18th Commandant of the Marine Corps (1944-1947)
|Birth name||Alexander Archer Vandegrift|
|Nickname(s)||Archie, Sunny Jim|
|Born||March 13, 1887|
Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.
|Died||May 8, 1973 (aged 86)|
Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Years of service||1909-1949|
|Commands held||1st Marine Division|
I Marine Amphibious Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps
|Awards||Medal of Honor|
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Companion of the Order of the Bath (United Kingdom)
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (United Kingdom)
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Orange-Nassau (Netherlands)
Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour (France)
General Alexander Archer Vandegrift, USMC (March 13, 1887 - May 8, 1973) was a United States Marine Corps four-star general. During World War II, he commanded the 1st Marine Division to victory in its first ground offensive of the war, the Battle of Guadalcanal. For his actions on August 7 to December 9, 1942, in the Solomon Islands campaign, he received the Medal of Honor. Vandegrift later served as the 18th Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was the first four-star general on active duty in the Marine Corps.
Alexander Archer Vandegrift was born on March 13, 1887, in Charlottesville, Virginia, where his father of Dutch descent was an architect and contractor. Vandegrift was of Dutch, English and Swedish ancestry, all of which had been in North America since the 1600s. It was once facetiously remarked that he "never had a Catholic ancestor". Young Vandegrift, known as "Archer" in his boyhood, had an interest in the military - both from reading military history novels and from stories of ancestors who fought in various wars. He graduated from Charlottesville High School. During his childhood was a big fan of G.A. Henty novels and history, in particular he read a lot about the Battle of Trafalgar and the Battle of Waterloo, and he described himself as "big fan" of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and Horatio Nelson.
He attended the University of Virginia for three years from 1906 to 1908; then received his commission in the U.S. Marine Corps through a week-long competitive examination in 1908, becoming a second lieutenant on January 22, 1909.
While at the Marine Corps Schools in 1909, he wrote a prophetic article entitled "Aviation, the Cavalry of the Future". As Commandant, he appointed the Hogaboom Board, named for Major General Hogaboom, the chairman, that began the USMC's development of vertical envelopment, the use of helicopters for air assault. During his early years as a second lieutenant, General Vandegrift was also very nearly dismissed from the Marine Corps due to disciplinary infractions and negative evaluations. In his first Marine Corps evaluation, dated June 30, 1909, Vandegrift received an overall rating of "Not Good" with these remarks from the Commander of the Marine Officers School.
In Vandegrift's next evaluation, dated December 1909, he received a "Good and Tolerable" rating and next was rated as "Excellent" upon reporting to the Marine Corps Barracks, Navy Yard, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1910.
Following instruction at the Marine Officers' School, Port Royal, South Carolina, his first tour of duty was at the Marine Barracks, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 1912, he went to foreign shore duty in the Caribbean, first to Cuba and then to Nicaragua. He participated in the bombardment, assault, and capture of Coyotepe in Nicaragua. Then in 1914, he participated in the engagement and occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico.
In December 1914, following his promotion to first lieutenant, he attended the Advance Base Course at the Marine Barracks, Philadelphia. Upon completion of schooling, he sailed for Haiti with the 1st Marines and participated in action against hostile Cacos bandits at Le Trou and Fort Capois, Haiti.
In August 1916, he was promoted to captain and became a member of the Haitian Constabulary at Port-au-Prince, where he remained until detached to the United States in December 1918. He returned to Haiti again in July 1919 to serve with the Gendarmerie d'Haiti as an Inspector of Constabulary. He was promoted to major in June 1920.
Major Vandegrift returned to the U.S. in April 1923 and was assigned to the Marine Barracks, MCB Quantico, Virginia. He completed the Field Officers' Course, Marine Corps Schools in May 1926. He then was transferred to the Marine Corps Base San Diego, California, as assistant chief of staff.
In February 1927, he sailed for China, where he served as operations and training officer of the 3rd Marines with headquarters at Tientsin. He was ordered to Washington, D.C., in September 1928, where he became assistant chief coordinator, Bureau of the Budget.
Following duty in Washington, D.C., he joined the Marine Barracks, Quantico, where he became assistant chief of staff, G-1 Section, Fleet Marine Force (FMF). During this assignment, in June 1934, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
Ordered to China in June 1935, LtCol Vandegrift served successively as executive officer and commanding officer of the Marine detachment at the American embassy in Peiping. Promoted to colonel in September 1936, Vandegrift reported to Headquarters Marine Corps (HQMC), Washington, D.C., in June 1937, where he became Military Secretary to the Major General Commandant. In March 1940, he was appointed Assistant to the Major General Commandant, and the following month was promoted to brigadier general.
Brigadier General Vandegrift was ordered to the 1st Marine Division in November 1941. Shortly before the United States entered World War II on December 7, he became the assistant commander of the First Marine Division.
In March and April 1942, Vandegrift was promoted to major general and assumed command of the First Marine Division. In May, the First Marine Division and the South Pacific Amphibious Force sailed for the South Pacific Area. The first Marine Division was the first Marine Corps division to ever leave the shores of the United States. On August 7, Vandegrift led the 1st Marine Division in the first large-scale offensive action against the Japanese, in the Solomon Islands. He was awarded the Navy Cross "for extraordinary heroism and distinguished devotion to duty as Commanding General of the First Marine Division and all ground troops action with enemy Japanese forces during the attack on the Solomon Islands 7 August 1942" (attack on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Gavutu); following that, he was awarded the Medal of Honor "for outstanding and heroic accomplishment above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the First Marine Division in operations against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands during the period 7 August to 9 December 1942" (commanded the initial landings and the subsequent occupation ... that "resulted in securing a valuable base for further operations of our forces against the enemy") ... Vandegrift was presented the Medal of Honor on February 5, 1943, from President Franklin Roosevelt during a ceremony at the White House.
