward Van Fleet
Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1915
Engagements: • World War I (1914 - 1918)• World War II (1941 - 1945)• Korean War (1950 - 1953)
James Alward Van Fleet
James Alward Van Fleet was born on 19 March 1892 in Coytesville, NJ, the son of William and Mendora Van Fleet. His parents moved to Florida when he was an infant and he was raised there. Van Fleet received his high school education at the Summerlin Institute in Bartow, FL.
James Van Fleet's ancestry can be traced back to the Revolutionary War, where his grandfather, Joshua Jan Van Fleet, joined the New York Militia in 1779. The elder Van Fleet went on to become a New York legislator and state judge, before retiring to serve as a Colonel in the state militia. His father and mother, William and Mendora Van Fleet, owned property in Chicago and were friends of Abraham Lincoln. William Van Fleet subsequently served in Union Army during Civil War.
After graduating from Summerlin in 1911, Van Fleet received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY. While he was a cadet at West Point, he was a member of the Army football team and was a standout fullback on the undefeated Army team of 1914. Van Fleet graduated in the Class of 1915 that included many future generals, and which military historians have called "the class the stars fell on." Van Fleet's classmates included Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley. After graduation, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry in the U.S. Army.
During World War I, he served as a battalion commander as part of the American Expeditionary Force under General John J. Pershing.
While serving as the senior officer of the University of Florida's U.S. Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program, Van Fleet also served as the head coach of the Florida Gators football team in 1923 and 1924. He led the Gators into national prominence with a 12-3-4 (.737) record.
World War II
Van Fleet commanded the 8th Infantry Regiment for three years and led it into combat in Europe in World War II, participating in the D-Day landings on Utah Beach on 6 June 1944. Although widely regarded as an outstanding officer, he was blocked from promotion because the Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, erroneously confused Van Fleet with a well-known alcoholic officer with a similar name. When Eisenhower, now the European Theater commander, informed Marshall of his mistake, Van Fleet was soon promoted to divisional and corps command. He later served with General George S. Patton's U.S. Third Army as Commander of III Corps.
Post-World War II
In 1946, Van Fleet was sent to Greece as the executor of the "Truman Doctrine." He was instrumental in the outcome of the Greek Civil War by providing advice to the Greek government and 250 military advisers, as well as administering $400 million in military aid. The central square in the northern Greek city of Kastoria has featured a bust of Van Fleet for many years, and was replaced with a new statue as recently as 2007.
Van Fleet was Commanding General of the U.S. Second Army from 10 August 1950 to 11 April 1951, when he replaced General Matthew B. Ridgway as commander of the U.S. Eighth Army and United Nations forces in Korea. He continued Ridgway's efforts to strengthen the Eighth Army in its campaign against numerically superior Communist Chinese and North Korean enemy forces. His only son, U.S. Air Force Captain James A. Van Fleet, Jr., was a B-26 bomber pilot who was killed in the Korean War.
At the time of his retirement from active duty in 1953, former President Harry S. Truman said "General Van Fleet is the greatest general we have ever had . . . I sent him to Greece and he won the war. I sent him to Korea and he won the war."
In 1957, General Van Fleet was the moving spirit behind the establishment in New York of the Korea Society, the first nonprofit organization in the U.S. dedicated to the promotion of friendly relations between the peoples of the United States and Korea "through mutual understanding and appreciation of their respective cultures, aims, ideals, arts, sciences and industries."
Medals, Awards and Badges
Distinguished Service Cross with 2 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
Although Van Fleet was the recipient of three Distinguished Service Crosses (the U.S. Army's second highest award for valor in combat), his most prized possession was the Combat Infantryman's Badge of the common foot soldier.
