Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Van Fleet, James Alward (1892–1992)

Title: James Alward Van Fleet
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U.S. Army general and commander of the Eighth Army in Korea (1951–1953). Born in Coytesville, New Jersey, on 19 March 1892, James Alward Van Fleet graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, in 1915. He saw service in the 1916–1917 Mexican Punitive Expedition and in World War I, fighting with the American Expeditionary Forces. Between the wars he served in the infantry and as an instructor. In 1941, now a colonel, he took command of the 8th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division, leading its assault on Utah Beach in the June 1944 D-Day Normandy invasion. Promoted to brigadier general and then to major general, during the drive against Germany Van Fleet led various divisions in heavy fighting at Metz, in the Ardennes, at Remagen, in the Ruhr, and in Austria.

After the war, Van Fleet served in the United States and Germany, and in early 1948 he became, as a lieutenant general, director of the Athens-based Joint U.S. Military and Planning Group advising the Greek government on suppressing communist rebels. Appointed to the Greek National Council, for two years he successfully directed the training and use of Greek military forces in that nation's civil war.

In April 1951 Van Fleet, now a four-star general, took command of the Eighth Army in the Korean War from General Matthew Ridgway, who had just replaced Douglas MacArthur as commander of the United Nations (UN) forces. For much of 1951, Van Fleet's troops saw fierce fighting, driving north in mid-1951 and again after peace talks stalled from August to October. Thereafter, he was restricted to maintaining frontline defensive positions, as the war became largely one of attrition and stalemate. He became increasingly frustrated when superiors repeatedly turned down his plans for major offensives, although in mid-1952 his forceful protests eventually persuaded them to authorize limited smaller operations against communist positions, assaults that proved largely fruitless. Serious ammunition shortages damaging to troop effectiveness and morale also irritated Van Fleet, although some blamed these on his prodigality with artillery barrages. He devoted much effort to reforming, rebuilding and strengthening the demoralized South Korean forces, who by late 1952 comprised almost three-quarters of his frontline troops.

In February 1953, shortly before the war ended, Van Fleet turned over the Eighth Army to General Maxwell D. Taylor before resigning from the army in protest in April 1953. The following month, Van Fleet published articles echoing MacArthur's assertions that had the political leaders uncompromisingly exercised American power, they could have achieved total victory in 1951. These charges delighted Republican critics but infuriated Ridgway, Taylor, and Army Chief of Staff General Joseph Lawton Collins.

In 1954 Van Fleet served as President Dwight D. Eisenhower's special envoy to the Far East. As a Defense Department consultant in the early 1960s, Van Fleet suggested that Adlai Stevenson's failure to defend the botched Bay of Pigs invasion required his dismissal as his country's UN representative. Van Fleet died in Washington, D.C., on 23 September 1992. Like many great combat soldiers, he was an inspiring battlefield leader but deficient in broader diplomatic skills.

Priscilla Roberts


Further Reading
Hermes, Walter G. The United States Army in the Korean War: Truce Tent and Fighting Front. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1966.; Paik, Sun Yup. From Pusan to Panmunjom. London: Brassey's, 1992.; Schnabel, James P. The United States Army in the Korean War: Policy and Direction, the First Year. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972.
 

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