James Maurice Gavin, (1907-1990)


‘To the troopers of the 82d Airborne Division, who with courage and determination in their hearts, carried the fight to the enemy from Africa to Berlin. It has been a great privilege to have served in your ranks.’ James M. Gavin.

U. S. Army general, airborne pioneer, author, and statesman. Born on 22 March 1907 at Brooklyn, New York, James Gavin was abandoned by his biological mother and subsequently adopted. At age 16, he enlisted in the army and eventually earned an appointment to the U. S. Military Academy. Graduating in 1929, he was commissioned in the infantry.

In August 1941 Gavin attended the Parachute School and upon graduation was assigned to the 503rd Parachute Battalion. In December 1941 he was made Plans and Training Officer of the Provisional Parachute Group at Fort Benning, Georgia. In September 1942 he attended the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and upon graduation was assigned to the Airborne Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as G-3.

Gavin became Commanding Officer of the 505th Parachute Infantry in July 1942 and remained in that command when the regiment was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division in January 1943. The 82nd Airborne Division went overseas in April and the 505th Parachute Combat Team under the command of Colonel Gavin spearheaded the assault of Sicily on the night of 9 July 1943. He commanded the regiment in the parachute landing at Salerno Bay on the night of 14 September 1943 and the following month was made Assistant Division Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.

In November 1943 he was placed on Temporary Duty with COSSAC in England as Airborne Advisor to the Supreme Commander, remaining on that assignment until about 1 February 1944 when he returned to duty with the division which had now arrived at Leicester.

In the Normandy invasion on the night of 5/6 June 1944 he commanded the parachute assault echelon of the 82nd Airborne Division, consisting of the 505th, 507th, and 508th Infantries. Upon being relieved from the Normandy front, the division returned to England in July 1944 and on 28 August General Gavin assumed command of the division, the youngest divisional general in the Army.

As division commander he led the division in the airborne operation at Nijmegen, in the Battle of the Bulge the following winter, and the spring offensive of 1945, until the surrender of the German Army. The division was assigned to duty in Berlin in July 1945 where Gavin served as American representative on the City Kommandantura until the division left that city in October 1945.

Known universally to his men as ‘Slim Jim’, Gavin was a natural leader, always first to jump. Dressed and armed exactly as they were, he led from the front. In Holland he suffered cracked vertebrae during the jump (a terribly painful injury) and not once did it appear to slow him down. His chief of staff at the time, Colonel Weinecke once commented ‘We have a wonderful system worked out, I stay home with the telephones, and my general goes out and fights with the troops.’ His troops loved him, more so that he had a fine tactical mind which was able to apply fully the skills the Airborne possessed. The success of the 82nd owed more to Gavin than almost anything else.

Gavin continued to command the 82nd Airborne Division until March 1948. He was then, in succession, chief of staff of Fifth Army; chief of staff, Allied Forces South; commander of VII Corps; and deputy chief of staff of the U. S. Army. Promoted to lieutenant general in March 1955, Gavin was in line for promotion to general when he retired in 1958 because of differences with the defense policies of the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration-specifically what he regarded as its overreliance on nuclear forces. Gavin returned to public life during the John F. Kennedy administration, serving as ambassador to France in 1960 and 1961. He died at Baltimore, Maryland, on 23 February 1990.

References Blair, Clay. Ridgway’s Paratroopers: The American Airborne in World War II. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985. Booth, T. Michael, and Duncan Spencer. Paratrooper: The Life of Gen. James M. Gavin. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. Gavin, James M. Airborne Warfare. Washington, DC: Infantry Journal Press, 1947.—. On to Berlin: Battles of an Airborne Commander. New York: Viking, 1978.


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