John Lathrop Throckmorton, 72, a retired Army general who was deputy commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam during the mid-1960s, commander of federal and state troops during the 1967 riots in Detroit and commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, died Feb. 13 at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He had cancer.
Gen. Throckmorton's 40-year military career included service in three wars as a staff officer and troop commander. He also served for 40 months as Commandant of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., an assignment the Army reserves for officers who embody the qualities it wishes to instill in cadets.
In 1973, Gen. Throckmorton retired as commander in chief of the U.S. Readiness Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. For the last two years he had lived in Winchester, Va.
During World War II he was an assistant operations officer in Europe and later the Pacific. In the desperate early days of the Korean War, he commanded the Fifth Regimental Combat Team inside the Pusan perimeter at the southern end of the Korean peninsula.
U.S. and South Korean forces broke through North Korean lines after Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed other forces at Inchon in September 1950, thus starting a gigantic pincer movement that pushed the North Koreans back across the 38th Parallel. For his part in the Pusan breakout, Gen. Throckmorton was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second highest decoration for gallantry.
Gen. Throckmorton was commander of the Third Army in July 1967 when President Johnson sent him into Detroit with 5,000 paratroopers to help the Michigan National Guard restore order after days of rioting. His first order to the National Guard commander was to have his men unload their weapons.
His orders were widely disregarded. Subsequent investigation showed that most of the 38 civilians killed during the disturbances were killed by National Guard bullets. Nonetheless, his orders were critized on Capitol Hill.
"I was confronted with a bunch of trigger-happy, nervous soldiers in the National Guard," he later told an indignant House Armed Services subcommittee, insisting that many of the reports of sniper fire during the riots were exaggerated.
Friends sometimes described the general as a man who "looks, acts and works like a soldier," and he had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian who knew exactly what he wanted and when -- usually "yesterday."
But he also demonstrated a concern for the welfare of the soldiers in his command, and he had a habit of making surprise inspections of sites not generally visited by general officers. Once, when he was commander of the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C., he turned up unannounced to check out the post laundry.
Born in Kansas City, Mo., the son of a career Army officer, Gen. Throckmorton graduated from West Point in 1935. Following his service in the Korean War, he was aide-de-camp to Gen. J. Lawton Collins, the Army chief of staff. He then attended the National War College, and served in the office of the secretary of Defense before being assigned to West Point. He was appointed commandant of cadets in 1956.
In 1959, Gen. Throckmorton was named assistant division commander of the 101st Airborne Division under Gen. William C. Westmoreland, whom Gen. Throckmorton would later serve as deputy commander in Vietnam. He was commanding general of the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg from 1962 to 1964, and went to Vietnam as Westmoreland's deputy in July of 1964.
Returning to the United States in November 1965 because of a back injury, he served as commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, and was commanding general of the Third Army from 1967 to 1969. In that role he had overall responsibility for many of the Army's training bases during the military buildup for the war in Vietnam.
After retiring as commander in chief of the U.S. Readiness Command, Gen. Throckmorton lived in Fayetteville, N.C., near Fort Bragg before moving to Winchester.
In addition to the Distinguished Service Cross, his military decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and two Legion of Merit awards.
Survivors include his wife, Regina H., of Winchester; four sons, Thomas B., of Winchester, Lt. Col. Edward R., of Fort Bragg, David K., of Lynchburg, Va., and Lt. Col. John Jr., of Arlington; and seven grandchildren.