Maj. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem, Jr.
Biography: Alvan Cullom Gillem Jr. was born on August 8, 1888, the son of retired Army Calvary Colonel Alvan Cullom Gillem (DOD, Nov. 29, 1935) and Bessie Coykendall (DOD, Apr. 12, 1926) both of whom are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The senior Gillem’s father, Alvan Cullom Gillem, (DOB, Jul. 29, 1830) – (DOD, Dec. 2, 1875) was a brevet Major General in the Civil War with the Union Army and is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee. He was married to Virginia L. Harrison Gillem, born on Dec. 18, 1895 and died Oct. 25, 1964.
Service Time: Alvan began his career at Fort McPherson, Georgia, where he enlisted in the Regular Army in January of 1910. He served as a Private and then a Corporal with the 17th Infantry. He was appointed to the rank of Second Lieutenant of the Infantry on February 11, 1911, while still at Fort McPherson. He later served in the Philippines and with General John J. Pershing on the Mexican Border. During WWI, Alvan C. Gillem served with the American Expeditionary Forces in Siberia for eight months.
In 1923, Alvan attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff School. Command of troop units was a desirable assignment for officers during the interwar period because it could result in highly beneficial officer efficiency reports, such as the one he earned in June, 1925. Alvan’s regimental commander remarked that “Major Gillem is the best Battalion Commander I have ever known. He understands how to handle and instruct his men and officers and is dependable and loyal.” Prior to WWII, Alvan commanded an infantry battalion for two years, an Infantry Regiment (66th) for ten months, an Armored Brigade (2nd) in 1941, and an Armored Division (3rd) for ten months before and shortly after Pearl Harbor(Apr. 1941 to Jan. 1942). The Infantry Regiment was the Army’s only Tank Regiment and he became one of the leaders in the establishment and development of our Armored Force. He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in January of 1941, and then Major General in December of 1941. As the first commanding general of the 3rd Armored Division, Alvan “helped instill, by word and deed, the fiercely proud esprit de corps which lingered with the new ‘Spearhead’ long after he had been promoted to higher command.”[Spearhead in the West, 1941-45]. During WWII, he led the XIII Corps for twenty-two months in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) as part of the Ninth Army under Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson. The XIII Corps pierced the Siegfried line and fought its way to within 50 miles of Berlin. This was the closest American troops would come to the capital prior to VE Day. He was promoted to the rank of Lt. Gen. in June of 1945 and was selected to command the Armored Task Force that was scheduled to invade Japan, but VJ day made this unnecessary. Gillem received the Dutch Grand Officer in the Order of Oranje Nassau (ON.2), the Army Distinguished Service Medal (twice), the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star medal.
After WWII, he became chairman of the Pentagon’s Board on Utilization of Negro Manpower, the forerunner of integration efforts in the United States Army. Alvan later served as assistant to General George C. Marshall on a Presidential mission to China, where he became special assistant to the commander of the United States forces in Nanking, commander of the China Service Command in Shanghai and later American Commissioner in Peking. He returned to the Atlanta area in June, 1947, to assume command of the Third U.S. Army. When the Third Army headquarters was moved from downtown Atlanta to Fort McPhersonon in December, 1947, General Gillem also assumed command of the post. On March 17, 1949, he testified before the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services. He remained there until his retirement in 1950.
Following his retirement from the U.S. Army in August 1950, General Gillem lived in Atlanta and remained active in its many civic organizations. From 1959 to 1963 he consolidated purchasing for all State of Georgia agencies. He also served for four years as Executive Director of the National Foundation of the March of Dimes in the 1960’s
Alvan died in an Atlanta Hospital on February 13, 1973, at the age of 85. Both he and his wife are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
On June 28, 1973, the Atlanta Army Depot, formerly known as the Atlanta General Depot, was renamed Fort Gillem in memory of General Gillem, who began his career as a private at Fort McPherson in 1910 and retired from there 40 years later as commanding general of the Third U.S. Army now headquartered at Fort McPherson. Fort Gillem, located in Forest Park, GA, was made a satellite installation of Fort McPherson.
Alvan’s son, Alvan C. Gillem II, was born in Nogales, Arizona, in 1917. He reached the rank of Lieutenant General in the United States Air Force.
Research: I realize that General Gillem was not part of any TD Group. He wasn’t even a tank destroyer soldier, but it is my belief that not only would he have known many of the men from the 6th TD Group, but a few of the men actually worked on his staff and eventually transfer to the unit on a permanent basis. One in particular was Maj. D.B. Varner who had organized the Muster on the Elbe celebration. Gillem is seen in multiple photos from the Muster located in the “Places” area of the website. One of the documents brought home by my father was the “180 Days” history of the XIII Corps push through Germany. Although it was not the only campaign that the 6th was involved in, it must have been a prominent one in their minds. These men were attached to the XIII Corps till the end of the war, when they began to ship home and basically go their separate ways. For many of them, they would not see each other again.
The photo at left below shows Alvan at a Stowkowski concert being held at Camp Young in Dec. of 1942. Camp Young was part of the Desert Training facilities, commanded by Alvan at one point. The second image is of Lt. Gen. Gillem, in 1947, in the U.S. Army Executive HQ in Peiping, China. The photo was taken just prior to our personnel evacuating the facilities. Both photos are courtesy of Life, Inc.