The general commanded the First Marine Division, Reinforced, in the battle for Guadalcanal, and the First Marine Amphibious Corps in the landing at Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, during World War II. For outstanding services as Commanding General of the First Marine Division, Reinforced, during the attack on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Gavutu in the Solomon Islands on August 7, 1942, he was awarded the Navy Cross, and for the subsequent occupation and defense from August 7 to December 9, 1942, was awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation for the latter reads in part: "With the adverse factors of weather, terrain and disease making his task a difficult and hazardous undertaking, and with his command eventually including sea, land, and air forces of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, Major General Vandegrift achieved marked success in commanding the initial landings of the United States Forces in the Solomon Islands and in their subsequent occupation. "His tenacity, courage and resourcefulness prevailed against a strong, determined and experienced enemy, and the gallant fighting spirit of the men under his inspiring leadership enabled them to withstand aerial, land and sea bombardment, to surmount all obstacles and leave a disorganized and ravaged enemy. "This dangerous but vital mission, accomplished at the constant risk of his life, resulted in securing a valuable base for further operations of our forces against the enemy."
General Vandegrift was born on March 13, 1887, in Charlottesville, Virginia. He attended the University of Virginia and was commissioned in the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant on January 22, 1909. Following instruction as the Marine Officers' School, Port Royal, South Carolina, and a tour of duty at the Marine Barracks, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he went to foreign shore duty in the Caribbean area, where he participated in the bombardment, assault and capture of Coyotepe in Nicaragua. He further participated in the engagement and occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico.
In December 1914, following his promotion to first lieutenant, he attended the Advance Base Course at the Marine Barracks, Philadelphia. Upon completion of schooling, he sailed for Haiti with the First Brigade and participated in action against hostile Cacos bandits at LeTrou and Fort Capois.
In August 1916, he was promoted to captain and became a member of the Haitian Constabulary at Port Au Prince, where he remained until detached to the United States in December 1918. He returned to Haiti again in July 1919, to serve with the Gendarmerie d' Haiti as an Inspector of Constabulary.
He was promoted to major in June 1920. Major Vandegrift returned to this country in April 1923, and was assigned to the Marine Barracks at Quantico, Virginia. He completed the Field Officers' Course, Marine Corps Schools in May 1926, following which he went to the Marine Corps Base, San Diego, California, as Assistant Chief of Staff.
In February 1927, he sailed for China where he served as Operations and Training Officer of the Third Marine Brigade with Headquarters at Tientsin. He was ordered to Washington, D. C., in September 1928, where he became Assistant Chief Coordinator, Bureau of the Budget. Following duty in Washington, he joined the Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia, where he became Assistant Chief of Staff, G-1 Section, Fleet Marine Force. During this assignment, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in June 1934.
Ordered to China in June 1935, Lieutenant Colonel Vandegrift served successively as Executive Officer and Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment at the American Embassy in Peiping. He was promoted to colonel in September 1936.
Colonel Vandegrift reported to Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, D. C., in June 1937, where he became Military Secretary to the Major General Commandant. In March 1940, he was appointed Assistant to the Major General Commandant, and the following month was promoted to brigadier general.
General Vandegrift was detached to the First Marine Division in November 1941 shortly before the outbreak of World War II. He was promoted to major general in March 1942, and in May sailed for the South Pacific area as Commanding general of the first Marine division to ever leave the shores of the United States. On August 7, 1942, in the Solomon Islands, he led ashore the First Marine Division, Reinforced, in the first large-scale offensive action against the Japanese.
In July 1943, he assumed command of the First Marine Amphibious Corps, and commanded this organization inthe landing at Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, Northern Solomon Islands, on November 1, 1943. Upon establishing the initial beachhead, he relinquished command and returned to Washington, D. C., as Commandant-designate.
On January 1, 1944, as a lieutenant general, he was sworn in as the eighteenth Commandant of the Marine Corps. On April 4, 1945, he was appointed general, with date of rank from March 21, 1945, the first Marine officer on active duty to attain four-star rank.
For outstanding services as Commandant of the Marine Corps from January 1, 1944 to June 30, 1946, the general was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. He left active service on December 31, 1947, and was placed on the retired list, April 1, 1949.
General Vandegrift holds an honorary degree of Doctor of Military Science from Pennsylvania Military College, and honorary degrees of Doctor of Law from Harvard, Colgate, Brown, Columbia, and Maryland Universities and John Marshall College.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, and Distinguished Service Medal, his decorations and Medals include: the Presidential Unit Citation with one Bronze Star, Solomon Islands, 1942; Navy Unit Commendation with one Bronze Star, Solomon Islands, 1943, and Okinawa, 1945; Expeditionary Medal with three Bronze Stars, Cuba, 1912, Nicaragua, 1912, Haiti, 1915-24, China, 1927-28; Nicaraguan Campaign Medal, Nicaragua, 1912; Mexican Service Medal, Mexico, 1914; Haitian Campaign Medal with one Star, Haiti, 1915 and 1919-20; Victory Medal with West Indies Clasp and one star, Haiti, 1918; Yangtze Service Medal, Shanghai, 1927; American Defense Service Medal, 1939-1941; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four Bronze Stars, Solomon Islands, 1942-43; American Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.
