Early Life & Childhood
Creighton Williams Abrams Jr. was born on September 15, 1914, in Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S., to Nellie Louise (Randall) and Creighton Abrams.
His father was a railroad worker. Abrams graduated from the ‘United States Military Academy,’ Westpoint, New York, in 1936.
He had a mediocre academic record and was known to be the prankster of the batch. He then joined the ‘Cavalry School’ at Fort Bliss, Texas, and was part of the ‘1st Cavalry Division.’
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During World War II, he commanded the ‘37th Tank Battalion’ under the ‘4th Armored Division.’ He was a regimental adjutant in 1941, followed by a battalion commander in 1942 and an executive officer in 1943, before more responsibilities were delegated to him.
He also commanded ‘Combat Command B’ of the division during the Battle of the Bulge.
He commanded the army, first as a major and then as a lieutenant colonel. In 1945, he was promoted to the post of colonel.
During this time, he earned the reputation of being an aggressive leader and a focused commander. His army defeated the more capable German forces, which had superior armor and weapons.
He participated in the ‘Normandy Invasion,’ where his regiment led the sweep of Gen. George Patton's ‘Third Army’ across Europe. In 1944, he relieved the defenders of Bastogne as the army broke through the German lines.
It was widely believed that Abrams had himself destroyed six tanks. Additionally, he was credited with the destruction of 300 German vehicles, 150 guns, 15 tanks, and more. This made Patton describe Abrams as the “best tank commander in the army.”
After World War II, he served as the head of the department of tactics at the ‘Armored School’ in Fort Knox, from 1946 to 1948. In 1949, he graduated from the ‘Command and General Staff College’ at Fort Leavenworth.
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Following his graduation, he served as the commander of the ‘63rd Tank Battalion’ in Europe, from 1949 to 1951. The battalion was part of the ‘1st Infantry Division.’
In 1951, he was again promoted to the post of colonel, as he commanded the ‘2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment’ (1951–1952). In 1953, he attended the ‘Army War College.’
During the Korean War, he served as the chief of staff in the ‘I,’ ‘X,’ and ‘IX Corps’ (1953–1954). He commanded the ‘3rd Armored Division’ in Germany during some of the intense years of the Cold War (1960–1962).
During this time, he also oversaw the forces deployed to ensure racial integration in U.S. universities. For the next 5 years, he served the army in Vietnam.
In 1964, he was promoted to the post of general and was also considered for the position of chief of staff. He was then appointed as the vice chief of staff of the ‘United States Army.’
After becoming deputy to General William Westmoreland, who was the head of the ‘US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam,’ Abrams succeeded him as the top commander in 1968. He also enforced the “Vietnamization” policy of President Richard M. Nixon (to reduce U.S. involvement in Vietnam) in the aforementioned capacity.
He called for an intensive training program for the Vietnam army of the South during the implementation of the policy. The task was quite challenging, especially after the reduction of the U.S. troops from over 500,000 to less than 30,000.
He was alone responsible for holding the military line of South Vietnam as he indefatigably pressurized the ‘Việt Cộng’ and the North Vietnamese positions in the South. He presided over the army of South Vietnam and left the area with one of the most brilliantly equipped armies in the world.
In 1970, he let the policy of “Vietnamization” succeed and himself led incursions in Cambodia and Laos. In 1972, he successfully became the chief of army staff, after Westmoreland retired, in Washington, D.C.
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In that capacity, he struggled to keep the army safe from the anti-military backlash that had resulted from the “Vietnamization” policy. However, he was loved and respected in Vietnam for his contribution to the development of a world-class army.
For this reason, he was also named as the “father-savior” in the country. He also presided over the reorganization of the U.S. military and increased the number of army divisions from 13 to 16 in the country.
He served as the chief of army staff until his death.
Awards & Achievements
The US army’s main battle tank, ‘M-1 Abrams,’ was named after Abrams. He also received numerous service medals for his service to the nation.
Some of the most notable of them were the ‘Defense Distinguished Service Medal,’ the ‘Air Force Distinguished Service Medal,’ the ‘Joint Service Commendation Medal,’ and the ‘American Campaign Medal.’ He also won the ‘Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal,’ the ‘World War II Victory Medal,’ the ‘United Nations Korea Medal,’ and the ‘Korean War Service Medal.’
The ‘IG Farben Building’ in Germany was named after him from 1975 to 1995.
Family, Personal Life & Legacy
Abrams married Julia Berthe Harvey in 1936. She was a humanitarian and the founder of the army group called ‘Arlington Ladies.’
They had six children together: three sons and three daughters.
All his sons, Brigadier General (former) Creighton Williams Abrams III, General John Nelson Abrams, and General Robert Bruce Abrams, became army officers, and all his daughters, Noel Bradley, Jeanne Daley, and Elizabeth Doyle, married army men. Abrams was a heavy smoker. This habit of his led one of his lungs to get cancerous. He died of complications after a surgery to treat the ailment at the age of 59.
He died on September 4, 1974, in Washington, D.C. He is buried with his wife in the ‘Arlington National Cemetery.’