Lesley J. McNair: Recipient of the Purple Heart medal (1883 - 1944) | Biography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Lesley J. McNair
Recipient of the Purple Heart medal

Lesley J. McNair

Lesley J. McNair
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Recipient of the Purple Heart medal
Was Military officer Soldier Officer
From United States of America
Field Military
Gender male
Birth 25 May 1883, Verndale
Death 25 July 1944, Saint-Lô (aged 61 years)
Star sign Gemini
Lesley J. McNair
The details (from wikipedia)


General Lesley James McNair (May 25, 1883 – July 25, 1944) was a senior United States Army officer who served during World War I and World War II. He was the "unsung architect of the US Army" who played the leading role in training Army Ground Forces in the United States before they were sent to combat. He concentrated on advanced officer education, using innovative weapons systems; extensive field-testing of doctrine; streamlining for efficiency; realistic combat training, and combined army tactics with an emphasis on mobility of mechanized forces.
He was killed by friendly fire when an Eighth Air Force bomb landed in his foxhole near Saint-Lô during Operation Cobra, which tried to use heavy bombers for close air support of infantry operations as part of the Battle of Normandy. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in France, was so angry at the mistake that he vowed never again to use heavy bombers against tactical targets.

Early life and career

McNair was born in Verndale, Minnesota, to James and Clara (Manz) McNair. He graduated eleventh in a class of 124 from the United States Military Academy and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant of Artillery (1904).

He then served in a series of ordnance and artillery positions in Utah, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. (1904–1909). He was promoted to 1st lieutenant (June 1905) and captain (May 1907) and was then assigned to the 4th Artillery Regiment in the west (1909–1914). While attached to the regiment, McNair was sent to France to observe French artillery training for seven months (1913), and on his return he took part in Major General Frederick Funston's expedition to Veracruz (April 30 – November 23, 1914). He served under General John J. Pershing, in the Pancho Villa Expedition, and was promoted to major (May 1917).

World War I

When the United States of America entered the First World War, McNair went to France, where he served with the 1st Infantry Division. For his outstanding service, he was awarded both the Army Distinguished Service Medal and the French Légion d'honneur. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel (August 1917), colonel (June 1918), and brigadier (one-star) general (October 1918), becoming the youngest general officer then in the United States Army at age 35.

Between wars

Following the war's end in November 1918, McNair left his position as senior artillery officer in the General Staff's Training Section and reverted to his permanent rank of major (1919). He taught at the General Service School (1919–1921), then was a staff officer in Hawaii (1921–1924), serving as a professor of military science and tactics at Purdue University from 1924 to 1928.

He was promoted to permanent lieutenant colonel (1928) and graduated from the Army War College in 1929. Following this, he served as assistant commander of the U.S. Army Field Artillery School (1929–1933) then in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the first Franklin Roosevelt Administration (1933–1935). He was promoted to colonel (May 1935) and received command of 2d Field Artillery Brigade in Texas following his promotion to Brigadier General in March 1937, and commanded from March 1937 to April 1939.

As Commandant of the Command and General Staff College from April 1939 to July 1940, McNair initiated changes that prepared the College's graduates to meet the upcoming challenges of World War II.

World War II

McNair was Chief of Staff of GHQ, U.S. Army from July 1940 to March 1942. He was promoted to major general in September 1940, and temporary lieutenant general in June 1941.

Army Ground Forces

In March 1942, McNair became commanding general, Army Ground Forces. As such, he was responsible for the organization, training and preparation of the U.S. Army for overseas service. He was instrumental in preparing large-scale divisional and corps exercises to provide Army commanders with some experience in controlling large forces in simulated combat. However, McNair's emphasis on abbreviated basic combat training schedules for inductees, as well as his programs for the training and supply of individual replacements to combat units would later face widespread criticism after the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, criticism that continued until the end of the war in Europe.


McNair, who had already received a Purple Heart for being wounded in the North African Campaign, was killed in his foxhole July 25, 1944 near Saint-Lô during Operation Cobra, by an errant aerial bomb dropped during a pre-attack bombardment by heavy strategic bombers of the Eighth Air Force.

