Why So Few U.S. Generals Were Killed In World War II

February 1, 2020 Topic: Histoty Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: U.S. MilitaryWorld War IICasualtiesLeadership

Why So Few U.S. Generals Were Killed In World War II

Yet millions more still perished.

Maj. Gen. Edwin Davies Patrick was the commanding general of the 6th Division, heavily engaged with the enemy on Okinawa, when he died of wounds he received in battle in 1944. Patrick was given command of the 6th Division in September 1944, and was in hostile action near Bayanbayannan, Luzon, at the time of his death. The battle for Luzon was incredibly bloody, with the sixth Army, which had entered the conflict with 200,000 soldiers, suffering over 38,000 casualties, the highest of any American army in the war.

Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose was commander of the 3rd Armored Division when he was killed in March 1945, just a few weeks before the end of World War II in Europe. Rose had served in all three of the great U.S. armored divisions: the 1st, known as “Old Ironsides,” the 2nd, “Hell on Wheels,” and, finally, the 3rd, “Spearhead.”

Rose was known as stern and ruthless in destruction of the enemy, but was deeply admired by his men. He was always at the front of the battle, directing activities from his jeep.

Rose had enlisted in the Army in 1916, serving on the Mexican border. He attended officer’s training courses at Fort Riley, Kans., and was deployed to France, where he served with the 89th Division and was wounded in battle at St. Mihiel.

On the night of his death, Rose and two other men rounded a bend and literally ran into a German tank. The German tank commander ordered the Americans to surrender, and when Rose made a motion to drop his weapon the German apparently panicked and shot him, but the other two escaped.

Brig. Gen. James Edward Wharton replaced General Lloyd Brown as commander of the 28th Infantry Division in August 1944. A few hours later he was killed while visiting one of his regiments on the front line. The 28th Infantry Division was another of those World War II divisions that had to be reconstituted “on the fly.” From July 22, 1944, through January 1945, the division suffered 15,000 casualties, with many of these occurring in December 1944, during the Germans’ Ardennes offensive.

Brig. Gen. Don F. Pratt was the assistant division commander of the 101st Airborne Division and was in the first wave of glider landings in France, which began at 3 am on D-Day. His glider took a lot of enemy fire as it approached the field surrounded by hedgerows that was his designated landing area. When the glider landed, cargo broke loose from its moorings, broke through the bulkhead, and crushed Pratt, who was sitting in the cockpit. Pratt was the first general officer to die (but the second U.S. airborne general), on either side, on D-Day.

22,000 POWs

During the course of the war, approximately 22,000 Americans were held as prisoners by the Japanese. Of these, about 7,000 died during captivity, some of them by execution. In contrast, over 100,000 Americans were held as POWs by the Germans, but 98 percent of them survived. Part of the difference was a deeply held cultural belief of the Japanese. To them, surrender was unacceptable, and if the enemy surrendered they were unworthy of any consideration for humane treatment. This same attitude no doubt accounts for the relatively few Japanese taken prisoner by American or British forces. They would fight to the end or commit suicide rather than be taken prisoner.

The Japanese also did not observe the Geneva Convention, and wounded men would not yell for a medic, as it would draw enemy fire. Medics would not wear the traditional red cross on their uniforms because it would be a target for the enemy.

Brig. Gen. Guy O. Fort commanded the 81st Division in the Philippines at the time of the massive Japanese invasion of Luzon. Nothing more is known of Fort’s death, only that he was captured, tortured, and executed by the Japanese in 1942.

Brig. Gen. Vicente Lim was a native Filipino, with a military education that included officer training at Fort Benning Infantry School. One of his classmates at Fort Benning was Akira Nara, who as a Japanese general was in combat with Lim’s 41st Division on Bataan.

Lim was taken captive at Bataan and survived the infamous death march. He was freed by the Japanese, as they were attempting to separate or alienate Filipinos from the United States. Once freed, Lim became a member of the resistance. He was captured again in the vicinity of Manila and taken to Fort Santiago. After being tortured, he was executed by the Japanese.

