Retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul A. Gavan, 75, a former commanding general of the Military District of Washington and a decorated combat veteran of World War II, died of cancer Thursday at Walter Reed Hospital.

During World War II, he served as assistant operations officer and later chief of staff of the Americal Division. He earned the Silver Star and the Bronze Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster while participating in campaigns in the North Solomons and Guadalcanal.

In the last year of the war, Gen. Gavan was attached to the Chinese 54th Army, first as liaison officer and later as commanding offcer of that army's U.S. Combat Section.

Before returning to this country in 1946, he served as logistics officer for the U.S. Army headquarters command in Nanking and as an Army representative in Peking.

He worked in Army intelligence here from 1946 to 1948, and from 1952 ot 1954 studied at the National War College and served with The Adjutant General's Office and the Office of Military Assistance.

He then went to Korea as an adviser to the Korean army, and later was named deputy chief of staff of the U.S. 8th Army there.

Gen. Gavan served two tours in Europe, the first from 1949 to 1951 as a training officer, and the second, from 1957 to 1961, when he rose from assistant chief of staff for personnel of the U.S. Army in Heidelberg, to the post of commanding general of the Military District of Washington from 1961 until his retirement form the Army in 1963.

"They gave me all the eulogies," Gen. Gavan said of his retirement ceremonies. "You know, they tell a Post reporter in a 1963 interview. He went on to say, "I've known all along when I would retire, but it's a real wrench."

For the next five years he was affiliated with the Association of the U.S. Army.

Gen. Gaven was born in Smithfield, Mo. He was a 1928 graduate of the Military Academy at West Point. He then was assigned to Fort Sam Houston, Tex., as an artillery officer. He attended the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth before World War II.

He also was a graduate of the Canadian National Defense College.

Gen. Gavan's other decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit with two Oak Leaf Clusters.

He is survived by his wife, Anne De-Armond Gavan, of the home in Alexandria; a son, Army Lt. Col. William H., of Carlisle, Pa., and two grandchildren.