UF patron Gen. Van Fleet turns 100
By LISA WHITAKER
Former UF ROTC professor
and head football coach
General James A. Van Fleet
turns 100 years old today.
And the man who dedicated
his life to serving the United
States has a family history that
reads like an action-packed
history book. His grandfather
fought in the' Revolutionary
War at age 14, and his parents
reportedly were friends with
Van Fleet, the namesake for
UF's ROTC building, served
in World War I, World War II
and the Korean War.
But his favorite battle to
watch is on the football field
- especially if the Gators are
on the war path.
"He adores the Gators,"
said Van Fleet's daughter,
Dempsie McChristian, from
the general's Polk County
ranch. "He has Gatorcushions
and things like that... he's very
loyal to the Gators."
As a colonel, Van Fleet com-
manded the 8th Infantry Regi-
ment of the 4th division that
stormed Utah Beach in the
Normandy invasion on D-Day,
June 6, 1944. Three months
later he was promoted to
In 1948, General Van Fleet
coordinated the defeat of the
communist infiltration of
Greece as director of the Joint
U.S. Military Advisory and
Planning Group. He stopped
the spread of communism
see Van Fleet, page 2
2, AU IGATOR, THURSDAY, MARCH I
from page 1I
again as 8th Army Commander
during the Korean Crisis.
U.S. President Harry Truman
was among many who hailed Van
"I sent him to Greece, and he
won that war. I sent him to Korea,
and he won that war," Truman said
at the time. "He's the greatest
general we ever had."-
Van Fleet earned countless
awards, including three Distin-
guished Service Crosses, three
Purple Hearts and the Combal
Infantryman's Badge his mosi
Twice during his 38-yeai
military career, Van Fleet brought
his know-how to UF: once as i
football coach and ROTC's Profes
sor of Military Science and Tactic,
from 1921-24 and returned tc
ROTC from 1929-33.
As a major, Van Fleet became(
head football coach in 1923, anc
maintains the second-best coach
ing percentage at UF behind
current Coach Steve Spurrier.
The future general coach<
UF's best early football teams. Vai
Fleet's teams in 1923-24 brought
the GIators national' attention f6or
the first time and earned him a
12-3-4 collegiate coaching record.
Van Fleet's time as coach
benefited his military career, said
former UF President J. Wayne
Reitz, a close friend of the
"(Van Fleet) told me a few years
ago that his salary as football coach
was $500," Reitz said.
People laugh at that amount
now, but Reitz remembers Van
Fleet saying, "I was overpaid be-
S,, .-/---. .. ..
Photo courtesy of UF
President Harry Truman called
V n Fleet "the greatest general
we ever had."
cause it w as in coaching football at
UF that I learned the art of com-
Although not an alumnus, Van
Fleet received an honorary law de-
gree from UF in 1946. In 1971, he
was named to the Gator Athletic
Hall of Fame.
Van Fleet has continued to con-
tribute to UF's academic and ath-
The Baldwin Library, on the
second floor of Library East, is
furnished with a desk and a table -
presented to Van Fleet by Presi-
dent Syngman Rhee of Korea. Van
Fleet donated the two pieces to UF.
He also added many Henry,
Wadsworth Longfellow works to
the library's rare books collection.
Van Fleet's $100,000 contribu-
tion sparked construction of the
"Will to Win" room in Ben Hill
Griffin stadium. The room, in-
spired by the general's favorite ex-
pression, contains historical
memorabilia of UF's athletic
McChristian said her father
hopes to inspire students with his
"He's always said the country is
in the hands of the young. They're
in charge of the future."