John W. O'Daniel

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John W. O'Daniel
John W. O'Daniel.jpg
John W. "Iron Mike" O'Daniel
Nickname(s) Iron Mike
Born (1894-02-15)February 15, 1894
Newark, Delaware
Died March 27, 1975(1975-03-27) (aged 81)
San Diego, California
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Department of the Army Seal.svg United States Army
Years of service 1913-1955
Rank US-O9 insignia.svg Lieutenant General
Commands held
Battles/wars
Awards

John W. "Iron Mike" O'Daniel (February 15, 1894 – March 27, 1975) was a United States Army general, best known for commanding the Third Infantry Division in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Southern France during World War II. He is also known for being the commanding officer of Audie Murphy.

O’Daniel was an athlete, a teacher, a diplomat, and a lifetime military professional. He was short of stature (five foot six inches), an outspoken, doughty, gravel-voiced, combat leader of men through three major wars spanning a forty year career. His motto was, “sharpen your bayonet”. In his memoirs, Eisenhower called him “one of our outstanding combat soldiers”. The press likened him to General Patton for his strong personal opinions and his fearless demeanor, as well as his dash and daring in moving the Third Infantry Division across the European Theater of Operations.

Early life[edit]

John Wilson O’Daniel was born in Newark, Delaware February 15, 1894. He graduated from high school at Oxford, Pennsylvania in 1912 and attended Delaware College in Newark, Delaware, where he played varsity football and earned the nickname “Mike”. He enlisted in the Delaware National Guard in 1913 with Company E, 1st Delaware Infantry. On July 19, 1916 he was mobilized, and served as a corporal and sergeant with the First Infantry at the Mexico border in Deming, New Mexico. He was honorably discharged from service on his 23rd birthday, February 15, 1917.

Early military career and World War I[edit]

After graduation from Delaware College in 1917 he was commissioned a second lieutenant of the Infantry Reserve on August 15 at Reserve Officers Training Camp at Fort Myer, Virginia. He received his regular commission on October 26 and was assigned to the 11th Infantry Regiment (United States) at Camp Forrest, Tennessee.

He shipped out for overseas duty and participated in the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives. He was wounded at St. Mihiel on September 12, 1918. Testifying to his endurance and aggressiveness in battle was his nickname, “Iron Mike”, awarded by his peers, said to be a result of his actions at St. Mihiel, where he fought for twelve hours, even though he was hit in the face by a German machine gun bullet and severely wounded. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions as well as the Purple Heart. He returned to the United States with the 11th Infantry on September 1919 and was transferred to the 25th Infantry Regiment (United States) at Camp Stephen D. Little at Nogales, Arizona.

Between the wars[edit]

General O’Daniel became an infantry instructor with New Jersey National Guard at Trenton in May 1924. In September 1927 he entered the Infantry School at Fort Benning Georgia and was graduated in May 1928. He was transferred in July 1928 to the 21st Infantry at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii and in January 1930 was placed in command of the Military Police Detachment of the Hawaiian Department at Fort Schafter. In October 1931 he joined the 12th Infantry at Fort Howard Maryland.

In the 1930s with the country locked in Depression, General O’Daniel undertook a series of assignments that departed from traditional military roles. In May 1933, General O’Daniel became assistant to the Officer in Charge of the Port of Embarkation at New York City for the Pilgrimage of War Mothers and Widows. From September to November 1933, he was on Civilian Conservation Corps duty at Smokemont, North Carolina and then was assigned to the 22d Infantry Regiment (United States) at Fort Oglethorpe Georgia. In July 1934 he was appointed Army liaison officer with the Tennessee Valley Authority. In March 1935 he became adjutant of District “D” of the Civilian Conservation Corps at Fort McClellan, Alabama. He was named Executive Officer of District “D” in July 1935 earning advancement to Major in August, and a year later he became Professor of Military Science and Tactics at the Academy of Richmond County at Augusta Georgia.

General O’Daniel entered the Command and Staff School at Fort Leavenworth Kansas in September and was graduated in June 1939. He was then assigned to Fort Brady, Michigan as an instructor of the Citizen’s Military Training Camp and Officer’s Reserve Corps. In August 1939 he became branch instructor in the Michigan Military Area with headquarters in Detroit.

World War II[edit]

In January 1941 he became commander of the Second Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment (United States) at Fort Benning with which he participated in the Third Army maneuvers in Louisiana – a critical test of logistical and combat capabilities for the later fighting in World War II. At the onset of World War II, in December 1941 he was promoted to Colonel and became Assistant Chief of Staff for operations of the Third Army and Director of the Junior Officers Training Center in San Antonio, Texas. In June 1942 he was named Operations Officer of the Amphibious Training Center at Camp Edwards Massachusetts.