He has received the following foreign decorations: Haitian Distinguished Service Medal, Haiti, 1919-20; Medaille Militaire with one Silver Star, Haiti, 1920-21; Honorary Knight Commander, Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire; Companion (Honorary) of the Military Division of the Most Honorable Order of the Bath, British Solomon Islands, 1942; Cruz de Aviacion de Primera Clase, Peruvian Government, 1944; Abdon Calderon of the 1st Class, Ecuador, 1944, Knights Grand Cross in the Order of the Orange-Nassau with Swords, Netherlands, 1945; the Order of Pao-Ting (Precious Tripod) with Special clasp, China, 1947; and the Legion of Honor (Grand Officer), France.
Biography courtesy of the United States Marine Corps
His first wife, Mildred Strode Vandegrift (March 12, 1886-July 11, 1952), his son, Alexander Archer Vandegrift, Colonel, United States Marine Corps, who was badly wounded on Iwo Jima in World War II (May 27, 1911-1969) and his second wife, Kathryn Henson Vandegrift (August 19, 1903-October 23, 1978), are buried with him.
USS Vandegrift (FFG 48), named for Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, U.S. Marine Corps, was built at Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle, Washington, and was commissioned on 24 November 1984. The ship's inaugural cruise began on 5 January 1987. During the course of this around-the-world cruise, it sailed three oceans, seven seas and visited four continents. The plank owners also crossed the international dateline, equator, Greenwich meridian, and sailed through the straits of Gibraltar, and the Suez and Panama canals. VANDEGRIFT conducted operations with USS KITTY HAWK (CV 63) in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. These operations were highlighted by an air and sea power demonstration for the President of Pakistan. Port visits included Pearl Harbor; Subic Bay in the Republic of the Philippines; Karachi, Pakistan; Mombasa, Kenya; Maxime, France; Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico; and St. Croix and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. VANDEGRIFT returned home to Long Beach in June, 1987.
The ship's second deployment began in June, 1988, returning it to operations in the Arabian Gulf shortly after the cease-fire between Iran and Iraq. VANDEGRIFT's mission while on patrol in the Northern Arabian Gulf focused on providing protection and logistic support for joint forces in the area. VANDEGRIFT also participated in numerous Earnest Will missions, escorting U.S. and reflagged Kuwaiti tankers. Port visits included Pearl Harbor; Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines; Bahrain; Pattaya Beach, Thailand and Hong Kong. VANDEGRIFT returned home in December, 1988.
The ship's third deployment to the Arabian Gulf began in March, 1990. VANDEGRIFT patrolled the Northern Arabian Gulf and conducted Earnest Will escort missions. As the senior ship on station in the Arabian Gulf during the invasion of Kuwait, VANDEGRIFT served as the Anti-Air Warfare Commander and Electronic Warfare Coordinator. VANDEGRIFT participated in Operation Desert Shield's Maritime Interception Operations with units from United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and France. Ports of call included Pearl Harbor; Subic Bay; Phuket, Thailand; Singapore and Hong Kong. VANDEGRIFT returned home after an extended deployment in October, 1990.
On April 22, 1992, VANDEGRIFT began its fourth deployment to the Arabian Gulf. VANDEGRIFT participated in exercises with India, Qatar and Pakistan, helping to strengthen U.S. relations in that area. Ports of call included Doha, Qatar; Dubai, Jebel Ali and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Karachi, Pakistan; Phuket, Thailand; Goa, India; Bahrain; Hong Kong; Singapore and Guam, and earned the Chief of Naval Operations LAMPS Helicopter Safety Award. VANDEGRIFT returned home on 22 October 1996.
VANDEGRIFT changed homeport to San Diego in February, 1993, and earned the COMNAVSURFPAC Food Service Award in March, 1994. The fifth deployment to the Arabian Gulf began on 25 October 1994. VANDEGRIFT's mission was the enforcement of U.N. sanctions against Iraq in the Northern Arabian Gulf. The most memorable event was conducting a non-permissive boarding of a sanctions violator on Christmas Day. During the return transit, VANDEGRIFT played host to a major diplomatic reception in Muscat, Oman, to better diplomatic relations. Ports of call included Sasebo, Japan; Manila, Republic of the Philippines; Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates; Bahrain; Singapore and Hong Kong. VANDEGRIFT returned home on 25 April 1995.
On May 13, 1996, VANDEGRIFT began its sixth deployment to the Arabian Gulf. VANDEGRIFT again conducted operations in support of U.N. sanction enforcement against Iraq. VANDEGRIT also participated in exercises with Bahrain, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, helping to strengthen U.S. relations in that area. Ports of call included Hong Kong; Lumut, Malaysia; Karachi Pakistan; Bahrain; Albany, Australia; Sydey, Australia; Suva, Fiji; and Pearl Harbor, HI. earned the Chief of Naval Operations LAMPS Helicopter Safety Award. VANDEGRIFT returned home on 22 October 1992.
