Van Fleet, James Alward, GEN

 Photo In Uniform   Service Details
22 kb
View Time Line
Last Rank
Last Service Branch
Last Primary MOS
00G3-Army General Officer (G3)
Last MOS Group
General Officer
Primary Unit
1951-1953, 8th Army
Service Years
1911 - 1962



Twelve Overseas Service Bars

 Last Photo   Personal Details 

70 kb

Home State
New Jersey
New Jersey
Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by the Site Administrator to remember Van Fleet, James Alward, GEN USA(Ret).
Contact Info
Home Town
Last Address
Polk City, FL

Date of Passing
Sep 23, 1992
Location of Interment
Arlington National Cemetery - Arlington, Virginia
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

 Official Badges 

US Army Retired Army Staff Identification U.S. Forces korea Belgian Fourragere

Infantry Shoulder Cord US Army Retired (Pre-2007) Meritorious Unit Commendation 1944-1961 French Fourragere

 Unofficial Badges 

 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
James Alward Van Fleet, a foot soldier through nearly four decades in the United States Army and a commander who led major campaigns in WWII and the Korean War, died Wednesday, September 23, 1992 at his ranch in Polk City, Florida. He was 100 years old and died in his sleep, funeral home officials said. His career stretched from serving as newly commissioned Second Lieutenant chasing Pancho Villa with The Old Guard to General commanding the 8th US Army and the U.N. forces in Korea 38 years later, died in sleep September 23, 1992, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday, September 29, 1992.


Van Fleet was born in Coytesville, New Jersey, March 19, 1892, but raised in Florida and adopted it as his home. He led US troops under John J. "Black Jack" Pershing during the Mexican Revolution against Francisco "Panco" Villa. He commanded 17th Machine Gun Battalion in France during WWI and in WWII moved up in command from regiment to Division and Corps while fighting against the Germans. He led U.S. and U.N. forces during the Korean War. President Truman called him America's "greatest general."

His ancestry can be traced back to the Revolutionary War, where his grandfather, Joshua Jan Van Fleet, joined 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. William is credited with being instrumental in establishing the first railroad in Florida. He was proud to have had his son nominated in 1911 to West Point, after he graduated from Summerlin Institute in Bartow, Florida.

In the class of 1915, he had as his classmates Dwight Eisenhower and Omar N. Bradley, with whom he would serve in Europe in WWII. Standing more than 6 feet tall and possessed with what was described as "an easy grace," Cadet Van Fleet played fullback on Army's undefeated football team in his senior year. He graduated 92nd in his class, and was commissioned an Infantry Second Lieutenant.

His first active-duty assignment was to Eagle Pass, Texas, from where he accompanied Pershing and his 3rd Infantry Regiment in their pursuit of Villa. In his time with "The Old Guard" he was promoted to First Lieutenant, then to Captain as a company commander.

As the U.S. entered WWI, he went to France with the 6th Division in July 1918 and assumed command of the 17th Machine Gun Battalion. He was wounded in action on November 4, 1918 near Sedan, France, but not before he had been decorated twice for bravery with Silver Stars. At the end of the war, he remained on occupation duty with his battalion until June 1919, when he was assigned to the 6th Division at Camp Grant, Illinois.

He held several ROTC assignments between the world wars. He was first assigned to the ROTC at Kansas State Agricultural College then to South Dakota State College. From 1921 to 1924 he was coach of the University of Florida football team in addition to being in charge of ROTC program at the University. He would return to the University for the 1932-33 year in a similar capacity. He further honed his leadership skills as a battalion commander with the 42nd Infantry in the Panama Canal Zone, before returning to the U.S. to instruct at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. While there he attended advanced course, graduating in June 1929.

When WWII began, he was commander of the 8th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division, a unit he would train and lead on maneuvers and amphibious exercises in more than four states before leading them into battle on D-Day, June 6, 1944 – the Allied invasion of Europe. Colonel Van Fleet's regiment spearheaded his Division’s landing on Utah Beach in France. Following the landings, Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower told Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall that Van Fleet deserved credit for his leadership and successes on the battlefield. During the conversation it was revealed that although several commanders had recommended him for promotion, he had been passed over because of unfavorable information in his records. Marshall discovered that the unfavorable information really should have been attributed to another officer with a similar name, and he was soon appointed the assistant commander of the 2nd Infantry Division, wearing the stars of Brigadier General. In that capacity, and later as commander of 4th and 90th Infantry Divisions in George S. Patton's 3rd Army, he could be found in the thick of the fighting as history was being made on the continent. His 90th Division spearheaded the attack on Metz and the crossing of the Moselle and Saar Rivers. He also led Patton's relief of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. By March 1945 he commanded his own Corps.

