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James Van Fleet

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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), U.S.
DiedSeptember 23, 1992(1992-09-23) (aged 100)
Polk City, Florida, U.S.
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
AwardsDistinguished Service Cross (3)
Army Distinguished Service Medal (4)
Silver Star (3)
Legion of Merit (2)
Bronze Star Medal (3)
Purple Heart (3)
Taegeuk Order of Military Merit
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.

YouTube Encyclopedic

  • 1/5
    4 190
    1 255
    1 720
    3 688
    1 178
  • The Legacy of General James Van Fleet
  • Exploring The General James A. Van Fleet State Trail
  • Gen. Van Fleet Leaves Korea For Retirement (1953)
  • General Van Fleet Visits Korea (1950)


Early life and education

At West Point in 1915

James Van Fleet was born in the Coytesville section of Fort Lee, New Jersey. His family then moved to Florida while he was an infant, and he grew up 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.[1] 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.[2] 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).[3] Van Fleet's classmates included Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, among many others.[4]


Early career

After graduation, Van Fleet was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Infantry Branch of the United States Army. 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.[5] 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, over six months after the American entry into World War I. During his time in Texas, Van Fleet was promoted twice, to first lieutenant on July 1, 1916, and to captain on May 15, 1917.[6]

Van Fleet then transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he served as an instructor for provisional officers, October 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.[5]

Van Fleet was then shipped to France, where he commanded the 17th Machine Gun Battalion, part of the 6th Division, from September 12, 1918, to June 11, 1919. He was wounded in action in the Meuse–Argonne offensive on November 4, 1918, just seven days before the Armistice with Germany which caused hostilities to cease.[7]

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.[8][9] He led the Gators into national prominence with a 12–3–4 (.737) record.[9]

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.[7]

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.[10]

Unlike the majority of his fellow officers who rose to high command in the next few years, Van Fleet was unique in the sense that he never attended either the Command and Staff College or the Army War College during his military career.[7]

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 (DSC).[11]

Although widely regarded by many as an outstanding officer, he was blocked from promotion because the Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, who had a tendency to forget and confuse names, erroneously confused Van Fleet with a well-known alcoholic officer with a similar name. When General Dwight D. Eisenhower, a former West Point classmate of Van Fleet's and now the Supreme Allied Commander in Western Europe, informed Marshall of his mistake, Van Fleet was soon promoted to divisional and corps command.[12]

Following promotion to brigadier general in August 1944, Van Fleet became the Assistant Division Commander of the 2nd Infantry Division (July to September 1944) and then briefly commanded the 4th Infantry Division (September to October 1944) before assuming command of the 90th "Tough Ombres" Infantry Division (October 1944 to February 1945) and gaining a promotion to major general in November. He gained the admiration and respect of his superiors, in particular Lieutenant General George S. Patton, commander of the Third Army, for his command of the 90th.[13]

After briefly commanding XXIII Corps, on 17 March 1945 Van Fleet replaced Major General John Millikin as commander of III Corps where Millikin served with Patton's Third Army.[14] 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.

Germany and Greek Civil War

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.[15]

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.[16] 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.

Korean War

On April 14, 1951, Van Fleet arrived in Korea, replacing General Matthew B. Ridgway as commander of the U.S. Eighth Army and United Nations forces.[17] Van Fleet was then promoted to four-star general on July 31, 1951. He commanded the Eighth United States Army.[17]

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.[18]

Van Fleet played a significant role in reorganizing the Republic of Korea Army and reestablishing the Korea Military Academy (KMA), which is now considered the top military academy in the country.[17] For the KMA took inspiration from his experiences, and said he wished to do for the Republic of Korea (ROK) army "the same as we did for the Greek divisions".[19]

In October 1951, the ROK Army Chief of Staff proposed an academy with a four-year course modeled after West Point. They created a temporary site for this school at Jinhae-gu, and appointed three West Point graduates to oversee the program.[19] They held an opening ceremony on January 20, 1952.[note 1] The KMA was very popular among South Koreans, with ROK Army Chief of Staff Lee Jong-chan writing:[19]

The Korean Military Academy is the hope of our people … We are also assured of our contribution to the new institution by firmly establishing an honourable and respectable tradition like that of your Military Academy in America

— Lieutenant General Lee Chongchan, Chief of Staff, ROK Army, to General J. Lawton Collins, Chief of Staff, US Army, 5 February 1952, RG 319, Army Intelligence Project Decimal Files, 1951–52, Box 164, NA.

