Creighton Abrams

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Creighton Abrams
GEN Creighton W Abrams.JPG
General Creighton W. Abrams
Birth name Creighton Williams Abrams, Jr.
Born (1914-09-15)September 15, 1914
Springfield, Massachusetts
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Walter Reed General Hospital
Washington, D.C.
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch United States Army seal United States Army
Years of service 1936–1974
Rank General US-O10 insignia.svg
Commands held 37th Tank Battalion and Combat Command B, 4th Armored Division
63rd Armor Regiment
2d Armored Cavalry Regiment
3rd Armored Division
V Corps
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
U.S. Army Chief of Staff
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
Awards US-DSC-RIBBON.png Distinguished Service Cross (2)
Defense Distinguished Service ribbon.svg Defense Distinguished Service Medal (2)
Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg Army Distinguished Service Medal (4)
Silver Star ribbon.svg Silver Star (2)
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg Legion of Merit (2)
Bronze Star ribbon.svg Bronze Star with "V" Device
Relations BG Creighton W. Abrams III (son)
GEN John N. Abrams (son)
GEN Robert B. Abrams (son)

Creighton Williams Abrams, Jr. (September 15, 1914 – September 4, 1974) was a United States Army general who commanded military operations in the Vietnam War from 1968–72 (which saw U.S. troop strength in South Vietnam fall from a peak of 543,000 to 49,000). He served as Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1972 until shortly before his death in 1974. In 1980, the U.S. Army named its new main battle tank, the M1 Abrams, after General Abrams. The IG Farben building in Germany was also named after him from 1975 to 1995.

Career summary

Early career

Creighton Williams Abrams Jr. graduated from West Point in 1936 (he stood 185th out of 276 in the class)[1][2] and served with the 1st Cavalry Division from 1936 to 1940, being promoted to first lieutenant in 1939 and temporary captain in 1940.

Abrams became an armor officer early in the development of that branch and served as a tank company commander in the 1st Armored Division in 1940.

World War II

4th U.S. Armored Division

During World War II, he served in the 4th Armored Division, initially as regimental adjutant (June 1941 – June 1942), battalion commander (July 1942 – March 1943), and regiment executive officer (March 1943 – September 1943) with the 37th Armor Regiment. In September 1943, a reorganization of the division redesignated the 37th Armor Regiment to the 37th Tank Battalion, which he commanded; he commanded Combat Command B of the division during the Battle of the Bulge. During this time he was promoted to the temporary ranks of major (February 1942), lieutenant colonel (September 1943), and colonel (April 1945).

During much of this time, the 4th Armored Division (led by the 37th Tank Battalion) was the spearhead for General Patton's Third Army, and he was consequently well known as an aggressive armor commander. By using his qualities as a leader and by consistently exploiting the relatively small advantages of speed and reliability of his vehicles, he managed to defeat German forces that had the advantage of superior armor and superior guns. He was twice decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, for extraordinary heroism on September 20 and December 26, 1944.

On April 23, 1945, Will Lang Jr. wrote a biography called "Colonel Abe" for Life.

Abrams was known as an aggressive and successful armor commander. General George Patton said of him: "I'm supposed to be the best tank commander in the Army, but I have one peer — Abe Abrams. He's the world champion."[3] Frequently the spearhead of the Third Army during World War II, Abrams was one of the leaders in the relief effort that broke up the German entrenchments surrounding Bastogne and the 101st Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge. In April, 1945 he was promoted to (temporary (brevet)) colonel but reverted to lieutenant colonel during World War II demobilization.

He was noted for his concern for soldiers, his emphasis on combat readiness, and his insistence on personal integrity.[citation needed]

Between wars

Following the war he served on the Army General Staff (1945–46), as head of the department of tactics at the Armored School, Fort Knox (1946–48), and graduated from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth (1949).

He commanded the 63rd Tank Battalion, part of the 1st Infantry Division, in Europe (1949–51). He was again promoted to colonel and commanded the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (1951–52). These units were important assignments due to the Cold War concern for potential invasion of western Europe by the Soviet Union. He then attended and graduated from the Army War College in 1953.