Gravestone at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

Lieutenant General Omar Nelson Bradley, commander of the U.S. First Army, his ground forces stymied, had decided to use carpet bombing to break the German lines. Carpet bombing of enemy lines was used as a breakthrough tool at the start of many operations by the Americans and the British, in contrast to the Soviet method of barrage by concentrated conventional artillery. 1,500 heavy bombers, 380 medium bombers and 550 fighter bombers dropped 4,000 tons of high explosives and napalm. Bradley was horrified when 77 planes bombed short:

"The ground belched, shook and spewed dirt to the sky. Scores of our troops were hit, their bodies flung from slit trenches. Doughboys were dazed and frightened....A bomb landed squarely on McNair in a slit trench and threw his body sixty feet and mangled it beyond recognition except for the three stars on his collar."

McNair had decided against the advice of his aides to place himself in the front line, believing that the presence of a general alongside them was good for the morale of the troops. General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote afterwards in a cable to Marshall, "I warned him time and again about unnecessary risk."

McNair, Frank Maxwell Andrews, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. and Millard Harmon, all lieutenant generals at the time of their deaths, were the highest-ranking Americans to be killed in World War II; McNair and Buckner were both promoted posthumously to general, on July 19, 1954, by Act of Congress.


McNair is buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, France. His tombstone originally listed him as a lieutenant general, the rank he held at death. Although he was posthumously promoted to the rank of full general by Congress in 1954, the American Battle Monuments Commission was initially unaware of the change. His gravestone was not changed to reflect his final rank of general until 11 November 2010, making him the highest-ranking military officer buried at that cemetery.

His son, Colonel Douglas McNair, chief of staff of the 77th Infantry Division, was killed two weeks later by a sniper on Guam and is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.

Washington Barracks in Washington, D.C. was renamed Fort Lesley J. McNair in his honor in 1948. McNair Barracks in Berlin, Germany and McNair Kaserne in Höchst (Frankfurt am Main), Germany were also both named in his honor. McNair Kaserne was closed and turned over to the German government when the 17th Signal Battalion moved to Kitzingen, Germany in 1992.


McNair's major innovations in the late 1930s and as head of the Army Ground Forces included upgrading and emphasize advanced officer education, using innovative weapons systems; extensive field-testing of doctrine; streamlining for efficiency; realistic combat training, and combined army tactics with an emphasis on mobility of mechanized forces. His work with an army of 100,000 men in the 1930s was successfully scaled up to an army of 8 million by 1944.

Initial training issues

During the early months of the war, Lieutenant General McNair received largely favorable treatment for his training programs and policies. McNair was frequently quoted for his pronouncements that no army could be fully effective unless it is properly organized, correctly equipped, adequately led, and completely trained. In a 1943 wartime profile for The Saturday Evening Post written just before the rout of U.S. Army forces at Kasserine Pass, reporter John T. Whitaker effusively wrote of McNair: "If you have a son or husband in uniform, you may owe his welfare or even his survival to 'Whitey' McNair.".

Under pressure to quickly produce huge numbers of soldiers, McNair resorted to cutting back basic and advanced combat training, particularly in the areas of combat initiative (small-unit leadership exercises for enlisted troops, where all NCOs and officers have been ruled killed or wounded), combat acclimatization, weapons proficiency, and small unit tactics.

With the exception of elite combat units such as airborne forces, who received intense physical training as well as realistic weapon and unit combat instruction, McNair used the bulk of the training cycle to train Army inductees in their particular specialty or classification. The faults in this system were soon exposed after the battle of Kasserine Pass and other critical initial encounters with the battle-seasoned German forces, in which U.S. infantry, service, and supporting arms troops lost unit cohesion and retreated in disorder after being overrun. While U.S. forces in continual operations against enemy forces soon acquired combat experience of their own, the cost of 'on the job training' proved extremely expensive in terms of casualties and loss of morale. Though McNair and his successors later implemented more realistic training based on modern battle experiences, widespread reports of insufficiently-trained soldiers and combat specialists would continue to occur for the duration of the war. In this respect, McNair was not helped by the practice of assigning generals who had done poorly in combat assignments, such as Lloyd Fredendall and John P. Lucas, to head stateside training commands.

