Retired Marine Brig. Gen. Samuel Blair Griffith II, 76, a heavily decorated veteran of World War II and an authority on Chinese military history, died of respiratory arrest March 27 at the Newport Naval Regional Hospital in Newport, R.I.
In the 1930s Gen. Griffith was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Peking as a Chinese language officer. He returned to China in 1946 and for the next two years commanded Marine forces in Tsingtao. After his retirement from the service in 1956, he took a doctorate in Chinese history at New College, Oxford University.
His books include translations of Mao Tse-tung's "On Guerrilla War," published in 1962, and, a year later, "The Art of War," by Sun Tzu, a classical Chinese military theorist whose work commands a wide audience among professionals. He also wrote "The Chinese People's Liberation Army" (1968), "The Battle for Guadalcanal" (1963) and "In Defense of the Public Liberty" (1976), a history of the American Revolution.
Gen. Griffith lectured and taught at the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, the Armed Forces Staff College, the National War College, the Foreign Policy Association and the Marine Corps Schools. In 1966, he told a congressional committee that he doubted that China would intervene in the Vietnam war with major ground forces, an assessment that proved correct.
Between his years as a young language officer and his career as a historian there was World War II, and in that conflict Gen. Griffith proved his worth as a soldier on active service.
He took part in the invasion of Guadalcanal with the lst Marine Division, the first American amphibious offensive of the Pacific fighting. He was the executive officer and later the commanding officer of the elite lst Marine Raider Battalion.
In the battle of the Matanikau River on Sept. 27, 1942, a desperate defensive action some eight weeks after "The Canal" had been invaded, he was wounded. He refused to be evacuated because he was the only field-grade officer left with the unit.
For this he received the Navy Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry in the Navy except for the Medal of Honor. The citation said he had showed "extreme herosim and courageous devotion to duty."
In the period July 7 through 10, 1943, in the New Georgia campaign, he won the Army's Distinguished Service Cross, which corresponds to the Navy Cross, "for extraordinary heroism while leading an attack on an enemy shore battery at Enogai Point."
Gen. Griffith was born at Lewistown, Pa. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1929 and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He served in Nicaragua in the early 1930s and then went to the embassy in China. Apart from his years in Tsingtao, his postwar assignments included service on the faculty of the Naval War College and on the staff of the U.S. Commander in Chief, Europe, the post from which he retired.
Gen. Griffith had lived in Newport since 1970. He was a member of numerous service and learned associations, including the Council on Foreign Relations, the Institute for Defense Studies and the lst Marine Division Association.
Survivors include his wife, Belle Gordon Nelson Griffith of Newport; two daughters, Gordon G. Heneberger of New York City and Jane Griffith of Chicago; a sister, Jane G. Rettew of Pensacola, Fla.; five grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.