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James Van Fleet

James Van Fleet
Head-and-shoulders photo of General James Van Fleet, 60 years of age, shown wearing khaki uniform blouse, four-star insignia and neckerchief.
General James Van Fleet, pictured here in 1953.
Born(1892-03-19)March 19, 1892
Coytesville (Fort Lee, New Jersey), United States
DiedSeptember 23, 1992(1992-09-23) (aged 100)
Polk City, Florida, United States
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1915–1953
Service number0-3847
UnitInfantry Branch
Commands heldEighth United States Army
Second United States Army
III Corps
90th Infantry Division
4th Infantry Division
8th Infantry Regiment
1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment
17th Machine Gun Battalion
Battles/warsWorld War I
World War II
Greek Civil War
Korean War
AwardsDistinguished Service Cross (3)
Army Distinguished Service Medal (4)
Silver Star (3)
Legion of Merit (2)
Bronze Star Medal (3)
Purple Heart (3)
Other work
  • Football coach
  • Diplomat
  • Businessman
  • Author
  • Rancher

General James Alward Van Fleet (March 19, 1892 – September 23, 1992) was a United States Army officer who saw service during World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Van Fleet was a native of New Jersey, who was raised in Florida and graduated from the United States Military Academy. He served as a regimental, divisional and corps commander during World War II and as the commanding general of United States Army and other United Nations forces during the Korean War.

Early life and education

James Van Fleet was born in the Coytesville section of Fort Lee, New Jersey, but 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, Florida.

After graduating from Summerlin in 1911, Van Fleet received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. 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 famous West Point Class of 1915, which included so many future generals that it has been called "the class the stars fell on" (stars being the insignia of generals). Van Fleet's classmates included Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, among many others. After graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Infantry Branch of the United States Army.

Military career

Early career

After Van Fleet was commissioned, he was assigned to a company of the 3rd Infantry Regiment at Plattsburgh, New York, where he served from September 12 to October 1, 1915. He then served at Madison Barracks, in Sacketts Harbor, New York until May 11, 1916. The 3rd Infantry was then transferred to Eagle Pass, Texas, for service on the Mexican border until October 8, 1917. During his time in Texas, Van Fleet was promoted to first lieutenant on July 1, 1916 and to captain on May 15, 1917.

Van Fleet then transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he served as an instructor for provisional officers, Oct. 10, 1917, to March 22, 1918; commanding Army Service Schools Detachment No. 2, to April 6, 1918; at Kansas City, Missouri, inspecting 7th Infantry Regiment, National Guard of Missouri, April 1 to 5; at Camp Forrest, Ga., Camp Wadsworth, S. C., and Camp Mills, Long Island, commanding a company of the 16th Machine Gun Battalion, from April 10 to July 4, 1918. He received a temporary promotion to major on June 17, 1918.

Van Fleet was then shipped to France, where he commanded the 17th Machine Gun Battalion from September 12, 1918 to June 11, 1919. He was wounded in action in Meuse-Argonne Offensive on November 4, 1918, seven days before the Armistice.

Interwar period

After the war, Van Fleet was reduced to his permanent rank of captain in 1922 and promoted to major in the Regular Army in December 1924. 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, after assisting William G. Kline for a year. He led the Gators into national prominence with a 12–3–4 (.737) record.

From 1924 to 1927 he was stationed at Camp Galliard in the Panama Canal Zone where he commanded the 1st Battalion of the 42nd Infantry. This assignment was followed by one at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. At Fort Benning Van Fleet served as an instructor from April 1927 to September 1928 and as a student in the Advanced Course from September 1928 to June 1929. In addition to his other duties, Van Fleet served as head coach of the post's football team. Van Fleet then returned to the University of Florida where he was the Professor of Military Science and Tactics from July 1929 to June 1933.

From July 1933 to July 1935 he was stationed at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, Maine where he served as commander of the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Infantry and also as the post's executive officer. During this assignment, he oversaw the construction of a duck pond in the northwest corner of the parade field.

World War II

Van Fleet commanded the 8th Infantry Regiment (part of the 4th Infantry Division) for three years (July 1941 to July 1944) and led it into combat in Europe in World War II, participating in the D-Day landings on Utah Beach in June 1944. On Utah Beach Van Fleet distinguished himself by outstanding combat leadership and was awarded his first Distinguished Service Cross.

Although widely regarded as an outstanding officer, he was blocked from promotion because the Army Chief of Staff, General George 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.

Following promotion to brigadier general in August 1944, Van Fleet became the Assistant Division Commander of 2nd Infantry Division (July to September 1944) and then commanded the 4th Infantry Division (September to October 1944) and 90th Infantry Division (October 1944 to February 1945). He was promoted to major general in November 1944.

After briefly commanding XXIII Corps, on 17 March 1945 Van Fleet replaced General John Millikin as commander of III Corps where Millikin served with General George S. Patton's Third Army. Van Fleet commanded III Corps through the end of the war and the Occupation of Germany until returning to the United States in February 1946.

Post World War II

Van Fleet was reassigned to Governor's Island, New York as commander of the 2nd Service Command before becoming the Deputy Commanding General of the 1st United States Army in June 1946. In December 1947 he went to Frankfurt, Germany as G-3 (operations officer) of the United States European Command.

In February 1948, Van Fleet was promoted to lieutenant general and sent to Greece as the head of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group and 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 Second United States Army from August 10, 1950 to April 11, 1951.