Korean War

Due to his service in Europe and his War College tour, he joined the Korean War late in the conflict. He successively served as chief of staff of the I, X, and IX Corps in Korea (1953–1954).

Staff assignments and division command

Upon return from Korea he served as Chief of Staff of the Armor Center, Fort Knox (1954–1956). He was promoted to brigadier general and appointed deputy chief of staff for reserve components at the Pentagon (1956–1959). He was assistant division commander of 3rd Armored Division (1959–60) and then commanded the division (1960–62) upon his promotion to major general. He was then transferred to the Pentagon as deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (1962–63), then was promoted to lieutenant general and commanded V Corps in Europe (1963–1964).

During his tenure in Germany he was on the cover of Time Magazine on October 13, 1961. He was to grace the covers again on April 19, 1968, and February 15, 1971.

Vietnam War

Creighton W. Abrams watches Bob Hope at Long Binh in Vietnam.

Abrams was promoted to general in 1964 and appointed Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army, but not before being seriously considered as a candidate for Chief of Staff. Due to concerns about the conduct of the Vietnam War, he was appointed as deputy to General William Westmoreland, head of the Military Assistance Command in Vietnam, in May 1967. Abrams would succeed Westmoreland as commander on June 10, 1968, although his tenure of command was not marked by the public optimism of his predecessors, who were prone to press conferences and public statements. While Westmoreland had for years run the war using search-and-destroy tactics, these gave way to the clear-and-hold strategies that Abrams was keen to implement. Under his authority, American forces were broken up into small units that would live with and train the South Vietnamese civilians to defend their villages from guerrilla or conventional Northern incursions with heavy weapons. Abrams also devoted vastly more time than his predecessor had to expanding, training, and equipping the ARVN.

In contrast to Westmoreland, Abrams implemented counterinsurgency tactics that focused on winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese rural population. A joint military-civilian organization named CORDS under CIA official William Colby carried out the hearts and minds programs. According to one colonel cited in "Men's Journal", there was more continuity than change in Vietnam after Abrams succeeded Westmoreland.[lower-alpha 1]

This hearts and minds strategy was successful in reducing the influence of the guerrilla forces in South Vietnam, but the Vietnam War increasingly became a conventional war between the military forces of South Vietnam and North Vietnam. Following the election of President Richard Nixon, Abrams began implementing the Nixon Doctrine referred to as Vietnamization. The doctrine aimed to decrease U.S. involvement in Vietnam. With this new goal, Abrams had decreased American troop strength from a peak of 543,000 in early 1969 to 49,000 in June 1972. The South Vietnamese forces with aerial support from the United States repelled a full-scale NVA Easter Offensive in 1972. That same year, Abrams stepped down from the Military Assistance Command. However, while Abrams was changing the way the war was fought, the prolonged efforts and expense of the war had by then exhausted much of the American public and political support. Abrams disdained most of the politicians with whom he was forced to deal, in particular Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy, and had an even lower opinion of defense contractors whom he accused of war profiteering.

Abrams was also in charge of the Cambodian Incursion in 1970. President Nixon seemed to hold Abrams in high regard, and often relied on his advice. In a tape-recorded conversation between Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on December 9, 1970, Nixon told Kissinger about Abrams' thoughts on intervention in Cambodia that "If Abrams strongly recommends it we will do it."[5] Troop levels in Vietnam eventually reached 25,000 in January 1973, at the time of the four power Paris Peace Accords. Although it occurred before he assumed total command, he bore the brunt of fallout from the My Lai massacre in March 1968.

Chief of Staff

General Abrams was appointed Chief of Staff of the United States Army in June 1972, after serving in the Military Assistance Command. However, he was not confirmed by the United States Senate until October 1972 due to political repercussions involving accusations of unauthorized bombings. It has also been reported that Congress had delayed the confirmation to question the administration's war in Cambodia.