In July 1943, he assumed command of the 1st Marine Amphibious Corps and commanded this organization in the landing at Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, Northern Solomon Islands, on November 1, 1943. Upon establishing the initial beachhead, he relinquished command and returned to Washington, D.C., as Commandant-designate.
On January 1, 1944, as a lieutenant general, he was sworn in as the 18th commandant of the Marine Corps. On April 4, 1945, he was appointed general, with date of rank from March 21, 1945, the first Marine officer on active duty to attain four-star rank.
During his tenure as commandant, the Marine Corps faced institutional threats from Army efforts to absorb the mission of the Marines. Though the Navy was sympathetic to the Marine Corps' predicament, it was ready to accept the diminishment of the Corps in exchange for keeping naval aviation from consolidation with the Air Force. The post-war discussions on the restructuring of the American defense establishment opened the door to diminishing the mission and role of the Marine Corps in the new defense structure. Proponents of such cuts included President Harry Truman and General Dwight Eisenhower. In this power struggle, the Marine Corps aligned itself with Congress, warning against the encroachment on civilian oversight within the Army proposals.
To clinch the support of Congress, Commandant Vandegrift delivered the famous "Bended Knee Speech" on May 6, 1946, to the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs, which he ended with:
The Marine Corps, then, believes that it has earned this right--to have its future decided by the legislative body which created it--nothing more. Sentiment is not a valid consideration in determining questions of national security. We have pride in ourselves and in our past, but we do not rest our case on any presumed ground of gratitude owing us from the Nation. The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. If the Marine as a fighting man has not made a case for himself after 170 years of service, he must go. But I think you will agree with me that he has earned the right to depart with dignity and honor, not by subjugation to the status of uselessness and servility planned for him by the War Department.-- Alexander Vandegrift, "Bended Knee Speech", 
For outstanding service as Commandant of the Marine Corps from January 1, 1944, to June 30, 1946, General Vandegrift was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. He left active service on December 31, 1947, and was placed on the retired list on April 1, 1949.
Together with Robert B. Asprey, General Vandegrift co-authored a book chronicling his experiences in World War II. The book is titled Once a Marine: The Memoirs of General A. A. Vandegrift Commandant of the U.S. Marines in WW II, and was published in 1964.
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|Second lieutenant||January 16, 1909|
|First lieutenant||November 10, 1914|
|Captain||August 29, 1916|
(Temporary for war service)
|July 1, 1918|
|July 31, 1919|
|Major||July 4, 1920|
(Backdated to June 4, 1920)
|Lieutenant colonel||November 15, 1934|
(Backdated to May 29, 1934)
|Colonel||September 1, 1936|
|Brigadier general||April 11, 1940|
|Major general||March 20, 1942|
|Lieutenant general||July 28, 1943|
|General||April 4, 1945|
(Backdated to March 21, 1945)
Vandegrift received the following decorations and awards:
|1st Row||Medal of Honor||Navy Cross||Navy Distinguished Service Medal||Navy Presidential Unit Citation w/ one 3/16" bronze star|
|2nd Row||Navy Unit Commendation w/ one 3/16" bronze star||Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal w/ three 3/16" bronze stars||Nicaraguan Campaign Medal||Mexican Service Medal|
|3rd Row||Haitian Campaign Medal w/ one 3/16" bronze star||World War I Victory Medal w/ West Indies clasp & one 3/16" bronze star||Yangtze Service Medal||American Defense Service Medal|
|4th Row||American Campaign Medal||Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ four 3/16" bronze stars||World War II Victory Medal||Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Orange-Nassau w/ swords, Netherlands|
|5th Row||Order of Abdon Calderon, 1st Class, Ecuador w/ one 3/16" gold star||Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, United Kingdom (Honorary)||Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, France||Companion of the Order of the Bath, United Kingdom (Honorary)|
|6th Row||Order of Pao Ting (Precious Tripod) w/ Special Cravat, China||Haitian Distinguished Service Medal||Médaille militaire w/ one 3/16" silver star, Haiti||Cruz de Aviación de Primera Clase, Peru|
Vandegrift's Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to
MAJOR GENERAL ALEXANDER VANDEGRIFT
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
General Vandegrift held an honorary degree of Doctor of Military Science from Pennsylvania Military College, and honorary degrees of Doctor of Law from Harvard, Colgate, Brown, Columbia, and Maryland Universities and John Marshall College.
The main street that runs through Camp Pendleton is named Vandegrift Blvd in his honor.
A former military housing complex, now civilian housing, for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio, has streets named for World War II commanders including Gen Vandegrift, Gen Eisenhower, Adm Nimitz and others.
Vandegrift married Mildred Strode (1886-1952) on June 29, 1909. They had one son, Alexander Archer Vandegrift, Jr. (1911-1969), a Marine Corps colonel who fought in both World War II and in the Korean War. He married, after Mildred's death, to Kathryn Henson (1903-1978).
Vandegrift appears in the 2004 anime series Zipang.
Media related to Alexander Archer Vandegrift at Wikimedia Commons