Distinguished Service Cross Citation (1st of 3 Awards)
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Colonel (Infantry) James Alward Van Fleet (ASN: 0-3847), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while Commanding the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces from 6 to 8 June 1944, in France. In the initial landing and assault upon the European continent, Colonel Van Fleet quickly organized his troops and pushed them rapidly across the beach in an orderly and determined manner, brushing aside resistance and thereby greatly expediting the early establishment of the Division beachhead. Colonel Van Fleet was always well forward and on numerous occasions personally went up to check his battalions. His superior leadership and personal example of courage aided in clearing the beach with a minimum of casualties and substantially contributed to the rapid advance of the division to its D-Day objective. On 7 June 1944, while the enemy was using observed fire to vigorously shell the highways and avenues of approach in the vicinity of his unit, he displayed cool leadership and skill in maintaining order under severely trying conditions, and did so encourage and inspire confidence in all members of the Combat Team that they followed his example and advanced with no hesitation, and with minimum losses of both men and equipment. This was at a critical time when a failure to procure advanced positions would have endangered the success of the operation. On the morning of 8 June 1944, while visiting his front line battalions, with disregard for his personal safety, he captured an enemy guard and procured important information from him which aided the Regiment in successfully advancing against the enemy's strongly entrenched successive positions. The cool fearlessness, personal bravery, and leadership displayed by Colonel Van Fleet were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States, reflecting great credit upon himself, the 4th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.
General Orders: Headquarters, First U.S. Army, General Orders No. 28 (June 20, 1944)
Distinguished Service Cross Citation - Synopsis (2nd of 3 Awards)
Major General James Alward Van Fleet (ASN: 0-3847), United States Army, was awarded a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while Commanding the 90th Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces during the period 6 to 22 December 1944, in the Saar River operations. Major General Van Fleet personally directed laying and maintaining a smoke screen which in spite of shifting winds, unpredictable weather, and fierce enemy action, completely concealed all crossing movements from the enemy. His gallant leadership, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 90th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.
General Orders: Headquarters, Third U.S. Army, General Orders No. 29 (1945)
Distinguished Service Cross Citation (3rd of 3 Awards)
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting a Second Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Third Award of the Distinguished Service Cross to Major General James Alward Van Fleet (ASN: 0-3847), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with Headquarters, III Army Corps, in action against enemy forces on 9 January 1945 in military operations in Luxembourg. On that date, near Nothum, Luxembourg, General Van Fleet proceeded to the scene of a scheduled advance vital to the mission of the entire corps. Displaying courageous leadership, he visited all elements participating in the attack, fearlessly exposing himself to heavy enemy artillery, mortar, and rocket fire, and inspiring the men by his cool demeanor and conspicuous bravery. With utter disregard for his own safety he remained with the forward units until he was assured of the success of the mission. General Van Fleet's heroic actions and unswerving devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the III Corps, and the United States Army.
General Orders: Headquarters, Third U.S. Army, General Orders No. 133 (1945)
• Shortly after his death, The Korea Society established its annual James A. Van Fleet Award to recognize those who have made outstanding contributions to closer U.S.- Korea ties.
• The Gen. James A. Van Fleet State Trail, running from Polk City to Mabel, FL, is also named in his honor.
• The University of Florida bestowed an honorary doctorate on him in 1946, and the University's military sciences building, which houses the U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy ROTC programs, is named Van Fleet Hall.
• In 1998, a panel of Florida historians and other consultants named Van Fleet one of the 50 most important Floridians of the twentieth century.
• Van Fleet's estate donated his papers to the George C. Marshall Foundation. It is the second largest collection of papers held by the Foundation, after those of General Marshall.
Van Fleet and his wife, Helen Moore Van Fleet, had three children, eight grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren.
His son, U.S. Air Force Captain James Alward Van Fleet, Jr. [Honoree Record ID 304906] preceded him in death on 4 April 1952 while on a bombing mission during the Korean War. His body was never recovered and his Father and Mother's headstone has a memorial inscribed to him. Helen Moore Van Fleet preceded General Van Fleet in death on 5 January 1984.
Death and Burial
James Alward Van Fleet died in his sleep on 23 September 1992 at his ranch outside Polk City, FL. He had celebrated his 100th birthday just over six months earlier. At the time of his death, he was the oldest living general officer in the United States. Van Fleet is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, in Section 7, Lot 8195-A, Grid V/W-24.
|Honoree ID: 347||Created by: MHOH|