Born in Charlottesville, Virginia on March 13, 1887, Alexander A. Vandegrift joined the Marine Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant in January 1909 after spending two years at the University of Virginia. He had a fine career by rising through the officer’s ranks. After an assignment at Marine Corps headquarters in Washington working on the Commandant’s staff, he received a promotion to Brigadier General in March 1940.
When the Marine Corps formed the First Marine Division, he became its Assistant Division Commander in late 1941. He took command as the division’s commander in early 1942. He led his command to the South Pacific, landed his men on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942, and fought several desperate ground battles against the Japanese Army on that island. When the Army took command of all ground operations in December 1942, Army General Alexander M. Patch relieved Vandegrift. The American Congress awarded the Medal of Honor to the Marine General for his “tenacity, courage and resourcefulness” during those first critical months.
Vandegrift received his third star as a Lieutenant General in 1943 and commanded the First Marine Amphibious Corps in the beginning of the campaign to capture Bougainville. He soon returned to Washington and became the Commandant of the Marine Corps in January 1, 1944. Vandegrift became the first Marine Corps officer promoted to a four-star general in March 1945. While holding this high office, he supervised the expansion of the Marine during the rest of World War II and its reduction in the post war years.
After serving as the Corps Commandant, he left that office in the beginning of 1948 and retired to civilian life in April 1949. He passed away on May 8, 1973.