In July 1942 General O’Daniel was transferred to Allied Force Headquarters in Europe as Commander of the American Invasion Training School in the British Isles. In September 1942 he assumed command of the 168th Infantry Regiment (United States) in the North African theater and led that unit on November 8–9 in the capture of Algiers. He was also rewarded with his first star on the 20th of November. In December 1942, he was assigned to organize the U.S. Fifth Army Invasion Training Center in Africa which trained the forces for the landings in Sicily and at Salerno.

General O’Daniel in June 1943 was named Deputy Commander of the 3rd Infantry Division with whom he landed in Sicily. On July 24, 1943 he returned to Algiers and was attached to the 36th Division for the Salerno landings. Although not required to do so, he chose to land with the troops at Salerno. He became officer in charge of amphibious operations for the Fifth Army on October 1, 1943 and the following month was reassigned as Assistant Commander of the Third Infantry Division.

He took part in the landings at Anzio in January 1944 and assumed command of the 3rd Infantry Division while still on the beachhead in February 1944. While under his command the division repelled furious German counterattacks, finally breaking out of the beachhead encirclement and driving to Rome, where he was rewarded with his second star. He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his service in Italy.

Much publicized, if not completely reported, was the comment he made at a staff meeting in response to a question from British Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander, commander of the Allied Armies in Italy. “I believe your division did not give an inch”, said Alexander. “Is that true?” The reply was “Not a God-Damned inch.”

He served there until August 1944 when O’Daniel and his 3rd Division landed at the St. Tropez Peninsula in Southern France and drove north through the Vosges Mountains to Germany. General O’Daniel led the 3rd Division up the Rhône Valley to Strasbourg, in the Colmar Pocket where it decimated German forces in January 1945 and when it smashed across the Siegfried Line at Zweibrücken in March 1945. He frequently flew over the front lines in a light airplane dropping notes to the troops below, exhorting them to advance. He led the division across the Rhine and participated in the capture of the Nazi citadel at Nuremberg on April 20, 1945 after ruthless house to house fighting. General O’Daniel hoisted his flag over Adolf Hitler Square in the center of the city and paid a rousing tribute to the exhausted infantrymen around him for having “driven the hun” from one of the last remaining Nazi strongholds.

Just before noon on April 20, 1945 -Adolf Hitler's birthday- the 2nd Battalion of the 30th Infantry reached the Adolf Hitler Platz in the center of the town after taking its ground in a building-to-building fight. The street markers in the square were replaced by others bearing the name "Eiserner Michael Platz" (Iron Mike Square) in honor of the 3rd Division's Commanding General Maj. Gen. John W. O’Daniel who was known to his intimate friends and to thousands of Marnemen as "Iron Mike."

At 1830, in the battered Adolf Hitler Platz, a rifle platoon from each regiment, as well as tanks, TDs, and Flak wagons, stood in silent array. Old Glory ascended an improvised flagpole and the band played the National Anthem. Maj. Gen. John W. O’Daniel then spoke.

"Again the 3d Division has taken its objective," he said. "We are standing at the site of the stronghold of Nazi resistance in our zone. Through your feats of arms, you have smashed fifty heavy antiaircraft guns, captured four thousand prisoners, and driven the Hun from every house and every castle and bunker in our part of Nuremberg.

"I congratulate you upon your superior performance. . .

The band broke into "Dogface Soldier." A few bewildered civilians contemplated the red, white, and blue banner flying at half-staff in mourning for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The 3rd Infantry Division went on to conquer Augsburg, Munich, and Salzburg. It ended the war with the capture of Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s mountain stronghold in May 1945. Representatives of German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring surrendered to him and he turned them over to General Jacob L. Devers near Munich on May 5, 1945. One of O’Daniel’s proudest trophies from the war was a pair of Hermann Göring’s trousers. He called them “a lot of pants”. At war’s end it was reported that O’Daniel’s “Rock of the Marne” 3rd Division had been awarded one fourth of all Medals of Honor presented during the war for its feats in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany.

In July 1945, General O’Daniel was assigned temporary duty with Army Ground Forces Headquarters in Washington DC. Later that month he became the commandant of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, and in November 1946 was also appointed Commanding General there.

Later career[edit]

General O’Daniel was named Military Attaché at Moscow Russia in June 1948 and after temporary duty with the Intelligence Division at Army headquarters, assumed that position the following September, serving until August 1950 when he was appointed Infantry Inspector in the Office of the Chief of Army Field Forces at Fort Monroe, Virginia. He once recalled that it was the only time he ever wore all of his military decorations he had received, “to dazzle the Russians who were impressed with his medals.” After returning from Moscow he made news when he wrote a lengthy magazine article about his experience and was quoted as saying, “For all its advertised glory, Moscow first impressed me, and still does, as a vast slum.” The Soviet newspaper Pravda responded by accusing him of being a spy and a liar.

