Retired Lt. Gen. Julius Becton Dies

Retired Lt. Gen. Julius Becton Dies

Photo by: AUSA/Luc Dunn

Retired Lt. Gen. Julius Becton Jr., a longtime member of the Association of the U.S. Army’s Board of Directors and a recipient of the George Catlett Marshall Medal, AUSA’s highest award, died Nov. 28. He was 97.

Becton joined AUSA’s Board of Directors in 1994 and served for 13 years. In 2007, he was presented the Marshall Medal “for his numerous and consequential accomplishments over a lifetime of service as a soldier, leader, educator, administrator, mentor and role model,” according to the award citation.

Born June 29, 1926, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Becton first volunteered for Army service in 1944 with a desire to become a pilot. When astigmatism knocked him out of contention for flight school, he applied and qualified for Officer Candidate School.

Becton became a second lieutenant in 1945 with the all-Black 93rd Infantry Division and served in the Pacific at the end of World War II. In 1946, he transferred from active duty to the Army Reserve but re-entered active service in 1948. “I decided I really liked soldiering,” Becton said in 2017 during a Black History Month commemoration at AUSA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

Over the next 35 years, Becton “with great distinction … led America’s soldiers in combat in Korea and Vietnam, and in Cold War operations,” according to the Marshall Medal citation. His key assignments included commanding the 1st Cavalry Division, the Army Operations Test and Evaluation Agency and VII Corps in Germany during the Cold War.

Becton’s final assignment before retiring from the Army in 1983 was deputy commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Command. His awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Combat Infantryman Badge with star for service in Korea and Vietnam.

“I enjoyed being a soldier; I enjoyed being around soldiers,” Becton said of his nearly 40 years of service.

From 1984 to 1985, Becton was director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance in the U.S. Agency for International Development. In 1985, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to be director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency—the first Black person to hold that position.

After leaving government service in 1989, Becton became president of his alma mater, Prairie View A&M University in Texas, “where he launched a new era of fiscal and academic accountability,” according to the Marshall Medal citation. In 1994, he returned to Virginia for his second retirement, but shortly thereafter accepted an appointment as superintendent of the Washington, D.C., school system, the citation says.

During the 2017 event at AUSA, retired Gen. Carter Ham, former AUSA president and CEO, described Becton as “a man who has lived through extraordinary change and service.”

“You’ve reminded us how far we have come as an Army and a nation,” Ham said. “You have made this great country stronger.”