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Willis Dale Crittenberger was a United States Army officer whose career served as a World War II combat commander of IV Corps (United States) during the later part of Italian campaign from 1944 to the end of the war.
Early military career
Crittenberger was born in Baltimore, Maryland on December 2, 1890. After growing up in Anderson, Indiana, he was appointed to the United States Military Academy, graduating with the Class of 1913, two years ahead of fellow classmate, friend and fellow cavalry officer, Dwight Eisenhower.
Crittenberger was then commissioned as a second lieutenant in the cavalry in August 1913 and assigned to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment (United States) at Fort Hood, Texas.
His advanced military education included the United States Army Cavalry School at Fort Riley, Kansas in 1924, the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1925 and the Army War College at Washington Barracks in Washington, D.C. in 1930. After assignments to Fort Knox, Kentucky, the 1st Cavalry Regiment's (Mechanized) new home in 1934 and serving as staff positions to Chief of Cavalry in Washington and 1st Armored Division.
Major General Willis D. Crittenberger
and Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall
observe troop training, Fort Benning, Georgia, June 1942.
World War II
With the onset of World War II, Crittenberger was commanding 2nd Brigade of 2nd Armored Division (United States) under General George S. Patton. In January 1942, he moved up to command 2nd Armored Division when Patton transferred to North Africa to command II Corps (United States). In August 1942, he organized, trained and commanded 3rd Armored Corps composed of 7th Armored Division (United States) and 11th Armored Division (United States) at Camp Polk, Louisiana. Redesignated as XIX Corps (United States), Crittenberger brought XIX Corps to England in January 1944.
In 1943, General Dwight Eisenhower initially selected Crittenberger as one of three corps commanders along with Gee Gerow and Roscoe B. Woodruff for the 1944 Allied invasion of France. All three were well known and trusted by Eisenhower. General Omar Bradley who Eisenhower selected as the American commander the D-Day invasion replaced Eisenhower's picks seeking differing temperaments and commanders that had more corps combat experience. At the time, Commander, U.S. Army Forces in Europe, General Jacob L. Devers, was seeking a corps commander of Fifth United States Army's IV Corps for the Italian campaign. Held in reserve during the early portion of the campaign, Crittenberger's IV Corps replaced VI Corps on the front line after the liberation of Rome.
Having on its ranks beyond Americans; Brazilians and South Africans, the IV Corps were in combat for over 390 days, 326 of that in continuous combat, Crittenberger commanded IV Corps as the western arm of the Allied thrust through northern Italy to the Po River which ended with the surrender of German forces in Italy on May 2, 1945.
In the postwar years Crittenberger commanded the Caribbean Defense Command, including the Panama Canal Zone, then in 1947, became first commander-in-chief of U.S. Caribbean Command, a regional unified theater command and preedcessor to today's United States Southern Command. After a two year stint as Commanding General, First United States Army, at Fort Jay, Governors Island, New York, Crittenberger concluded his active duty military career in December 1952, leaving New York City with a ticker tape parade up Broadway.
In retirement, he advised President Dwight Eisenhower, his West Point classmate and fellow cavalry officer on national security matters. Crittenberger served as president of the U.S. Military Academy Association of Graduates from 1955 to 1958 and president of the Greater New York Fund.
Crittenberger was appointed on October 1, 1956 to serve as the new Chairman of the Free Europe Committee, a post he retained until 1959. He actively defended Radio Free Europe after the latter was accused in 1956 of having triggered the Hungarian rebellion. On November 12, he stated: “The policy of Free Europe is NOT to inflame Eastern Europeans . . . [but] to base our broadcasts on factual reporting of the news WITHOUT any exaggeration, prediction, or promises. If there has been any violation of this policy, we are unaware of it." Others argue that some of the broadcasts were inflammatory and penned by Hungarian émigrés, and that they may have caused Soviet leaders to doubt Hungarian leader Imre Nagy’s managerial skills, fear the power vacuum in Hungary, and conclude that a second military invasion was necessary.
Crittenberger married Josephine Frost Woodhull (1894-1978) on June 23, 1918. Two of his three sons served in the military and died in combat. Corporal Townsend Woodhull Crittenberger (born May 13, 1925) was killed in action during the Rhine River crossing on March 25, 1945 during the final days of World War II.  Colonel Dale Jackson Crittenberger (USMA 1950) (born May 27, 1927) commanding 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division (United States) during the Vietnam War was died in a mid-air collision on September 17, 1969 while directing combat operations. Dale served as a White House military aide to President Eisenhower in 1959 and as a newly commissioned major received his new badge of rank from his father's old friend, the President.
A third son, Willis D. Crittenberger, Jr. (USMA 1942) also served in the Army in World War II with the 10th Armored Division, rising from lieutenant to lieutenant colonel during the war, retiring as a major general. He later was a spokesman for the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Crittenberger died in Chevy Chase, Maryland on August 4, 1980 at age 89. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with his wife and sons, Townsend and Dale.
- Arlington National Cemetery page for Lt. Gen. Willis D. Crittenberger
- Arlington National Cemetery page for Col. Dale J. Crittenberger
- XIX Corps Website