At the end of the war in Europe, Lieutenant General Van Fleet and his Corps were deployed back to the U.S. for shipment to the Pacific, but the war there ended while they were still at Camp Polk, Louisiana. He was returned to Europe in 1947. Within two months was transferred to the U.S. Army Group, part of the U.S. Mission for Aid to Greece. He became commander of the Joint US Military Advisory Group which provided operational advice to the Greek military in their battle with the Communist insurgents. After the Greek victory, he was returned to U.S. as commander of the Second Army at Fort Meade, Maryland, but his stay there was short.

On April 11, 1951, he was sent to Korea to command the 8th U.S. Army and U.N. forces, replacing Matthew B. Ridgeway, who himself was replacing Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur. With the job came a fourth star. Under his leadership, U.N. troops drove North Koreans and Chinese north until he was ordered to stop his push northward as the communists had called for peace talks. His troops held for the next two years, as armistice negotiations were conducted. He is credited with establishing infantry, artillery and small-unit officer's courses and retraining the forces in Korea. He also established the Korean military academy and sent some Korean officers to military course in U.S.

His only son, Captain James A. Van Fleet, Jr, also fought in the war as a Air Force B-26 pilot. During a night bombing mission in April 1952, the Captain was reported missing in action. His status was changed to presumed dead two years later.

The General retired from the Army on March 31, 1953, with the accolade from former President Harry Truman of being "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."

Eight years later in 1961, President John F. Kennedy called him to active duty to survey the National Guard and Special Service Forces units. 

During his career, he earned more than twenty U.S. medals, including Distinguished Service Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Distinguished Service Medal with three Oak Leaf CLusters, the Silver Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Bronze Star Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters. He also was authorized to wear the Combat Infantryman's Badge.

His last public appearance came in March 1992, during his 100th birthday celebration here. "Thank you very much; I hope I deserve some of it," he said from a wheelchair in a barely audible voice. 

He was buried on Wednesday, September 30, 1992. Survivors include two daughters, Helen McConnell and Dempsie McChristian; eight grandchildren; and twelve great-grand-children.


JA Van Fleet Time Magazine Cover

JA Van Fleet Time Cover

Other Comments:

James Alward Van Fleet was born in Coytesville, New Jersey, March 19, 1892, and raised in Florida. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1915, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant of infantry. The following year he participated in the Mexican border campaign of 1916-1917. During World War I he commanded a machine-gun battalion in the 6th Division and saw action in the Gerardmer sector and in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. In the interwar period, Van Fleet endured the round of peacetime assignments: teaching military science at Kansas State Agricultural College, South Dakota State College and the University of Florida; he was a student and an instructor at the Infantry School; a unit instructor of the organized reserve at San Diego, California; commanded a battalion in the 42nd Infantry Regiment in Panama, served with the 5th Infantry Regiment at Fort Williams, Maine, commanded a battalion in the 29th Infantry Regiment; and, beginning in February 1941, with the rank of colonel, commanded the 8th Infantry Regiment. Unlike his contemporaries, America's entry into World War II did not bring Van Fleet rapid promotion to general rank or high command. When Van Fleet had been at the Infantry School, George C. Marshall, then assistant commandant in charge of the academic department, had confused him with someone else who had a similar name and was a well-known alcoholic. Consequently, as Marshall's importance in the Army grew in the 1930s, culminating in his appointment as chief of staff in 1939, Van Fleet's career progression suffered.

He was not selected either for the Command and General Staff College or the Army War College. The pattern continued after Pearl Harbor, so that in 1944, Van Fleet was still commanding the 8th Infantry with the rank of colonel. On D-Day he led the 8th Infantry, part of the 4th Division, ashore at Utah beach, Normandy, and several weeks later in the capture of Cherbourg, France. In these actions, Van Fleet displayed courage under fire and demonstrated that he was a driving leader who got things done. Thereafter, with the confusion about his identity finally "cleared up" to Marshall's satisfaction, Van Fleet's rise was spectacular.

