Gen. James Van Fleet, 100; Hero Exalted by Truman

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

James Alward Van Fleet, whom President Harry S. Truman pronounced "the greatest general we ever had," died Wednesday. He was 100.

The retired four-star general, who led combat campaigns on D-Day, at the Battle of the Bulge and in the Korean War, died in his sleep at his ranch in this mid-Florida city.

Van Fleet, who also fought in World War I and played a key role in the Greek civil war, made his last public appearance in March during a 100th birthday celebration in his hometown.

"Thank you very much, I hope I deserve some of it," Van Fleet said from his wheelchair in a barely audible voice. He often gave a knowing nod, an approving smile or a proud salute. A stroke a few years ago affected his right side and sometimes he used his left hand to help raise his right.

"Gen. Van Fleet is the greatest general we have ever had," Truman said in 1953 when Van Fleet retired with four general's stars, three each of the Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, and his most prized possession, the Combat Infantryman's Badge.

Van Fleet's strategies during World War II are still studied at war colleges, particularly his tactics at Utah Beach on D-Day, where he led the 4th Infantry Regiment ashore, and at the Battle of the Bulge.

Van Fleet also was credited as the general who drove communist guerrillas from Greece after World War II and for chasing the Chinese communists from South Korea back to the 38th parallel--the turning point in the Korean conflict.

Truman said: "I sent him to Greece and he won the war. I sent him to Korea and he won the war." Van Fleet, then a lieutenant general, succeeded Matthew B. Ridgway as commander of United Nations ground forces in Korea in 1951 after Ridgway succeeded Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur, who was fired by Truman.

Funeral services were set for Wednesday in Washington with burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World