Individual replacement system

Another problem surfaced with the individual replacement system (IRS), a concept devised by General George C. Marshall and implemented by McNair. Instead of learning from combat veterans in the same unit (via transfer to an existing battalion or regiment temporarily rotated out of the combat zone for retraining), replacements were first trained at a variety of facilities, then sent to replacement depots (repple-depples). Shipped without unit organization or strong command, they were passed from one temporary duty station to another, often spending months between leaving their original organizations and assignment to a unit. During this time they became physically soft, their discipline slackened, and their acquired basic infantry or combat skills tended to be forgotten. It was at this point that the individual army replacement was transferred to an active duty unit, frequently a fighting arm such as armor or infantry that was 'on the line' (currently engaged in combat operations). In addition to this, U.S. commanders frequently encountered replacement soldiers that had received no training on their individual rifle or assigned weapons system at all. As the IRS plan began to break down completely in late 1944, other men, including older individuals and those physically incapable of rigorous physical duty were taken from other army specialties (clerk-typist, cook etc.) or training programs and hurriedly given six weeks' infantry training, upon which they were reassigned as combat infantry replacements. In consequence, casualty rates skyrocketed; in many frontline units, replacement soldiers lasted an average just three to four days before being killed or wounded. At the same time, veteran soldiers were retained on the line until they were killed, wounded, or became incapacitated by battle fatigue or physical illness.

Tactical doctrine controversies

McNair also espoused controversial theories on armored support of infantry forces, theories which were later found to be deficient. He came in for particular criticism over his doctrine on the use of tank destroyers. As an artillery officer, McNair favored towed anti-tank artillery over self-propelled tank destroyers, even after it had become apparent that German forces were converting their anti-tank forces into self-propelled guns as soon as such vehicles could be produced. Due to inherent delays in deploying such towed guns, combined with greatly increased crew exposure to German small arms and mortar fire, American towed anti-tank artillery was never really effective during the war in Europe; instead, some units were tasked as substitute howitzers firing conventional artillery missions. When used in their original role as towed anti-tank guns against German tanks and defensive emplacements, the towed battalions suffered disproportionate casualties compared to the self-propelled tank destroyer battalions.

As a result of his opposition to the use of tank destroyers, McNair was instrumental in obstructing the production of the M26 Pershing. McNair saw no need for a heavy tank and believed that tank versus tank duels were "unsound and unnecessary". McNair would agree only to the production of the 76mm M4 Sherman which he believed were capable of handling the Tiger I tank that had appeared in late 1942. Gen. Jacob Devers, the main proponent for the M26, had to go over McNair's head to Gen. Marshall to begin production of the M26.

Command ability

McNair was not always successful in selecting subordinate commanders with genuine military leadership abilities. He had a close relationship with and very high regard for Lloyd Fredendall, considered one of the most incompetent senior U.S. battlefield commanders of World War II. McNair included Fredendall on a list of three senior generals he thought capable of commanding all American forces in England. As part of Operation Torch, Fredendall was later sent to North Africa, where he was relieved of command by General Eisenhower after the debacle at Kasserine Pass in February 1943.

Personal life

He married Clare Huster on June 15, 1905.

Military awards

  • Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters
  • Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster
  • Mexican Service Medal
  • World War I Victory Medal with four campaign clasps
  • American Defense Service Medal
  • American Campaign Medal
  • European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
  • World War II Victory Medal (Posthumous)

Dates of Rank

Insignia Rank Component Date
No insignia Cadet United States Military Academy August 1, 1900
No insignia in 1904 Second Lieutenant Regular Army June 15, 1904
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 First Lieutenant Regular Army July 1, 1905
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 Captain Regular Army May 29, 1907
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 Major Temporary May 15, 1917
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 Lieutenant Colonel Temporary August 5, 1917
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 Colonel National Army June 26, 1918
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 Brigadier General Regular Army October 1, 1918
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 Major Regular Army July 16, 1919
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 Lieutenant Colonel Regular Army July 9, 1928
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 Colonel Regular Army May 1, 1935
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 Brigadier General Regular Army January 1, 1937
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 Major General Army of the United States September 25, 1940
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 Major General Regular Army December 1, 1940
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 Lieutenant General Army of the United States June 9, 1941
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 General Posthumous July 19, 1954

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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