The obituary in yesterday's editions of The Washington Post about retired Army Gen. Alfred M. Gruenther, 84, a former supreme commander of NATO who died Monday at Walter Reed Army Hospital, incorrectly listed his decorations. They include three Distinguished Service Medals, the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star.
Retired Gen. Alfred M. Gruenther, 84, the Supreme Commander of NATO forces from 1953 to 1956 and one of the most brilliant staff officers in the history of the Army, died of pneumonia yesterday at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He lived in Washington.
He earned his reputation as a wartime staff officer during World War II. He went to London in August 1942 as deputy chief of staff of the Allied Force Headquarters under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Later in the war, he served under Gen. Mark Clark, as chief of staff first of the Fifth Army and then the 15th Army Group, both in the Mediterranean theater.
Gen. Gruenther was the officer most responsible for planning the Allied invasion of North Africa in 1942, and planned the later invasions of Sicily and Salerno. He rode into Rome with Gen. Clark in June 1944 and remained with him until after the war.
After the war, he was deputy commander of Allied forces in Austria. In 1947, he became the first joint staff director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then served as deputy chief of staff of the Army for plans. In December 1950, he became chief of staff of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE).
His first commander in this post was Eisenhower, who under this title was the first NATO commander. Gen. Gruenther was staff chief until July 1953, when he succeeded Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway as supreme commander, becoming the third military head of the alliance. He held that post until retiring from active duty on Dec. 31, 1956.
When his retirement was announced, The Washington Post said in an editorial, "It is a grievous blow to NATO, and in a larger sense to all the free world, to learn of the impending retirement of Gen. Alfred M. Gruenther. It is fair to say that as NATO commander General Gruenther more than any of his predecessors earned the complete confidence of the people in the countries he served. He has been in a true sense a soldier-diplomat."
The largest force he ever commanded before becoming supreme commander was an artillery battalion. But his influence in the Army was vast, and he was hailed by many as "the brain of the Army." Lord Ismay, Churchill's wartime chief of staff, called Gen. Gruenther "the greatest soldier-statesman I have ever known." In Mandate For Change, Eisenhower called him "one of the ablest, all around officers, civilian or military, I have encountered in my fifty years."
Gen. Clark once said that on every efficiency report he turned in on Gen. Gruenther he had written, "Highly qualified to be chief of staff of the Army at the appropriate time."
Gen. Gruenther's decorations include three Distinguished Service Crosses, the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star.
Alfred Maximilian Gruenther was born in Platte Center, Neb., on March 3, 1899. He was one of six children. His mother was a school teacher, his father a local newspaper editor and publisher.
Gen. Gruenther graduated from the U.S. Military Academy on Nov. 1, 1918, fourth in a class of 277. He also was a graduate of the Chemical Warfare School, the Army War College, and the Command and Staff College. It was not until May 1935 that he reached the rank of captain. During those years, he served the usual tours of a lieutenant in the Army. The only thing unusual about those years was that he taught at West Point for eight years as an instructor in mathematics, electricity and chemistry.
It was during those years that Gen. Gruenther became an expert in bridge. He was to write three books on the subject, become honorary president of the World Bridge Federation and become one of the best-known bridge tournament referees in the country. He also became Eisenhower's favorite partner.
In 1932, he refereed the famous Culbertson-Lenz bridge championship in New York City. An instructor at West Point at the time, he would sleep in the back of his car while his wife drove between West Point and New York four days each week. He received $100 a night as a referee, and $167 a month as an Army officer.
One person complained to the Army, asking how a full-time officer could find the time to do this. The complaint was referred to the West Point superintendent, who spent the following week auditing his 8 a.m. class. His report to Washington said, "If I could be certain that being a bridge referee would have the same salutary effect on all the Military Academy's instructors as it has had on Lt. Gruenther, I would demand that they all become bridge referees in their spare time. I have never seen a finer chemistry instructor than Lt. Gruenther."
Gen. Gruenther's promotions beyond captain came rapidly. He participated in the Army's famed Louisiana maneuvers of September 1941, this country's first large-scale war games in years. The commander of Army Ground Forces, Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, marked the then-Maj. Gruenther for bigger things.
He was promoted to lieutenant colonel that same month and named deputy chief of staff of the Third Army, based in Texas. In December, he became Third Army chief of staff and was promoted to colonel. In August 1942, he became a brigadier general. When the Fifth Army was activated in January 1943, Clark announced that Gen. Gruenther was his first and only choice as its chief of staff. He became a major general a month later. He received his third star in 1949, and became a full general in August 1951.
After leaving the Army, Gen. Gruenther was president of the American Red Cross from 1957 to 1964. He had served on the boards of Dart Industries, New York Life Insurance, and Pan American World Airways. He had honorary degrees from 38 schools and decorations from 20 nations. He had served presidential commissions dealing with the draft, health and disarmament. He was a president of the English Speaking Union.
His wife of 57 years, the former Grace Elizabeth Crum, died in 1979. Survivors include two sons, retired Army Col. Donald A. Gruenther of Falls Church, and retired Army Lt. Col. Richard L. Gruenther of West Point, N.Y.; two sisters, Leona McGrath of Omaha, and Verone Davidson of Oakland; a brother, Louis, of Omaha; 13 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.