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Alexander Archer Vandegrift Sr.
18th Commandant of the Marine Corps (1944–1947)
Nickname Archie[1]
Born (1887-03-13)March 13, 1887
Died May 8, 1973(1973-05-08) (aged 86)
Place of birth Charlottesville, Virginia
Place of death Bethesda, Maryland
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1909–1949
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg General
Commands held 1st Marine Division
I Marine Amphibious Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps

Banana Wars

Mexican Revolution

World War II

Awards Medal of Honor
Navy Cross
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 General in the United States Marine Corps. He commanded the 1st Marine Division to victory in its first ground offensive of World War II, the Battle of Guadalcanal. For his actions during the Solomon Islands campaign, he received the Medal of Honor. Vandegrift later served as the 18th Commandant of the Marine Corps, and was the first U.S. Marine to hold the rank of four-star general while on active duty.[2]


Alexander Archer Vandegrift was born on March 13, 1887 in the small town of Charlottesville, Virginia where his father of Dutch descent was an architect and contractor.[3] Young Vandegrift, known as "Archer" in his boyhood,[3] had an interest in the military – both from reading military history novels and from stories of ancestors who fought in various wars.[4]

He attended the University of Virginia for three years; then received his commission in the U.S. Marine Corps through a week-long competitive examination in 1908,[5][6] 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".[7] 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.[8] 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.

"This officer has not shown that he appreciates the responsibilities of his position as an officer, and unless there is a decisive improvement, his relations will not be to the advantage of the service."

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.[9]

The Banana Wars

1stLt Vandegrift

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.[6] 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, Col 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.

World War II

MajGen Vandegrift, 1942, in his command tent on Guadalcanal

Brigadier General Vandegrift was ordered to the 1st Marine Division in November 1941, shortly before the United States of America entered World War II. He was promoted to major general in March 1942 and sailed for the South Pacific Area that May as commanding general of the first Marine division to ever leave the shores of the United States. On August 7, 1942, in the Solomon Islands, he led the 1st Marine Division in the first large-scale offensive action against the Japanese.[10] For outstanding service as Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division during the attack on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Gavutu in the Solomon Islands, he was awarded the Navy Cross and for the subsequent occupation and defense from August 7 to December 9, 1942, received the Medal of Honor.

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.

Commandant of the Marine Corps

Vandegrift as Commandant of the Marine Corps.

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.[11]

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. In it, he stated

The Marine Corps...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.[12]

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.

The general 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.

General Vandegrift died on May 8, 1973, at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, after a long illness. His interment was on May 10, 1973 at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Summary of Military career

Dates of rank

Insignia Rank Dates
No insignia in 1909
Second Lieutenant January 16, 1909
US-O2 insignia.svg
First Lieutenant November 10, 1914
US-O3 insignia.svg
Captain August 29, 1916
US-O4 insignia.svg
(Temporary for war service)
July 1, 1918
US-O3 insignia.svg
(Peacetime reversion)
July 31, 1919
US-O4 insignia.svg
Major July 4, 1920
(Backdated to June 4, 1920)
US-O5 insignia.svg
Lieutenant Colonel November 15, 1934
(Backdated to May 29, 1934)
US-O6 insignia.svg
Colonel September 1, 1936
US-O7 insignia.svg
Brigadier General April 11, 1940
US-O8 insignia.svg
Major General March 20, 1942
US-O9 insignia.svg
Lieutenant General July 28, 1943
US-O10 insignia.svg
General April 4, 1945
(Backdated to March 21, 1945)

Decorations, medals, and awards

Vandegrift was awarded the following:[13]

A light blue ribbon with five white five pointed stars
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Silver star
1st Row Medal of Honor Navy Cross Navy Distinguished Service Medal Navy Presidential Unit Citation w/ 1 star
2nd Row Navy Unit Commendation w/ 1 star Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal w/ 3 stars Nicaraguan Campaign Medal Mexican Service Medal
3rd Row Haitian Campaign Medal w/ 1 star World War I Victory Medal w/ West Indies clasp & 1 star Yangtze Service Medal American Defense Service Medal
4th Row American Campaign Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ 4 stars World War II Victory Medal Haitian Distinguished Service Medal
5th Row Médaille militaire w/ 1 silver star, Haiti Companion of the Order of the Bath (United Kingdom - Honorary) Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (United Kingdom - Honorary) Cruz de Aviación de Primera Clase, Peru
6th Row Order of Abdon Calderon, 1st Class, Ecuador Knights Grand Cross in the Order of Orange-Nassau w/ swords, Netherlands Order of Pao Ting (Precious Tripod) w/ Special Cravat, China Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, France.

