Retired Army Lt. Gen. Willis D. Crittenberger, 89, a cavalry officer who became a corps commander in Italy during World War II and who accepted the surrender of a German army there, died of chronic brain syndrome Monday at the Bethesda Retirement and Nursing Center in Chevy Chase.
Gen. Crittenberger helped convert the horse cavalry, in which he began his career, to armored forces in the late 1930s and the early years of World War II. He commanded the IV Corps in Italy during 326 days of combat in 1944 and 1945. Other major assignments included command of the Caribbean Defense Command, chairman of the Inter-American Defense Board, and commanding general of the First Army with headquarters on Governor's Island in New York City. He retired from the Army in 1952.
From 1953 to 1956, Gen. Crittenberger was head of the Greater New York Fund. He also was an adviser to Mayor Robert Wagner of New York City on civil defense matters, commanded the New York chapter of the Military Order of the World Wars, and served on the boards of the New York chapters of the American Red Cross and the YMCA.
From 1956 to 1959, when he retired to Washington, he was head of the Free Europe Committee Inc., which operates Radio Free Europe. The network broadcasts to the countries of Eastern Europe.
Gen. Crittenberger was born in Anderson, Ind. He attended school in New York and then went to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, from which he graduated in 1913. He was commissioned in the cavalry and his first assignment was with A Troop, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, in Texas.
During the troubles along the Mexican border in 1916, he was ordered to defend the bridge across the Rio Grande between Brownsville, Tex., and Matamoros, Mexico, from attacking Mexican irregulars.
He later returned to West Point as a riding instructor and then as an instructor in military tactics and related subjects. He graduted from the command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and the advanced course at the Cavalry School at Fort Riley, Kans. He held several staff and command appointments in the United States and in the Philippines.
In 1938, after commanding a mechanized force at Fort Knox, Ky., he was assigned to Washington to work on the development of armored forces. He helped draw up the first table of organization for the U.S. armored divisions that fought in World War II.
Beginning in 1940, he held several armored commands in the United States. In 1944, he took the III Armored Corps, of which he was commander, to England.
Later that year, he was ordered to Italy to take command of the IV Corps, which was made up of American troops and troops from several other countries. He led it from south of Rome to northern Italy, where it crossed the Po River and sealed the Alpine passes before retreating Germans could reach them. On April 29, 1945, Gen. Crittenberger accepted the surrender of the German Ligurian Army.
His assignments to the Caribbean Defense Command, which had just been reorganized to include Army, Navy and Air Force units, followed the war. That command also included the Panama Canal Department.
Gen. Crittenberger's decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Bronze Star and honors from Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Brazil and Britain.
He was a president of the U.S. Associations of Cavalry and, later, Armor, and was a president and director of the Association of Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy. He also was a member of the Army Navy Country Club, the Army & Navy Club, and the Chevy Chase Club.
Gen. Crittenberger's wife, the former Josephine Frost Woodhull, died in 1978. Two of his sons were killed in action. They were Cpl. Townsend Woodhull Crittenberger, killed in the Remagen bridgehead across the Rhine River in Germany in World War II, and Col. Dale Jackson Crittenberger, killed in Vietnam in 1969.
Survivors include a third son, retired Army Maj. Gen. Willis D. Jr., two daughters-in-law, Mrs. Willis D. Crittenberger and Mrs. Dale J. Crittenberger, all of McLean, 11 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Superintendent's Fund, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., the Army Emergency Relief, to the Army Distaff Hall, Washington, or to a charity of one's choice.