Special Report

America's Most Famous WWII Generals

What makes a great military leader? According to retired Army Maj. Gen. John L. Gronski, senior mentor for the U.S. Army Mission Command Training Program, there are four basic qualities:

“Attitude, work ethic, relationship building, and character are essential for military leaders to possess whether they be commissioned officers, warrant officers, or non-commissioned officers,” Gronski wrote in Reserve + National Guard magazine in 2021. “Leading is a people business.”

A good way to examine how these qualities interact is by examining the lives of the most famous U.S. generals of World War II. All of these men had incredible work ethic and self-discipline, were adept at creating effective relationships with others, and were packed with attitude and character that inspired others around them to meet their high expectations.  

24/7 Tempo compiled its list of America’s most famous World War II generals by drawing on information from sources such as Britannica, Manchester Community College, United States Army Military History Center, U.S. Air Force website, and War History Online. Awards information comes from Wikipedia. Many of the generals on our list number among the greatest generals in American history.

Out of the 20 most renowned American World War II generals, two earned the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration, and seven were pinned with the Purple Heart, the award for being wounded in battle. One of these was a Brooklyn-born orphan drawn to military service by books he read in school about the Civil War.

Then there’s Gen. Claire Lee Chennault of Commerce, Texas, who repeatedly failed to get into flight school but would hit the books hard to earn his wings and went on to pioneer air-combat tactics, and Gen. Carl Spaatz of Boyerstown, Pennsylvania, who dutifully commanded operations that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki despite his opposition to the use of nuclear weapons. (Here are 26 cities that were destroyed by war.)

There’s Gen. Lucian Truscott, an Oklahoma-raised former high school principal who shared the same soldier-inspiring swagger and grit as the man in whose shadow he lived, Gen. George S. Patton, and there’s the surly Gen. Joseph Stillwell of Palatka, Florida, a polyglot who spoke fluent Mandarin and commanded the unofficial “third theater” of the war in China-Burma-India.

Despite their different backgrounds and key competencies, all of these men shared qualities of great leadership that work on and off the battlefield.

These are America’s most famous World War II generals

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