Promoted to the rank of brigadier general, Van Fleet was assistant commander of the 2nd Division during the St. Lo breakout and the capture of Brest, France, and commanded the 4th Division during the Siegfried Line Campaign and the 90th Division during the operation to capture Metz, France, and the Battle of the Bulge. In March 1945, Van Fleet, now holding the rank of major general, assumed command of the III Corps, leading it through the American First Army's encirclement of the Ruhr pocket in Germany and the American Third Army's drive into Austria. By the end of the war, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, regarded Van Fleet as one of the "greatest fighting" soldiers in his command.

Immediately following the war, Van Fleet held several commands in the United States, and in 1947, he was transferred to the European Command in Frankfurt, Germany. In February 1948, he was appointed director of the joint U.S. Military Advisory and Planning Group in Athens, Greece, with the responsibility for advising the Greek government in its struggle against Communist insurgents. Soon after, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and named a member of the Greek National Defense Council. During the next two years Van Fleet struggled to turn the Greek Army into an effective fighting force, overseeing its training, organization and operations. On his recommendation, incompetent officers were sacked, more maneuver battalions created and aggressive offensive actions undertaken. Backed by massive American aid and assisted by the faulty tactics of the insurgents and the decision of Marshal Josip Tito of Yugoslavia to close the Yugoslav-Greek border through which the insurgents were supplied, the Greek Army, in a personal triumph for Van Fleet, had completely routed the Communists by the end of 1949.

After duty as commander of the Second Army in the United States, Van Fleet was sent to Korea in April 1951, to command the American Eighth Army as the replacement for General Matthew B. Ridgway, who had succeeded General Douglas MacArthur as Far East commander. The Eighth Army was more or less straddling the 38th Parallel. Van Fleet arrived just as the Chinese Communists and the North Koreans were preparing to launch their single greatest military effort of the Korean War. In a fierce battle that lasted from April 22-29, he skillfully withdrew the Eighth Army's front line, shifted the IX and X Corps to prevent an enemy breakthrough to Seoul, and inflicted 70,000 casualties on the enemy. Following the rebuff of another Communist attack in May, Van Fleet took the offensive and inflicted 200,000 casualties on the Communists in a drive north of the 38th Parallel to the Iron Triangle area of North Korea. There Ridgway concluded that a deeper advance into North Korea would be too costly, and had Van Fleet construct fortifications on the "Kansas" and "Wyoming" lines while the United Nations (U.N.) Command pursued cease-fire talks. Van Fleet later complained that he had the Communists on the run in June 1951, and that he could have won the war by advancing to the Yalu River if he had not been halted. In this complaint he was expressing the frustration of a blunt soldier who saw victory and defeat in absolute terms. In fact, the Eighth Army probably did not possess the strength to advance even as far as Pyongyang, North Korea; and if it did, the price in casualties would have been too high considering the likely results. Notwithstanding his later statement, Van Fleet in June 1951, recognized that further advances were neither desirable nor feasible and agreed with Ridgway's decision to stand on the Kansas and Wyoming lines.

In August 1951, Van Fleet, recently promoted to full general, launched a limited offensive in eastern Korea after truce talks had stalled; and after two months of bitter fighting, he seized Heartbreak Ridge and Bloody Ridge. He followed up this offensive with another limited offensive in central Korea in October. Van Fleet's offensives inflicted heavy casualties on the Communists but at a high cost in U.N. casualties as well. When truce talks resumed, Ridgway in November 1951, ordered Van Fleet to cease offensive action and emphasize an active defense of the existing front line.

During 1952, Van Fleet chafed under the restrictions placed on him by the Truman administration's commitment to a limited war strategy in Korea. Seeing no point in fighting battles for the same hills and concerned about the combat readiness of his army, he produced plans for a major offensive. But Ridgway and his successor, General Mark W. Clark, saw little profit in such an operation. As a result, except for costly limited attacks in the Iron Triangle area in the summer and fall, Van Fleet engaged only in small-scale actions and artillery duels. Relying heavily on firepower to minimize his own casualties, he demanded greatly increased ammunition allowances. However, inadequate domestic production and resupply problems forced him to ration ammunition, and later he complained that he had been handicapped by shortages. Despite his differences with his superiors, Van Fleet was an able army commander. By constantly working to keep the Eighth Army at peak fighting efficiency, he maintained it as an effective and reliable force capable of delivering devastating blows against the Communists.

