Army Ground Forces
Plot F, Row 28, Grave 42
The son of a merchant from Verndale, Minn., Gen. Lesley James McNair was born on May 25, 1883 and graduated from West Point at the age of 21. He saw service under Gen. John J. Pershing, first in Mexico as part of the Pancho Villa Expedition, and then in France during World War I. For his outstanding service he was awarded both the Distinguished Service Medal and the French Legion of Honor.
In 1940 McNair was made major general, and a year later became a lieutenant general. In March 1942 McNair became Commanding General of Army Ground Forces and was responsible for the organization, training and preparation of the U.S. Army for overseas service. He was instrumental in preparing large-scale divisional and corps exercises to provide Army commanders with some experience in controlling large forces in simulated combat.
During the early months of the war, McNair received largely favorable treatment for his training programs and policies. Many of McNair’s doctrines proved very controversial. The individual replacement system(a concept devised by Gen. George Marshall) and his belief in the tank destroyer doctrinewere concepts that were later highly criticized. He was instrumental in obstructing the production of the M26 Pershing heavy tank which could go head to head against the German Panthers and Tiger tanks. McNair received a Purple Heart after being wounded in the North African campaign.
McNair was the highest-ranking U.S. Army officer ever to be killed on the front lines. He was killed in a slit trench by friendly fire while observing the commencement of Operation Cobra on July 25, 1945. American heavy bombers and fighter-bombers hit the German lines in a pre-attack bombardment and 77 aircraft bombed short. A bomb landed directly on McNair. He was 61 years old.
Sadly his son, Col. Douglas McNair, chief of staff of the 77thInfantry Division, was killed two weeks later by a sniper on Guam.
Awards: Distinguished Service Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters
Lesley James McNair is buried in Normandy American Cemetery Plot F, Row 28, Grave 42.