In July 1951, he went to Korea to command I Corps (United States), U.S. 8th Army for his last combat assignment. During his service in Korea, he was awarded the Air Medal for meritorious achievement on flights from July 21 to August 14, 1951 and the Commendation Ribbon for meritorious achievement on July 18, 1951. General O’Daniel gained an appreciation for the use of airpower saying "The airlift to Korea is one of the greatest developments of this war. It gives a commander advantages he never had in wars before." He pinned on his third star on December 20, 1951.

On September 1, 1952, General O’Daniel became commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Pacific returning once again to Fort Schafter, Hawaii.

He capped his distinguished career when he was posted as the Chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group for Indo-China in April 1954 at the behest of President Eisenhower, leading the vanguard of America’s involvement in Indochina. He took a voluntary drop in rank so he would not outrank the French commander at that time. It was a controversial appointment, in that O’Daniel was viewed by some as not having the requisite tact and sophistication. Eisenhower defended him and believed that his critics had underestimated him. “Despite his nickname and his tough exterior”, Eisenhower wrote, “General O’Daniel was a man of great ability and tact”. He quickly became involved in Vietnamese affairs even before the French were defeated. He had been chosen for the assignment largely on the basis of his successful role in creating and supervising the training programs which had transformed the South Korean Army into an effective fighting force during the Korean War. Now, in the aftermath of the Geneva settlement, he and his 342-man group began preparing for the immense task of rebuilding South Vietnam's armed forces.

He was optimistic that with American help Communism in Southeast Asia could be held at bay. He recommended increased aid to the French and an increased American presence. His advice was taken, and he set out to train and equip a more competent and professional South Vietnamese military as France disengaged from the area. Iron Mike became a forceful advocate of the U.S. commitment to Viet Nam, calling it "a test of our guts and our resilience." A monument to General O’Daniel was erected at Quang Trung, about ten miles west of Saigon, and the site of the largest training camp in the country at the time.

General O’Daniel retired from active service on December 31, 1955. At his retirement ceremony General Maxwell Taylor, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, paid a personalized tribute during a Pentagon ceremony. Commenting that “Iron Mike” always gets his objective”, General Taylor told the story of how General O’Daniel captured Berchtesgaden in May 1945. Racing down one side of the Autobahn and finally putting his forces across the single available bridge, General O’Daniel’s men won the spirited race to the prized objective from the soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division. General Taylor had been in command of the 101st at the time. General O’Daniel was awarded a third oak leaf cluster to his Distinguished Service Medal at the ceremony.

Decorations[edit]

His decorations include the French Croix de Guerre, the British Order of the Bath, the Italian Silver Medal, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit with three oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart. He was given Delaware’s highest civilian medal, the Governor’s Medal and the Conspicuous Service Cross of Delaware. He was awarded an honorary PhD from the University of Delaware in 1956.

Later life[edit]

After returning from Vietnam and retiring, he was chairman of a civilian group called American Friends of Vietnam, demonstrating his personal commitment to the Vietnamese people.

He attended a reunion in Newark at the University of Delaware also attended by retired Marine Lt Gen. Robert T. Pepper, and Gen. Julian C. Smith in 1967. O’Daniel sent his alma mater a portrait given to him by Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of South Vietnam. The Middletown Transcript recorded his last visit to Delaware on Nov 28 1971: “Lt. Gen. John W. "Iron Mike” O’Daniel, World War II hero, returned to Newark to settle the estate of his aunt Miss Etta J. Wilson.”

A 1945 oil portrait of General O’Daniel by Stanley Arthurs hangs in Alumni Hall at the University of Delaware.

He died in San Diego on March 27, 1975, survived by his wife Gretchen, a daughter Mrs. Ruth Snyder of Pacific Grove California, and four grandchildren. His first wife, Ruth died in 1965. His only son, John W. O’Daniel Jr., a paratrooper, was killed in action in World War II at Arnhem in 1944 while serving in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. A brother, J. Allison O’Daniel, was killed in an air crash while serving in World War I.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Documents from the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle, Pennsylvania
  • "Iron Mike O’Daniel Dead: A General in Three Wars," Obituary New York Times, 29 March 1975 p. 26
  • "O’Daniel Starts Vietnam Training," New York Times, 13 Feb 1955
  • "Died. Lieut. General John W. ("Iron Mike") O'Daniel, 81," Time Magazine: 7 April 1975
  • "Lt. Gen. John (Iron Mike) O’Daniel Dies," Obituary Washington Post, Sunday, March 30, 1975 p. B6
  • "'Iron Mike' Always Gets His Objective, Says General Taylor (He Should Know)," ANAFJ, 17 Dec 1955.
  • "Gen. O’Daniel Dies; Served in 3 U.S. Wars," Wilmington Evening Journal, 29 March 1975
  • "Generals O’Daniel, Pepper, Julian Smith Return for Delaware Annual Reunion," Newark Post Newark Delaware, Thursday May 11, 1967
  • "When Talking About Heroes, Remember these Three Men," Elbert Chance, News Journal Compass, October 22, 1987
  • Official Biography prepared by DoD Office of Public Information, August 1954