Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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Vandergrift, Alexander A.

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General, USMC, (1887-1973). Commandant of the Marine Corps, 1944-1948

General Alexander A. Vandegrift, USMC (1887-1973).

18th Commandant of the Marine Corps, 1 January 1944 - 1 January 1948


Alexander Archer Vandegrift was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, on 13 March 1887. In January 1909, after two years at the University of Virginia, he entered the United States Marine Corps as a Second Lieutenant. He saw very active service in the Caribbean and Central America between 1912 and 1923, taking part in the capture of Coyotepe, Nicaragua, in the former year, the occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico, in 1914 and pacification efforts in Haiti beginning in 1915.


Major Vandegrift commanded a Marine battalion while stationed at Quantico, Virginia, from 1923 and in 1926 became Assistant Chief of Staff at the Marine Corps Base, San Diego, California. Service in China in 1927-28 was followed by duty in Washington, D.C., and at Quantico. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1934, returned to China in 1935 and reached the rank of Colonel in 1936. While stationed at Marine Corps Headquarters in 1937-41, Vandegrift worked closely with the Corps' Commandant and was promoted to Brigadier General in March 1940. He became Assistant Commander of the newly-formed First Marine Division in late 1941 and the Division's Commanding General in early 1942.


Major General Vandegrift took his division to the south Pacific in May 1942 and led it in the long, harsh but successful campaign to seize and hold Guadalcanal between August and December 1942. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his "tenacity, courage and resourcefulness" during this operation. In November 1943, as a Lieutenant General, Vandegrift commanded the First Marine Amphibious Corps during the initial stages of the Bougainville campaign.


Returning to the United States in late 1943, he became Commandant of the Marine Corps on 1 January 1944. He guided the Service's continued expansion through the rest of World War II, oversaw its contraction following the conflict, and successfully defended its existence during the difficult post-war years. Promoted to four-star General effective in March 1945, Vandegrift was the first Marine Corps officer to hold that rank while on active duty. General Alexander A. Vandegrift was relieved as Commandant at the beginning of 1948 and formally retired in April 1949. He died on 8 May 1973.


The guided missile frigate Vandegrift (FFG-48), which entered service in 1984, is named in honor of General Vandegrift.


This page features selected views of General Alexander A. Vandegrift, USMC.