On 23 February 1998, VANDEGRIFT departed San Diego, California en-route to its new homeport in Yokosuka, Japan. On 13 March 1998, VANDEGRIFT chopped to Commander, Seventh Fleet and the Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) and arrived Yokosuka, Japan on 23 March 1998. In her first year with the FDNF, VANDEGRIFT conducted RIMPAC as part of the Kitty Hawk Battle Group. VANDEGRIFT also participated in the two major annual exercises in SEVENTH Fleet, FOAL EAGLE and ANNUALEX.
VANDEGRIFT’s next three years in the FDNF were highlighted by her seventh deployment to the Arabian Gulf, supporting international efforts to enforce UN sanctions against Iraq and her participation in the planning and execution of contingency operations in relation to the May 2001 EP-3C incident at Hainan Island.
Following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, VANDEGRIFT was surge deployed to the Straits of Malacca. From September to November 2001, she successfully completed more than 25 escorts for U.S. vessels and support ships through the most heavily trafficked straits in the world.
In January 2003, VANDEGRIFT deployed for the eighth time to the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom. Assigned escort operations in the Straits of Hormuz, VANDEGRIFT conducted over 50 transits, safely escorting over 78 vessels carrying over 1 million tons of hardware in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Additionally, VANDEGRIFT seized two Iraqi mine-laying vessels in the Southern Arabian Gulf and was credited with protecting the Coalition’s flank from planned mine-laying operations.
From 2003-2006, VANDEGRIFT’s service in the Forward Deployed Naval Forces was marked by a series of “first ever” U.S. Navy ship visits. • In September 2003, VANDEGRIFT conducted the first ever visit by a U.S. Navy warship to Zhanjiang, China. • In November 2003, VANDEGRIFT conducted a historic visit to Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam, becoming the first U.S. Navy warship to visit the country in thirty years. • In May 2004, VANDEGRIFT conducted another significant diplomatic mission – becoming the first U.S. warship to visit the newly independent nation of East Timor. • In October 2004, VANDEGRIFT participated in the Proliferation Security Initiative Exercise (PSIEX) with units from the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force and the French and Australian Navies. The exercise tested the abilities of the Western Pacific navies to identify and intercept sea-borne weapons of mass destruction (WMD). VANDEGRIFT demonstrated the abilities of a joint force to detain and board a suspect vessel. • In 2005, VANDEGRIFT became the first U.S. Warship to visit the Japanese city of Sakata. • In May 2005, VANDEGRIFT conducted her last deployment with the Kitty Hawk Strike Group. Earmarked by a series of major exercises including a SINKEX and Anti-submarine Warfare Exercise - Talisman Saber, it proved to be a fitting final strike group deployment as VANDEGRIFT navigated much of the same waters that General Vandegrift and the First Marine Division traveled in the Solomons and the battle of Guadalcanal.
VANDEGRIFT completed eight years of service in the Forward Deployed Naval Forces and departed Yokosuka, Japan on 14 August 2006 executing a change of homeport to San Diego, California. VANDEGRIFT’s service in the FDNF concluded following multiple deployments to the Arabian Gulf and Western Pacific Ocean and numerous combined and joint operations with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force and the navies of Korea, Australia, Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Egypt and Jordan. VANDEGRIFT also completed numerous operational and goodwill port visits throughout the Western Pacific including visits to Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam, Sakata Japan, Okinawa Japan, Pyongtaek Korea, Donghae Korea, Hong Kong, Sasebo Japan, Guam, Cairns and Brisbane Australia, Saipan and Chinhae Korea.
VANDEGRIFT arrived in San Diego, California on 1 September 2006 completing her homeport shift. VANDEGRIFT was assigned to Carrier Strike Group Eleven and Destroyer Squadron Twenty Three. On 1 February 2007, VANDEGRIFT was re-assigned to Destroyer Squadron One.
In June 2007 USS Vandegrift pulled to Portland, Ore., to participate in the Fleet Week festivities during the 100th annual Portland Rose Festival. In October the guided-missile frigate visited San Francisco for the 27th annual Fleet Week celebration.
In July 2008 USS Vandegrift returned to homeport after completing a scheduled underway period.
In April 2010 USS Vandegrift departed San Diego for a scheduled western Pacific deployment in support of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2010 exercise. In June the CARAT ships arrived at Changi Naval Base in Singapore to take part in the annual Southeast Asia Cooperation Against Terrorism (SEACAT) exercise. In October USS Vandegrift returned to homeport after a six-month deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet AoR.
In March 2012 the guided-missile frigate participated in integrated training exercise "Koa Kai 12-2", off the coast of Hawaii. In May USS Vandegrift departed Naval Base San Diego for a scheduled deployment in support of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2012. In July the Vandegrift moored at Makar wharf in General Santos City to participate in Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Philippines. In July the guided-missile frigate participated in CARAT Singapore. In October USS Vandegrift operated as part of the USS George Washington (CVN 73) CSG and participated in Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. In November USS Vandegrift returned to San Diego after a seven-month deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility.
The ship's decorations include the Meritorious Unit Citation, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Southwest Asia Service Medal, and multiple Sea Service Ribbons.