James Van Fleet

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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.
Van Fleet c. 1953
Birth nameJames Alward Van Fleet
Born(1892-03-19)March 19, 1892
Coytesville (Fort Lee, New Jersey)
DiedSeptember 23, 1992(1992-09-23) (aged 100)
Polk City, Florida
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1915–1953
RankUS-O10 insignia.svg General
Commands held
Other work
  • Football Coach
  • Diplomat
  • Businessman
  • Author
  • Rancher

James Alward Van Fleet (March 19, 1892 – September 23, 1992) was a U.S. Army officer 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 U.S. Military Academy. He served as a regimental, divisional and corps commander during World War II and as the commanding General of U.S. Army and other United Nations forces during the Korean War.

Early life and education[edit]

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. After graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army infantry.

Military career[edit]

During World War I, he served as a battalion commander as part of the American Expeditionary Force under General John J. Pershing.

Van Fleet was promoted to major 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.[1][2] He led the Gators into national prominence with a 12–3–4 (.737) record.[2]

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. [3]

World War II[edit]

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. [4]

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.[5] 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[edit]

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. [6]

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.[7] 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 numerically superior 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]

Legacy and death[edit]

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."[8] Van Fleet was the recipient of three Distinguished Service Crosses (the U.S. Army's second highest award for bravery in combat),[9] three Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat, and his most prized decoration—the Combat Infantryman's Badge of the common foot soldier.[8] He appeared on the July 26, 1953, episode of What's My Line?.[10]

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.[8] 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.[11]

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.[12] He was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as an "honorary letter winner" in 1971.[13][14] In 1998, a panel of Florida historians and other consultants named Van Fleet one of the fifty most important Floridians of the 20th century.[15]

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.

General 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[edit]

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
U.S. 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
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:[16]

Also decorations from the following countries:[16]

  • Ethiopia
  • Thailand
  • Philippines
  • Republic of China


No insignia Cadet, United States Military Academy: June 14, 1911
US-O1 insignia.svg 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[edit]

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[18]
Total: 12–3–4[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Typescript of a "History of the University of Florida" by Klein Graham". Ufdc.ufl.edu. Retrieved 2017-05-31.
  2. ^ a b c College Football Data Warehouse, All-Time Coaching Records, J.A. Van Fleet Records by Year. Retrieved September 21, 2009.
  3. ^ http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/America/United_States/Army/USMA/Cullums_Register/5404*.html
  4. ^ Dennis Hevesi, "James A. Van Fleet, Leader In Korean War, Dies at 100," The New York Times, p. D36 (September 24, 1992; correction September 26, 1992). Retrieved May 15, 2010.
  5. ^ Hogan, David W. Jr. (December 13, 2000). Command Post at War: First Army Headquarters in Europe, 1943–1945 (CMH Pub 70-60 ed.). Defense Department, Army Center of Military History. p. 253. ISBN 0-16-061328-0. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  6. ^ http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/America/United_States/Army/USMA/Cullums_Register/5404*.html
  7. ^ Ilias Chrissochoidis (ed.), Spyros P. Skouras, Memoirs (1893–1953) (Stanford, 2013), 129.
  8. ^ a b c "Gen. James Van Fleet, 100; Hero Exalted by Truman," Los Angeles Times, p. A28 (September 24, 1992).
  9. ^ MilitaryTimes.com, Hall of Valor, James Alward Van Fleet. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
  10. ^ "What's My Line? – General James A. Van Fleet (Jul 26, 1953)". YouTube.com. Retrieved 2017-05-31.
  11. ^ Burial Detail: Van Fleet, James A (Section 7, Grave 8195-A – ANC Explorer
  12. ^ University of Florida Foundation, Named UF Facilities, Gen. James A. Van Fleet Hall. Retrieved September 21, 2009.
  13. ^ F Club, Hall of Fame, Honorary Letter Winners. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  14. ^ Associated Press, "O'Connell Lauded for Actions," Sarasota Journal (May 3, 1971). Retrieved July 24, 2011.
  15. ^ The 50 Most Important Floridians of the 20th Century, newspaper magazine published by The Ledger, Lakeland, Florida (March 1, 1998).
  16. ^ a b Houterman, Hans. "US Army Officers 1939–1945". unithistories. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  17. ^ United States Statutes at Large Vol. 72. 1958 – via Wikisource.
  18. ^ 2009 Southern Conference Football Media Guide, Year-by-Year Standings, pp. 74–77 (2009). Retrieved March 16, 2010.


External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Lt. Gen. Matthew Ridgway
Commanding General of
Eighth United States Army

Succeeded by
Lt. Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor