General Alexander Vandegrift found fame during World War Two when he commanded the US 1st Marine Corps at the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. Vandegrift’s role in this battle earned him the Navy Cross and the Medal of Honour.
Vandegrift was born on March 13th, 1887, in Charlottesville, Virginia. He went to the University of Virginia and after graduation joined the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant in January 1909.
After training, Vandegrift completed a tour of duty in the Caribbean where he took part in the successful attack and capture of Coyotepe in Nicaragua. He also took part in the occupation of Vera Cruz in Mexico.
In December 1914, Vandegrift was promoted to first lieutenant. He then sailed with the First Brigade to Haiti where he took part in a campaign against bandits. From August 1916 to December 1918, Vandegrift, now a captain, was based in Port Au Prince as a member of the Haitian Constabulary.
In June 1920, he was promoted to major and in 1923, Vandegrift was assigned to the Marine Barracks at Quantico, Virginia. He completed the Field Officers Course here and in 1926 went to the Marine Corps Base in San Diego as Assistant Chief of Staff.
In February 1927, Vandegrift went to China where he served as Operations and Training Officer of the 3rd Marine Brigade based in Tientsin. In the following year he went to Washington DC where he worked in the Bureau of the Budget. In June 1934, Vandegrift was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
In June 1935, he returned to China where he served at the US Embassy in Peiping. In September 1936, he was promoted to full colonel.
In March 1940, Vandegrift was appointed Assistant to the Major General Commandant and in April 1940, he was promoted to brigadier-general.
It was in World War Two, that Vandegrift gained widespread fame. In November 1941 he had joined the 1st Marine Division and in May 1942, now a major-general, he sailed to the South Pacific as the commanding general of the 1st US Marine Division. This unit took part in America’s first large scale offensive action of World War Two – the attack and capture of Guadalcanal. If Japan had captured Guadalcanal and established an airfield there, the sea lanes between Australia and America would have been open to attack. The American capture of Guadalcanal ensured that this did not happen. It also meant that Australia was all-but free from an invasion by the Japanese. For his part in the attack on Guadalcanal, Vandegrift was awarded the Navy Cross. For his part in the defence of the island against sustained Japanese attacks, Vandegrift was awarded the Medal of Honour.
In November 1943, as commander of the 1st Marine Amphibious Corps, Vandegrift commanded the landings at Empress Augusta Bay in the Northern Solomon Islands. After this, he returned to Washington as Commandant-designate.
On January 1st, 1944, Vandegrift was sworn in as the 18th Commandant of the Marine Corps. He now held the rank of lieutenant general. In April 1945, he became a four-star general – the first Marine officer to do so during active service. Vandegrift was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for outstanding services to the Marine Corps. On December 31st, 1947, he left active service and was placed on the retired list on April 1st, 1949.
General Alexander Vandegrift died on May 8th, 1973.