Lt. Gen. Frank M. Andrews was a pioneer in the field of military aviation. He graduated from flight training in 1918, too late to be involved in combat in World War I, but was appointed air services officer for the American Army of Occupation in Germany in mid-1920.

He was promoted to brigadier general in 1935, and all of the U.S. Army’s air strike elements were placed under a single commander. Promoted to major general, Andrews became an advocate of an independent air force to the extent that he ran afoul of the general staff. For his advocacy, he was exiled to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and reverted to his permanent rank of colonel in 1939.

Andrews’ banishment did not last long, however, as the new chief of staff, General George Marshall, brought him back to Washington, D.C., as the assistant chief of staff of the Army for operations and training.

Promoted to lieutenant general, Andrews assumed command of the Caribbean Defense Command in 1941. In 1942, he became the commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, and in February 1943, he was given supreme command of all U.S. forces in the European Theater of Operations (ETO). Unfortunately, three months after this assignment he was killed in the crash of a B-24 Liberator bomber while attempting a landing in Iceland.

Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, on the southeast outskirts of Washington, D.C., is named in his honor.

Brig. Gen. Charles Henry Barth, Jr., was the chief of staff for General Andrews’ European theater command and was on the same flight that crashed in Iceland, killing General Andrews and 13 others.

Maj. Gen. Hugh J. Gaffey entered the military in 1917 as an artillery officer. He commanded the 2nd Armored Division in North Africa in 1941, and was promoted to major general in 1943. In 1944, he became chief of staff of General George S. Patton’s Third Army.

Gaffey commanded the 4th Armored Division during the relief operation at Bastogne. Following this successful operation, he was given command of VII Corps. He was killed in a plane crash shortly after the capitulation of Germany in 1945.

Brig. Gen. Stuart Chapin Godfrey was commander of Geiger [Air] Field near Spokane, Wash. Godfrey had directed construction of airfields in the China-Burma-India theatre for use by B-29 Superfortress bombers on raids against Japan prior to assuming command at Geiger Field. He was returning from a conference at Fort Hamilton in San Francisco in 1945 when his plane crashed into a small hill six miles from Geiger Field.

Major Gen. Stonewall Jackson was commander of the 84th Infantry Division at the time of his death in 1943. Jackson had only been in command a few months, assuming command of the division in February 1943, and he was promoted to major general in March. The division was on maneuvers at Fort (then Camp) Polk, La. The 84th Division arrived in France in November 1944, and participated in crashing through the Siegfried Line at Wurm and Mullendorf. 
Jackson was not related to the famous Confederate general, but his father, as a cavalry officer, had served under that General “Stonewall” Jackson.

Lt. Gen. Lesley McNair was one of the highest ranking American officers killed in World War II. McNair had been commander of Army ground forces and was responsible for training of all components of the active Army, Army Reserve, and National Guard. He wanted a field command but never received one. As frequently as he could, he visited the fronts and was wounded in Tunisia. He was made commander of the mythical 1st Army Group, replacing General Patton McNair was observing the 30th Infantry Division’s preparations for deployment to St. Lo in 1944 when the Army Air Corps accidentally dropped bombs on his position and he was killed. He was posthumously promoted to full general in 1945.

Ironically, his son, Colonel Douglas McNair, chief of staff of the 77th Division, was killed two weeks later by a sniper on Guam.

Maj. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr.was the only American general to go ashore in the first wave on D-Day. His units had been dropped at the wrong location, but Roosevelt signaled the other ships to use the new location, and told his staff: “We’ll start the war from here.”

Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, had fought in World War I and was wounded in action. He was recalled to active duty at the outset of World War II as a colonel. He fought in North Africa, unfortunately leaving a negative impression on General Omar Bradley, commander of II Corps, who subsequently relieved him of his position as assistant division commander of the 1st Infantry Division.