The Korean Defense Ministry called Van Fleet the "father of the Korean Army" in 2015 for his contributions to the KMA and elsewhere.[20] A statue of Van Fleet was erected on the KMA campus on 31 March 1960 to honor his contributions towards the academy.[21]

In April 1952, Van Fleet's son died while piloting a B-26 bomber over Haeju.[22][21]

Activities after the Korean War

Van Fleet commanded the 8th Army until February 11, 1953, when he was relieved by General Maxwell Taylor. Before he left Korea, during a January 29, 1953 speech on the steps of the Korean Capitol Building, Van Fleet said, "I shall come back. You have made me a part of you. I know you are a part of me. I shall not ask you to give me back my heart. I leave it with you."[17]

He retired from the Army at the end of March at the age of 61.[23]

He appeared on the July 26, 1953, episode of What's My Line?[24]

Van Fleet made significant efforts to fundraise and advocate for Korea-US ties after the war. He was chairman of the American-Korean Foundation (AFK) in the 1950s.[25] And in 1957, Van Fleet was one of five signers of the Certificate of Incorporation 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.[25]

In May 1962, he was invited by ROK President Park Chung Hee to visit Korea again. He returned to the US on June 1, 1962, and gave a speech called "The Miracle on the Han", in which he said:[17]

I have been to Korea many times, each time agreeably surprised by the hard-working, skilled and intelligent labor force. This time I found it well-organized and dedicated. The military government has brought about security, stability, progress, and a moral rebirth. This is what I call “The Miracle on the Han.” [...] I shall not soon forget the beauty of their mountains and their valleys, the smiles and voices of their children, the hospitality and warmth of their homes. It is my other home, and I shall go back.

— The Miracle on the Han, Luncheon Meeting, Los Angeles World Affairs Council, June 1, 1962, VFPF, Van Fleet Foundation, Hobe Sound, FL, pp. 10-11.


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.[26] He was the oldest living general officer in the United States at the time of his death.[27] Van Fleet and his wife Helen are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.[28] Buried with them is Van Fleet's second wife, Virginia, who died in 1986.[29]


At the time of his retirement from active duty on March 31, 1953, former President Harry S. Truman said, "You want to know about a great general? There's Van Fleet. I sent him to Greece and he won that war. I sent him to Korea and he won that war. He's the greatest general we ever had."[26][17] Van Fleet then allegedly replied "Well actually Mr. President you never quite let me finish that last one".[17]

Van Fleet was the recipient of three Distinguished Service Crosses,[30] four Distinguished Service Medals, three Silver Stars, three Bronze Star Medals, three Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat, and his most prized decoration—the Combat Infantryman's Badge (CIB) of the common foot soldier.[26]

The General James A. Van Fleet State Trail (2010)

Shortly after his death, The Korea Society established the annual James A. Van Fleet Award to recognize people who have made significant contributions to US-Korea ties.

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.[31] He was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as an "honorary letter winner" in 1971.[32][33] In 1998, a panel of Florida historians and other consultants named Van Fleet one of the fifty most important Floridians of the 20th century.[34] The General James A. Van Fleet State Trail, running from Polk City to Mabel, Florida, is also named in his honor.

Van Fleet's estate donated his papers to the George C. Marshall Foundation.[35]

A statue honoring him was erected at the central square of the Greek city of Kastoria, which was the location of his advanced command post during the Greek Civil War.[36] There is also a statue honoring him at the grounds of Korean Military Academy, in recognition of his support for the South Korean Army during the Korean War.[37]

In June 2015, the ROK issued a stamp to honor in Van Fleet's honor.[17] In Fall 2015, the ROK Ministry of Defense awarded him the Paik Sun Yup ROK-US Alliance Award.[17]

Personal life

Van Fleet and his wife, Helen Moore Van Fleet, had three children, eight grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren.[38] His only son, James Alward Van Fleet Jr., died during the Korean War.[22][21]

Van Fleet was also an art collector and donated many rare and exceptional Asian objects to the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art.[39][40]

Awards and decorations

Van Fleet's military awards include:

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:[41]

Also decorations from the following countries:[41]

  • 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
First Lieutenant, United States Army: July 1, 1916
Captain, United States Army: May 15, 1917
Major, National Army: June 17, 1918
Major, Regular Army: July 2, 1920
Captain, Regular Army: November 4, 1922
Major, Regular Army: December 6, 1924
Lieutenant Colonel, Regular Army: October 1, 1936
Colonel, Army of the United States: June 26, 1941
Colonel, Regular Army: February 1, 1944
Brigadier General, Army of the United States: August 1, 1944
Major General, Army of the United States: November 15, 1944
Brigadier General, Regular Army: June 27, 1946
Major General, Regular Army: January 24, 1948
Lieutenant General, Army of the United States: February 19, 1948
General, Army of the United States: July 31, 1951
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[43]
Total: 12–3–4[9]

See also


  1. ^ Na source has a typo; says opening ceremony was 1951, but it should be 1952 according to the source Na cites


