General Abrams

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The Army's Commemorative biography and photo are here used by permission of the United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.

4 September 1974

General Creighton W. Abrams
Chief of Staff, United States Army

At 0035 today, General Creighton W. Abrams, Chief of Staff, United States Army, who had recent Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger as "an authentic national hero," died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. The general re-entered the hospital for treatment of complications following earlier surgery to remove a cancerous left lung.

Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, General Abrams would have been sixty on September 15th. He had worn his country's uniform for over forty-two years, for four years as a cadet at West Point, and for thirty-eight years as an Army officer.
A veteran of three wars, General Abrams rose to the Army's highest leadership position because he was preeminently a leader and commander of troops, particularly in wartime. From platoon to corps, he commanded at every Level and finally served as Joint Commander of all U.S. Forces in Vietnam.
Commissioned in the Cavalry in 1936, General Abrams served initially with various cavalry and tank units of the 1st Cavalry Division and the 1st Armored Division. Joining the newly activated 4th Armored Division in 1941, he remained with the Division throughout World War II. As a battalion commander, and then combat command commander, he participated in every campaign the Division fought and became widely known as one of the Army's most aggressive and successful Armor commanders. It was Lieutenant Colonel Abrams, in a conference on the banks of the Moselle, who pointed east and remarked: "That is the shortest way home." It was a tank unit called Task Force "Abe" that led the thrust across the Moselle; it was a tank unit commanded by Abrams that broke the German encirclement at Bastogne. It was Abrams' unit that tore from Bitburg to the Rhine including an attack of over forty miles in less than two days. Time and time again Abrams led the thrust across the German homeland and into Czechoslovakia, often at the head of the column. His World War II commander, General George S. Patton, Jr., once said: "I'm supposed to be the best tank commander in the Army but I have one peer - Abe Abrams. He's the world champion."

The 4th Armored Division is now inactive, but its former members still meet from time to time. To these men, General Abrams was always one of them. At a 4th Armored Division Association convention last year, General Abrams was introduced to the gathering as "the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, Colonel Abe!"

During the Korean War, General Abrams served successively as Chief of Staff of I, IX and X Corps. He participated in the defense against the last major Communist offensives of the war. He remained to help set up I Corps as a key link in the United Nations Command organization.

Following his duty in Korea, General Abrams served for a period as Chief of Staff of the Armor Center at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Returning to Europe in 1959, he was assigned as Assistant Division Commander, 3d Armored Division, and later as Commanding General of the Division. After another tour in Washington and yet another in Europe, this time as a Corps Commander, he received his fourth star and was selected as the Army's Vice Chief of Staff.

In 1967, he became Deputy Commander of the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam; a year later, he was appointed its Commander. For the four years General Abrams commanded in Vietnam, it was his task to reduce direct U.S. military involvement and to transfer increasing defense responsibilities to Vietnamese forces, as they became capable of assuming them. By the time he left Vietnam in 1972, that job had been virtually completed.

After his extensive service in Vietnam, General Abrams was nominated to be Chief of Staff, United States Army, and was confirmed by the Senate on October 12, 1972. Since that day, General Abrams' principal challenge was to knit together an Army that had suffered the double trauma of rapid reduction in size and massive repositioning of forces, both occasioned by the end of U.S. military operations in Vietnam. To add to the challenge, it was during this same period that authority for induction ended, and the Army shifted to an all-volunteer footing.

The major themes in the Army during those two years were Abrams themes, as plain and strong as the man who established them: the readiness mission; rethinking the Army's role; and taking care of the soldier. The actions that flowed from this guidance increased the readiness and effectiveness of the Army dramatically. At the same time, morale improved and disciplinary problems subsided, responding to the firm hand at the top. Just prior to his being stricken by lung cancer, General Abrams had set in motion a program to increase markedly the Army's combat capability without increasing its total strength. It was to be done the Abrams way, by cutting out entire headquarters, by making other headquarters - including his own - much smaller, and by making every element in the Army count toward the overall mission.

Direct and plain-spoken, General Abrams liked being around soldiers and was approachable by soldiers of all ranks. He understood them, and they respected and admired him. He was equally respected by his civilian superiors and by Members of Congress. Secretary of the Army Howard H. Callaway referred to him as "our number one soldier." Senator John C. Stennis, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made reference to General Abrams as "a real soldier . . . I always thought of him as having mud on his boots." Senator Sam Nunn, another member of the Armed Services Committee, referred to him as "a great soldier."

His military superiors also thought highly of General Abrams as he assumed positions of increasing responsibility. When Brigadier General Abrams was a young Assistant Division Commander in Europe in the early sixties, his Division Commander wrote: " . . . he has attained a rare balance between his natural characteristics of a colorful, decisive, driving commander and a calculating, canny, thorough planner . . . He knows soldiers as few men do and has no peer . . . as an armored leader."