Medal of Honor citation

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to


for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For outstanding and heroic accomplishment above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the 1st Marine Division in operations against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands during the period August 7, to December 9, 1942. With the adverse factors of weather, terrain, and disease making his task a difficult and hazardous undertaking, and with his command eventually including sea, land, and air forces of Army, Navy and Marine Corps, Major General Vandegrift achieved marked success in commanding the initial landings of the United States forces in the Solomon Islands and in their subsequent occupation. His tenacity, courage, and resourcefulness prevailed against a strong, determined, and experienced enemy, and the gallant fighting spirit of the men under his inspiring leadership enabled them to withstand aerial, land, and sea bombardment, to surmount all obstacles, and leave a disorganized and ravaged enemy. This dangerous but vital mission, accomplished at the constant risk of his life, resulted in securing a valuable base for further operations of our forces against the enemy, and its successful completion reflects great credit upon Major General Vandegrift, his command, and the United States Naval Service.


Namesake and other honors

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 $3 and John Marshall College.

In 1982, the frigate, USS Vandegrift (FFG-48) was named in his honor.

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.[14] They had one son, Alexander Archer Vandegrift, Jr. (1911–1969 ),[14] a Marine Corps colonel who fought in both World War II and in the Korean War.[10] He married, after Mildred's death, to Kathryn Henson (1903–1978).[15]

In popular culture

Vandegrift was portrayed in the 1960 film The Gallant Hours by Raymond Bailey, the 2006 film Flags of Our Fathers by Chris Bauer and in the 2010 miniseries The Pacific by Stephen Leeder.

See also


  1. Crocker (2006). Don't Tread on me. 
  2. "USMC 4 Star Generals". The Warfighter's Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 6, 2006. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hoffman, Col. Jon T., USMCR (2004). "Chapter 18: Alexander A. Vandegrift, 1944–1948". In Millett-Shulimson. Commandants of the Marine Corps. p. 282. 
  4. Hoffman (2004). "Chapter 18: Alexander A. Vandegrift, 1944–1948". In Millett-Shulimson. Commandants of the Marine Corps. p. 283. 
  5. Millett, Allan R. (2004). "Acknowledgements". In Millett-Shulimson. Commandants of the Marine Corps. p. xiv. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Hoffman (2004). "Chapter 18: Alexander A. Vandegrift, 1944–1948". In Millett-Shulimson. Commandants of the Marine Corps. p. 284. 
  7. Vandegrift & Osprey, A.A. & Robert B. (1964). Once A Marine. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 63. 
  8. Archival Service Record of Alexander Vandegrift (Fitness Report Folder), Military Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri
  9. Fitness Reports of General Alexander Vandegrift (February 1909 – October 1910), Military Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri
  10. 10.0 10.1 Aquilina, Robert V.. "General Alexander A. Vandegrift". in Shaw (1992), First Offensive: The Marine Campaign for Guadalcanal. Retrieved January 1, 2009. 
  11. Krulak (1984). "Chapter 7: The Marines' Push Button". First To Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps. pp. 113–119. 
  12. Vandegrift, Alexander (May 6, 1946). "Bended Knee Speech". Historical Documents, Orders and Speeches. History Division, United States Marine Corps. Retrieved January 29, 2009. 
  13. "General Alexander A. Vandegrift, USMC (1887–1973).". Naval Historical Center. United States Department of the Navy. Retrieved December 19, 2008. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Vandegrift Alexander Archer, Senior". Vandegrift Genealogy. Retrieved January 1, 2009. 
  15. "Alexander A. Vandegrift, General, United States Marine Corps". Archived from the original on January 13, 2009. Retrieved January 1, 2009. 




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