  1. ^ "Florida Sports Hall of Fame | General James Van Fleet". Retrieved May 26, 2024.
  2. ^ "Gen. James A. Van Fleet - General". National Football Foundation. Retrieved May 26, 2024.
  3. ^ Elphick, James (March 25, 2021). "West Point's Class of 1915 is one the stars fell on". We Are The Mighty. Retrieved May 26, 2024.
  4. ^ Patterson, Michael Robert (August 28, 2023). "James Alward Van Fleet - General, United States Army". Arlington National Cemetery. Retrieved September 4, 2023.
  5. ^ a b "History Van Fleet". Dominion Hill. Retrieved May 26, 2024.
  6. ^ "COLLECTION: JAMES A. VAN FLEET PAPERS" (PDF). George C. Marshall Library.
  7. ^ a b c Taaffe 2013, p. 290.
  8. ^ "Typescript of a "History of the University of Florida" by Klein Graham". Retrieved May 31, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c College Football Data Warehouse, All-Time Coaching Records, J.A. Van Fleet Records by Year Archived 2010-02-15 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved September 21, 2009.
  10. ^ "James A. Van Fleet • Cullum's Register • 5404".
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Taaffe 2013, pp. 290−291.
  13. ^ Taaffe 2013, p. 291.
  14. ^ 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 November 29, 2014.
  15. ^ "James A. Van Fleet • Cullum's Register • 5404".
  16. ^ Ilias Chrissochoidis (ed.), Spyros P. Skouras, Memoirs (1893–1953) (Stanford, 2013), 129.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i McChristian Jr., Joseph A. (2016). ""WILL TO WIN" - HIS GREATEST LEGACY". Van Fleet Foundation, Inc. Retrieved April 10, 2023.
  18. ^ "CHAPTER XXII: Signs of Armistice". Retrieved June 3, 2024.
  19. ^ a b c Na, Jongnam (2020). "THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE REPUBLIC OF KOREA ARMY". In from the Cold. Acton ACT 2601, Australia: ANU Press. ISBN 9781760462734.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  20. ^ Oh, Grace (November 1, 2015). "Late U.S. general to receive award for Korean War feats". Yonhap News Agency. Retrieved April 10, 2023.
  21. ^ a b c Torres, Stefanie (June 20, 2012). "Osan unveils monument dedicated to fallen Airmen". Air Force Retiree Services. Retrieved April 10, 2023.
  22. ^ a b Yi, Whan-woo (September 18, 2020). "Monument erected to honor West Point graduates killed in Korean War". The Korea Times. Retrieved April 10, 2023.
  23. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (September 24, 1992). "James A. Van Fleet, Leader In Korean War, Dies at 100". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 3, 2024.
  24. ^ "What's My Line? – General James A. Van Fleet (Jul 26, 1953)". October 9, 2013. Retrieved May 31, 2017.
  25. ^ a b Carlo W. D'Este, "The Will to Win: The Life of General James A. Van Fleet," The Journal of Military History 66, no. 2 (2002): 618.
  26. ^ a b c "Gen. James Van Fleet, 100; Hero Exalted by Truman". Los Angeles Times. Polk City, Florida. September 24, 1992. p. A28. Retrieved December 2, 2022 – via
  27. ^ Archives, L. A. Times (March 20, 1992). "Van Fleet, Oldest Living 4-Star General, Turns 100". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 3, 2024.
  28. ^ Burial Detail: Van Fleet, James A (Section 7, Grave 8195-A) – ANC Explorer
  29. ^ "ANC Explorer". Retrieved February 24, 2021.
  30. ^, Hall of Valor, James Alward Van Fleet. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
  31. ^ University of Florida Foundation, Named UF Facilities, Gen. James A. Van Fleet Hall. Retrieved September 21, 2009.
  32. ^ F Club, Hall of Fame, Honorary Letter Winners. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  33. ^ Associated Press, "O'Connell Lauded for Actions," Sarasota Journal (May 3, 1971). Retrieved July 24, 2011.
  34. ^ The 50 Most Important Floridians of the 20th Century, newspaper magazine published by The Ledger, Lakeland, Florida (March 1, 1998).
  35. ^ "Library Collections - The George C. Marshall Foundation". March 25, 2022. Retrieved June 3, 2024.
  36. ^ Blair, Cinnamon (April 17, 2006). "Van Fleet Routed Greece's Red Peril". The Ledger. Retrieved November 20, 2022.
  37. ^ Ham IV, Walter T. (September 3, 2014). "General's grandson shares leadership lessons in Korea". U.S. Army. Retrieved November 20, 2022.
  38. ^ "James Alward van Fleet :: New Netherland Institute". Retrieved June 3, 2024.
  39. ^ LEDGER, CINNAMON BAIR THE. "Van Fleet's Artworks Displayed At UF". The Ledger. Retrieved June 3, 2024.
  40. ^ Steuber, Jason. "Promoting the Study of Korean Art in the United States: Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida (2008–2019)". ResearchGate.
  41. ^ a b Houterman, Hans. "US Army Officers 1939–1945". unithistories. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  42. ^ United States Statutes at Large Vol. 72. 1958 – via Wikisource.
  43. ^ 2009 Southern Conference Football Media Guide, Year-by-Year Standings, pp. 74–77 (2009). Retrieved March 16, 2010.


External links

Military offices
Preceded by Commanding General 4th Infantry Division
September–October 1944
Succeeded by
Preceded by Commanding General 90th Infantry Division
Succeeded by
Lowell W. Rooks
Preceded by
James I. Muir
Commanding General XXIII Corps
February–March 1945
Succeeded by
Preceded by Commanding General III Corps
Succeeded by
Preceded by Commanding General Second United States Army
Succeeded by
Preceded by Commanding General Eighth United States Army
Succeeded by
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