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Historical Vignettes

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The career of Lieutenant General James M. "Jumping Jim" Gavin was outstanding. He began his service to the Army as a private and rose through the ranks on the basis of ability and drive to be a three star general. He led the 82nd Airborne Division through some of its toughest fighting in World War Il.

At the pinnacle of his career, with a fourth star and probable selection as the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Gavin suddenly retired. The crux of his decision to end his illustrious career was bound up in this notion of HONOR. As a senior member of the Army team, he was bound to support the leadership. If he in all good conscience disagreed with policy, he had only two honorable choices -- resign or support.

General Gavin honorably chose the former. The news hit the Army with the impact of a major caliber round, and most Army personnel who know the general were saddened that so notable a talent would leave on the brink of the crowning achievement of his career.

Today in a world that believes in expediency, General Gavin's honorable gesture would be ridiculed. In the so-called Me Generation, all that counts is getting ahead. If General Gavin were alive today and in the same position, he could have just kept quiet with his views and changed the whole situation when he became Chief of Staff. But Gavin came from the old school that still believed "honor" was important. His entire life had been bound up in this notion.

The one individual that Gavin had to, in the end, account for his actions was Gavin HIMSELF. He could not stand by and see the Army adopt a doctrine he thought wrong. But to undermine the position from within was not honorable. The only way he could live with himself was to retire first, and then speak out. It was certainly not an easy choice. But it was a most honorable one.

Compiled by the
U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps Historian
Fort Lee, Virginia

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