Abrams as Division Commander was, if anything, even more highly praised. According to his Corps Commander, ". . . he is the outstanding armor commander of his generation . . . He is open, honest, frank, sincere, completely dedicated to the Army and the highest ideals of service . . . He is tactful but firm."

Throughout his subsequent career, General Abrams was repeatedly evaluated in terms such as "unequalled," "without peer," "the best." That he became Chief of Staff of the Army surprised none of those officers under whom he served.

Preferring to remain as far from the public eye as possible, he was well-known to the public and sought by the media, largely as a result of his straightforward, candid way of conducting the public's military business.

General Abrams was a private person, by preference. He enjoyed listening to classical music at home, and just being with his family. He tended to limit his public appearances and speech-making, but people liked to hear him talk. He had a modest, but well-polished, collection of stories, many of them autobiographical, at least in spirit. His favorite stories tended to hark back to earlier days, to the era when he played football at West Point and to his early cavalry days. The messages he brought to the military and civilian groups he talked to reflected the basic ideas he felt most strongly about: the safety of the Nation; the need for the Army to be ready, and the dreadful human costs of unpreparedness; the importance of simple integrity; and the needs the paramount needCof remembering the soldier and his immediate leaders, the people at the end of a long chain of command.

General Abrams is survived by his wife, the former Julia Harvey, and by their children; Noel, Creighton Jr., John, Jeanne, Elizabeth, and Robert Bruce. He is also survived by a sister, Bette (Mrs. William L.) James of Feeding Hills.

Interment will be in Arlington National Cemetery.

As the Hometown Knew Him

When Creighton Abrams was a small boy, the family moved to Feeding Hills and after living in several rented locations, built a home on North Westfield Street. The father, Creighton Abrams Sr., worked as a repairman for the Boston & Albany Railroad and was interested in all the activities of a very busy son. Creighton was involved in 4-H Club work, raising baby beef and pigs and in 1929 was selected to represent the Hampden County boys at Camp Field at Brockton Fair. A local 4-H leader recalls the day in the summer of 1927 when she and Otis Hall, County Director, visited the Abrams home. Creighton was not there and his mother remarked ruefully that he seemed to be giving up 4-H for other interests. Mr. Hall responded with his usual eager enthusiasm, "We're not trying to make farmers out of all these boys. We don't care how many hogs or cabbages he raises; it's the boy we're interested in. We're trying to build self-reliance, good judgment and character. For many, 4-H is a stepping stone." At school, Creighton was a good student and his teachers remember him as a dependable boy of firm character. In his spare time he trapped muskrats, an activity in which he was usually accompanied by his dog. He patched a wheezing Model T, learned to shoot by drilling holes with his .22 through tin cans tossed up by his father, and played his favorite sport, football. In 1931, he was captain and center of Agawam High School's football team through an unbeaten, untied and unscored-upon season. Creighton was described in his class yearbook as the "loudest, happiest, fightin=est man on the team."

He was on the staff of the Agawam Mirror, Class officer, Student Council, Pro Merito and other activities. He was voted the best all-around boy and the most likely to succeed.

The class prophecy in the yearbook of 1932 says: "And didn't you get a thrill last week when you read the headlines 'Major General Abrams Leads Attack on Russian Revolutionists.' "

Creighton Abrams was Army-oriented even then. His speech as class orator started with the fact that the date was the two hundredth anniversary year of the birth of George Washington, "the man who as a boy led his playmates in mimic battles and as a man led a nation in a dreadfully real war."

To illustrate the High School's ability to win over larger schools, he told of a battle in ancient history where a small army won over a large one, and he seemed to be thinking even then in terms of tactics.

In the same address, he spoke to the school staff, "You will take this High School system through this period of depression just as Washington led his Army through the winter at Valley Forge with a clear head and a confident spirit."

When the hoped-for appointment to West Point came through, Creighton was so jubilant that he rushed out of the school and seeing his sister, picked her up and whirled her about in dizzying circles yelling, "I got it, I got it!"

He was soon sobered by the realization that he would have to have $300 in order to start life as a cadet. Due to the depression, his father was working only part time and that was a very large sum. School Superintendent Benjamin Phelps told him to go and see Mrs. Minerva Davis. Although the errand was not to his liking, he went. Mrs. Davis loaned him the $300, which he paid back after graduation from West Point.

In 1939, as Lieutenant Abrams, he was speaker at a High School assembly and made a lasting impression on the students.

Years later, when he took command of the 3rd Armored, he moved to Germany with his wife and four of their six children. He stated that "if there is going to be trouble I prefer to be right there. This is the job I want."

Agawam people were glad that a man like Creighton Abrams was out there on the job during the war, and are proud to have known him during those early years of his life.