During this time, Abrams began the transition to the all-volunteer Army, also known as Project VOLAR. In January 1974, Abrams directed the formation of a Ranger battalion. The 1st Battalion (Ranger), 75th Infantry, was activated and parachuted into Fort Stewart, Ga. on July 1, 1974. The 2nd Battalion (Ranger), 75th Infantry followed with activation on October 1, 1974. The 3rd Battalion, 75th Infantry (Ranger), and Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 75th Infantry (Ranger), received their colors on October 3, 1984, at Fort Benning, Ga. The 75th Ranger Regiment was designated in February 1986.[6] The modern Ranger battalions owe their existence to Abrams and his charter, "The battalion is to be an elite, light, and the most proficient infantry in the world. A battalion that can do things with its hands and weapons better than anyone. The battalion will contain no "hoodlums or brigands" and if the battalion is formed from such persons, it will be disbanded. Wherever the battalion goes, it must be apparent that it is the best." Abrams would serve in this position until his death, due to complications from surgery in September 1974. A heavy cigar smoker, Abrams suffered from lung cancer.

Awards and decorations

Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze star
Silver star
Silver star

Personal life

Abrams was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on September 15, 1914, the son of Nellie Louise (Randall) and Creighton Abrams, a railroad worker.[7] He married Julia Berthe Harvey (1915–2003) in 1936. Julia Abrams founded the Army group of Arlington Ladies and devoted time to humanitarian causes.[8]

The Abramses had three sons and three daughters. All three sons became Army general officers: retired Brigadier General Creighton Williams Abrams III, retired General John Nelson Abrams and General Robert Bruce Abrams. Daughters Noel Bradley, Jeanne Daley and Elizabeth Doyle all married Army officers.

Abrams converted to Catholicism during his time in Vietnam.[citation needed]

A heavy cigar smoker, Abrams died of complications from surgery in Washington D.C. at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after having a cancerous lung removed. He is buried with his wife in Section 21 of Arlington National Cemetery. Julia Abrams was 87 when she died on Jan 31, 2003 at the same hospital.


  1. 'That claim touches a nerve when put to Gentile. "We don't know how Iraq is going to turn out", he snaps. With that, the colonel returns to his binders. They hold reams of cable communiqués from Vietnam war commander General William Westmoreland and his successor, General Creighton Abrams. Westmoreland embodied the traditional approach: a hard-charging, hammer-swinging leader who used search-and-destroy tactics that focused on the enemy. Abrams favored counterinsurgency methods, focused on winning the hearts and minds of the population. History remembers Westmoreland poorly for his role in Vietnam, and Abrams as the general who would have rescued victory if he hadn't run out of time. Gentile feels otherwise. "People think we were losing in Vietnam, and oh, a better general with better tactics came in and saved the day," he says, waving his arms for emphasis. "Nonsense." That's what led Gentile to dig through antique war correspondence from two dead generals. "There was more continuity than change in Vietnam after Abrams arrived," he says — people have it backward. And in a way he's right: Westmoreland once declared that the jungles of Vietnam were "no place for either tank or mechanized infantry units." And Abrams — well, the Army named a tank after the guy." Abrams, Gentile feels, showed up just in time to snatch the scraps of glory.'- quoted from Matthew Teague in Men's Journal[4]


  1. Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography; Trevor N. Dupuy, Curt Johnson, David L. Bongard; HarperCollins 1992
  2. Stout, David (2000-10-18). "Bruce Palmer Jr., 87; Led Forces in Vietnam". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Nation: Pattern's Peer". Time. April 14, 1967.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Teague, Matthew (December 2010). "Is This Any Way to Fight a War?". Men's Journal.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Mr. Kissinger/The President (tape)
  6. "Heritage - United States Army Rangers". United States Army. Retrieved 12 May 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  8. O'Neill, Helen. "Special lady for each Arlington soldier-Volunteers honor troops and make sure none is buried alone". Retrieved 30 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Sorley, Lewis. Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the army of his time. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992. ISBN 0-671-70115-0
  • Sorely, Lewis. "A better war. The unexamined victories and final tragedy of America's last years in Vietnam". Orlando: Harcourt, 1999. ISBN 978-0-15-100266-5

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Gen. Barksdale Hamlett
Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army
1964 – 1967
Succeeded by
Gen. Ralph E. Haines, Jr.
Preceded by
William Westmoreland
Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
Succeeded by
Frederick C. Weyand
Preceded by
Bruce Palmer, Jr.
Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Succeeded by
Frederick C. Weyand