Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, November 25, 2013

Remembering a Veteran: Major James Van Fleet, 6th Division, AEF

With a little better luck on the dispersal of fragments from his bomb load, an unknown German aviator might have killed a second American officer instead of merely wounding him. It will never be known what the first man might have achieved, but the survivor, who was only lightly wounded, was destined to become one of America's greatest generals of the twentieth century. That future general was Major James Van Fleet, then commander of the 17th Machine Gun Battalion of the 6th Division.

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Van Fleet Shortly After Each of the World Wars

A graduate of West Point's famous class of 1915, Van Fleet had already earned attention for his accomplishments with General Pershing on the Mexican Expedition and his earlier service with the AEF. The air attack that wounded him occurred on 4 November 1918 in the Argonne sector, just north of Grande Pre. The major was quickly back with his troops, but then the Armistice ended things. After occupation duty, he returned to life back in the States with the peacetime army.

He did not advance as quickly during peacetime as some his classmates, but his moment arrived on 6 June 1944 when he led his regiment ashore at Utah Beach, Normandy. In less than a year he advanced to divisional and corps command during the advance across Europe. After the war he was the adviser to the Greek Army in successfully defeating a Communist take-over attempt and later was called on to command Eighth Army in Korea. None of this, of course, would have taken place had the spread of fragments from that German bomb of 1918 been wider.

1 comment:

  1. I remember seeing his obit in Newsweek in the 1990s; he died at 100, and I think he was the last general officer from WWII.