Retired Army Maj. Gen. Claude Bayles Mickelwait, 85, a former assistant judge advocate general who served in the Army for 38 years before retiring in 1956, died of cancer Sunday at his home in Washington.

Gen. Mickelwait began his service in the Judge Advocate General's Corps of the Army in 1935. During World War II, he served with Gen. George S. Patton's forces in North Africa and Gen. Mark Clark's Fifth Army in Italy. In May 1944, he joined the forces of Gen. Omar N. Bradley, serving with the 12th Army Group until the end of the war.

After the war, Gen. Mickelwait participated in war crimes trials in Germany before returning to this country in 1947. He was stationed in the office of the Judge Advocate General in the Pentagon until retiring as assistant judge advocatge general in 1956.

His military decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, two Legions of Merit and the Bronze Star. He also had received decorations from five foreign nations.

From 1956 to 1966, Gen. Mickelwait taught international law at American University. He was a former resident of Chevy Chase and was a past-president of the Brookdale Citizens Association.

Gen. Mickelwait was a native of Iowa. He was a 1916 graduate of the University of Idaho and a 1935 graduate of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley.

He served as an Army officer during World War I and then left the service for a short time to farm in California. He returned to the Army as an officer of infantry, serving with that branch until graduating from law school.

Survivors include his wife, Marian, of Washington; three sons, retired Air Force Col. Malcolm P. Mickelwait of Annandale, Kenneth B., of Palo Alto, Calif., and Aubrey, of Portuguese Bend, Calif.; two brothers, Lowell P. and Dean Mickelwait, both of Washington state; a sister, Mabel Whitney of Tulane, Calif., and 10 grandchildren.