Gen. John Vessey, former JCS chairman, WWII combat vet, dies at 94

Gen. John Vessey, former JCS chairman, WWII combat vet, dies at 94

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Retired Army Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., a World War II veteran who rose from a Minnesota National Guard private to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has died.

The 94-year-old was Army vice chief of staff in 1982 when he was selected by President Ronald Reagan to be the military’s top uniformed leader.

When he retired in 1985 after 46 years of service, he was the last four-star World War II combat veteran still on active duty.

In his humble retirement speech, Vessey said that during his morning run, he had thought about all of the great and inspirational things he might say.

“As I thought about Arlington Cemetery in which all those gravestones are there for all the other ‘indispensable’ people who preceded me, I was reminded that defending the country over the past 209 years has been steady business – steady work – and will continue to be in the years ahead,” he said.

Adding, “I have a very good man replacing me. So, I put the flag out in front of Quarters Six and, as I put it in the bracket, I thought that in addition to all the JCS problems and all the undone work I was leaving [Navy Adm.] Bill Crowe, I leave him that very good, 20-buck bronze eagle that I bought for the end of that flag pole.”

Retired Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, president and CEO of the Association of the U.S. Army, said the nation “lost a truly great man.”

“I had the privilege of meeting him for the first time in 1996. He never forgot, even as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the individual soldier was the most important person in the Army,” Ham said.