Historical Markers
Gen. James M. Gavin Historical Marker
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Gen. James M. Gavin

Valleys of the Susquehanna


Marker Location:
West Avenue and Maple Streets, Mount Carmel

Dedication Date:
September 15, 2001

Behind the Marker

Photograph of Major General James Gavin in uniform
General James M. Gavin, circa 1945.
"Slim Jim" Gavin was born in New York City in 1907, a child of unwed Irish immigrant parents. When both parents died before he was two, he entered a Catholic orphanage before Martin and Mary Gavin adopted young Jim and brought him to live with them in Mount Carmel, a small town in the anthracite coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania.

There, Gavin worked hard as a paperboy–with five papers, at least two routes, and two employees–and at age thirteen was taken out of school by his foster parents and sent to work in a shoe store. An avid reader, Gavin realized the difference that education could make in his life. So at age seventeen he went to New York, joined the army, quickly gained admittance to an army prep school, and easily passed the entrance exam for West Point, from which he graduated in 1929.

After the usual variety of assignments in the peacetime army, Gavin in August 1941 joined the new Parachute School at Fort Benning, Georgia. There, he soon wrote The Employment of Airborne Forces, the first Army manual about this new form of warfare. By July 1942, Gavin was a colonel in command of the new 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. "They were awesome," wrote an 82nd Airborne veteran. "Every man a clone of the CO, Gavin. Tough? God they were tough! Not just in the field, but twenty-four hours a day. Off duty they'd move into a bar in little groups and if everyone there didn't get down on their knees in adoration, they'd simply tear the place up." And Gavin would stand by his men to the end.

Once, when one of his soldiers was caught having sexual intercourse with a young lady on the front lawn of a courthouse, Fort Benning's commander wanted to know what Gavin was going to do about it. He replied as follows: "In view of the fact that that young man will be asked to give his life for his country in the next few months, I suggest we give him a medal."

German women pause in their harvesting to watch the landing of paratroopers
German women pause in their harvesting to watch the landing of paratroopers...
When planning for the invasion of Sicily necessitated a change in the 82nd Airborne Division, Brigadier General markerMatthew Ridgway singled out Gavin's unit to join the division. Because of the lack of transports, only the reinforced 505th would perform a night drop behind the American beachhead at Gela. Staged on the night of July 9-10, 1943, it was, according to one military analyst, the "best-executed snafu in the history of military operations." That night, high winds and pilot error scattered the paratroopers all over southeastern Sicily.

Landing thirty miles from his own drop zone, Gavin went without sleep for more than sixty hours as he gathered up scattered paratroopers to make a stand on Biazza Ridge, and blunted heavy German armor and infantry attacks on his tired soldiers. Aided by naval gunfire and the arrival of troops from the beaches, Gavin's men ensured that American troops could hold the beaches and the invasion thus succeed. Ridgway recommended Gavin for a Distinguished Service Cross for his action on July 11.

In September 1943, Gavin's men took part in the invasion of Italy at Salerno, then were moved to England to prepare for the invasion of France. Promoted to brigadier general, Gavin became assistant division commander to Ridgway in October 1943. He jumped with his division into Normandy on D-Day and engaged enemy forces west of St. Mére Église in bloody battles to control the bridges over the Merderet River. Because the 82nd was a more reliable division that many of the untested American infantry divisions coming ashore, it remained in combat for thirty-three days before retiring to a reserve position to rest and recuperate.

When Ridgway was promoted to corps command, Gavin assumed command of the 82nd, which he led with distinction during Operation Market-Garden. In this September 1944 airborne drop, the 82nd parachuted near the Dutch city of Nijmegen and seized bridges over the Meuse and Wall Rivers. At Waal, Gavin supervised a combined water and land attack on the vital bridges.

Following the Second World War, Gavin was assigned a variety of duty slots, including work in the Secretary of Defense's office as part of a weapons systems board. In 1951, he returned to Europe as chief of staff of Allied forces in southern Europe and later was a corps commander before coming back home to serve as chief of research and development for the army. Disagreeing with Eisenhower's "massive retaliation" strategy, which slighted conventional armed forces in favor of a huge nuclear arsenal, Gavin retired in 1958, and became president of the Arthur D. Little, Inc. management consulting firm.

Convinced by President John F. Kennedy to serve as U.S. ambassador to France in the early 1960s, Gavin then returned to Arthur D. Little. He also wrote books on his opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War (Crisis Now, 1968) and his experiences during World War II (On to Berlin, 1976), and served as an advisor for Hollywood films The Longest Day (1962) and A Bridge Too Far (1977).

General Gavin died at the age of eighty-two in 1990.
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