Van Fleet likewise worked to revitalize the South Korean Army. He started new training programs and pressed for its expansion to prepare it for offensive action. In the process he made it into a formidable fighting force and was recognized by the South Koreans as the "father" of their army. To the chagrin of many of his colleagues, Van Fleet also strongly identified with the authoritarian government of South Korean President Syngman Rhee and its opposition to the truce talks and the repatriation of prisoners and its desire to unify Korea militarily.

Grieving over-the loss of his son, an Air Force pilot who was shot down while on a mission over North Korea in 1952, and embittered by the strategy of limited war in Korea followed by the Truman administration and then by Eisenhower's administration, Van Fleet relinquished his command of the Eighth Army in February 1953, and two months later retired from the Army. On his return to the United States, he sparked controversy by charging that he had been denied the opportunity to achieve total victory in Korea by political decisions in Washington, D.C., and by the failure of Washington to provide him with adequate quantities of ammunition. These charges aroused the interest of politicians who believed that Communists must be firmly defeated everywhere, but they were strongly challenged by Ridgway, Army Chief of Staff General Joseph L. Collins, and Lieutenant General Maxwell Taylor, Van Fleet's replacement with the Eighth Army. In 1954, Van Fleet served as Eisenhower's special ambassador to the Far East, and in 1961-1962, he was a consultant on guerrilla warfare for the office of the secretary of the Army. Quiet, self-assured, Van Fleet stands out for his record as a combat commander and for his achievements in Greece and Korea.

 Photo Album   (More...

 Ribbon Bar

Combat Infantryman 1st Award

 Enlisted/Officer Basic Training
  1911, US Military Academy (West Point, NY)
 Unit Assignments/ Advancement Schools
3rd Infantry 6th Infantry DivisionHQ, US Army Cadet CommandInfantry Center and School (Staff) Fort Benning, GA
Panama Canal Department1st Battalion, 8th Infantry 4th Infantry Division2nd Infantry Division
90th Infantry DivisionIII Corps (3rd Corps)Second Army (2nd Army)8th Army
  1916-1917, 3rd Infantry
  1917-1919, 6th Infantry Division
  1919-1924, HQ, US Army Cadet Command
  1929-1929, Infantry Center and School (Staff) Fort Benning, GA
  1932-1933, HQ, US Army Cadet Command
  1934-1938, Panama Canal Department
  1941-1944, HHC, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry
  1941-1944, 4th Infantry Division
  1944-1944, 2nd Infantry Division
  1944-1945, 90th Infantry Division
  1945-1947, III Corps (3rd Corps)
  1947-1949, Army Advisory Group, Second Army (2nd Army)
  1949-1951, Second Army (2nd Army)
  1951-1953, 8th Army
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1914-1914 Mexican Service Campaign (1911-1919)/Battle and Occupation of Veracruz (1914)
  1918-1918 World War I/Aisne Campaign/World War I/The Battle of Cantigny
  1944-1944 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Normandy Campaign (1944)/Operation Overlord/D-Day Beach Landings - Operation Neptune
  1944-1944 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Northern France Campaign (1944)
  1944-1944 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Rhineland Campaign (1944-45)/Battle of Metz
  1944-1945 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Rhineland Campaign (1944-45)
  1944-1945 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Ardennes Alsace Campaign (1944-45)/Battle of the Bulge
  1944-1945 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Rhineland Campaign (1944-45)/Siege of Bastogne
  1945-1945 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Rhineland Campaign (1944-45)/Advance to the Rhine
  1945-1945 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Rhineland Campaign (1944-45)/Saar River Crossing
  1945-1945 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Central Europe Campaign (1945)
  1945-1945 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Central Europe Campaign (1945)/Victory in Europe Day (VE Day - 8May45)
  1950-1950 Korean War/CCF Intervention (1950-51)
 Colleges Attended 
United States Military Academy
  1911-1915, United States Military Academy
Copyright Inc 2003-2011