General James M. Gavin

On June 4, 2016, this portrait of General James M. Gavin was unveiled at the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Normandy, France by General John W. Nicholson, Jr., Commander, US Forces, Afghanistan and Major General Richard D. Clarke, Commander, 82nd Airborne Division.

It was commissioned by General Gavin’s daughters to commemorate his significant contribution to the success of the D-Day Invasion in June of 1944 and his achievements during the Allied Invasion of Europe beginning in Sicily and concluding in Berlin. General Gavin was the youngest command general of World War II taking command of the 82nd Airborne Division at only 37 years old.

The painting depicts General Gavin at La Fiere bridge which was the site of an intense battle between June 6 and June 9, 1944 that was of significant strategic importance to the success of the Normandy invasion. Although generals did not typically carry a rifle, the general is seen here carrying an M1 Garand feeling that officers should not be excluded from the burdens of enlisted paratroopers. Additionally, General Gavin, known for commanding from the front, jumped with his men and needed the weapon to engage enemy forces.

General Gavin’s story is remarkable for many reasons. Notably, he was a given up for adoption at the age of two and raised by a coal mining family in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. He left home at the age seventeen and managed to join the Army in New York City despite being underage. In 1925, having spent seventeen months in the Army, he won an appointment to West Point graduating in June of 1929. Beginning in October of 1941, then Captain Gavin, together with General William C. Lee, developed the tactics and techniques of airborne combat. From this point forward, Gavin’s advancement was rapid achieving promotions to major in October of 1941, colonel in August of 1942, brigadier general in December of 1943, major general in October of 1944 and, retiring at the rank of lieutenant general in 1958.

Gavin’s achievements did not end after his retirement from the Army. In 1961 and 1962, he served in the administration of President John F. Kennedy as Ambassador to France and was the architect of the Peace Corps. He became the chairman of Arthur D. Little Inc., an international industrial research and consulting firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was active in the Council on Foreign Relations and was a fellow of Harvard’s Center for International Affairs and was an early critic of the Vietnam War.

He died on February, 23, 1990.