On April 14, 1951, Van Fleet replaced General Matthew B. Ridgway as commander of the U.S. Eighth Army and United Nations forces in Korea when Ridgway took over for General MacArthur upon MacArthur's recall to the United States. He was promoted to four-star general on July 31, 1951. He continued Ridgway's efforts to strengthen the Eighth Army in its campaign against Communist Chinese and North Korean enemy forces.[citation needed] His only son, U.S. Air Force Captain James Alward Van Fleet Jr., was a B-26 bomber pilot who was MIA/killed in the Korean War.[citation needed]

In early 1951, Van Fleet proposed an amphibious landing at Wonsan, behind communist lines. The political fallout of MacArthur's removal, however, persuaded Ridgway to veto the plan.[citation needed]

Van Fleet commanded the 8th Army until February 11, 1953 when he was relieved by General Maxwell Taylor. He retired from the Army at the end of March at the age of 61.

Legacy and death

At the time of his retirement from active duty on March 31, 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." Van Fleet was the recipient of three Distinguished Service Crosses (the U.S. Army's second highest award for bravery in combat), three Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat, and his most prized decoration—the Combat Infantryman's Badge (CIB) of the common foot soldier - Van Fleet being one of the few recipients of the CIB who were generals at the time of the award. He appeared on the July 26, 1953, episode of What's My Line?.

In 1957, Van Fleet was the moving spirit behind the establishment in New York of The Korea Society, the first nonprofit organization in the United States 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."

Van Fleet died in his sleep on his ranch outside Polk City, Florida on September 23, 1992, six months after his 100th birthday that March. He was the oldest living general officer in the United States at the time of his death. Van Fleet and his wife Helen are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Buried with them is Van Fleet's second wife, Virginia, who died in 1986.

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 General James A. Van Fleet State Trail, running from Polk City to Mabel, Florida, is also named in his honor. The University of Florida presented Van Fleet an honorary doctorate 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. He was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as an "honorary letter winner" in 1971. In 1998, a panel of Florida historians and other consultants named Van Fleet one of the fifty most important Floridians of the 20th century.

Van Fleet's estate donated his papers to the George C. Marshall Foundation, and are the second largest collection of papers held by the foundation, after those of General Marshall.

Van Fleet was also an art collector and donated many rare and exceptional Asian objects to the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art.

Van Fleet and his wife, Helen Moore Van Fleet (1892–1984), had three children, eight grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren.

Awards and decorations

Van Fleet's personal decorations include:

Combat Infantry Badge.svg
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Silver star
Silver star
Bronze star
Bronze star
United States Army and U.S. Air Force Presidential Unit Citation ribbon.svg Korean Presidential Unit Citation.png
1st Row Combat Infantryman Badge
2nd Row Distinguished Service Cross
w/ two Oak leaf clusters
Distinguished Service Medal
w/ three Oak leaf clusters
Silver Star
w/ two Oak leaf clusters
3rd Row Legion of Merit
w/ one Oak leaf cluster
Bronze Star Medal
w/ two Oak leaf clusters
Purple Heart
w/ two Oak leaf clusters
Air Medal
w/ one Oak leaf cluster
4th Row Army Commendation Medal Mexican Border Service Medal World War I Victory Medal w/ 3 bronze service stars Army of Occupation of Germany Medal
5th Row American Defense Service Medal American Campaign Medal European-African-Middle Eastern
Campaign Medal
w/ Arrowhead
and five Service stars
World War II Victory Medal
6th Row Army of Occupation Medal National Defense Service Medal Korean Service Medal
w/ seven Service stars
United Nations Korea Medal
7th Row Army Presidential Unit Citation Republic of Korea
Presidential Unit Citation

Van Fleet also received the following foreign decorations:

Also decorations from the following countries:

  • Ethiopia
  • Thailand
  • Philippines
  • Republic of China


No insignia Cadet, United States Military Academy: June 14, 1911
No insignia
in 1915
Second Lieutenant, United States Army: June 12, 1915
US-O2 insignia.svg First Lieutenant, United States Army: July 1, 1916
US-O3 insignia.svg Captain, United States Army: May 15, 1917
US-O4 insignia.svg Major, National Army: June 17, 1918
US-O4 insignia.svg Major, Regular Army: July 2, 1920
US-O3 insignia.svg Captain, Regular Army: November 4, 1922
US-O4 insignia.svg Major, Regular Army: December 6, 1924
US-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant Colonel, Regular Army: October 1, 1936
US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel, Army of the United States: June 26, 1941
US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel, Regular Army: February 1, 1944
US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General, Army of the United States: August 1, 1944
US-O8 insignia.svg Major General, Army of the United States: November 15, 1944
US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General, Regular Army: June 27, 1946
US-O8 insignia.svg Major General, Regular Army: January 24, 1948
US-O9 insignia.svg Lieutenant General, Army of the United States: February 19, 1948
US-O10 insignia.svg General, Army of the United States: July 31, 1951
US-O10 insignia.svg General, Retired List: March 31, 1953

Head coaching record

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs
Florida Gators (Southern Conference) (1923–1924)
1923 Florida 6–1–2 1–0–2 2nd
1924 Florida 6–2–2 2–0–1 3rd
Florida: 12–3–4 3–0–3
Total: 12–3–4

See also

This page was last updated at 2022-08-20 23:35 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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