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First Name: Earle

Last Name: Wheeler

Birthplace: Washington, DC, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Middle Name: Gilmore

Date of Birth: 13 January 1908

Date of Death: 18 December 1975

Rank: General

Years Served: 1932-1970
Earle Gilmore Wheeler

Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1932

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Earle Gilmore "Bus" Wheeler
General, U.S. Army

Earle Gilmore Wheeler was born on 13 January 1908 in Washington, DC, to Dock Stone and Ida Gilmore. He was later adopted by Ida's second husband. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy with the Class of 1932 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry. After graduation he married Frances "Betty" Rogers Howell, whom he met at a society party in 1930.

Military Career

From 1932-36, he served in the 29th Infantry; then attended the Infantry School in 1937. He served with the 15th Infantry Regiment from 1937 to 1940; the Regiment was stationed in China during 1937-38. Wheeler served as a Mathematics Instructor at West Point in 1940-41.

World War II

Rising from Battalion Commander to more senior roles, he trained the newly activated 36th and 99th Infantry Divisions from 1941-44, then went to Europe in November 1944 as second in command of the newly formed 63rd Infantry Division.

Wheeler served in senior staff positions in a variety of specialties, including supply, intelligence, planning, and armor.

Post-World War II

In late 1945, he returned to the U.S. as an Artillery Instructor at Fort Sill, then returned to Germany from 1947-1949 as a staff officer of the U.S. Constabulary (formerly VI Corps), occupying Germany. He attended the National War College in 1950 and then returned to Europe as a staff officer in NATO, in a series of roles. In 1951-52 he commanded the 351st Infantry Regiment, which controlled the Free Territory of Trieste, a front-line position of the Cold War.

Wheeler joined the General Staff at the Pentagon in 1955. In 1958 he took command of the 2nd Armored Division and, in 1959, took command of III Corps. He became Director of the Joint Staff in 1960. He briefly served as Deputy Commander of U.S. Forces in Europe in 1962, before being named Chief of Staff of the Army later that year.

Vietnam War

President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Wheeler Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in July 1964 to succeed General Maxwell Taylor. General Wheeler's tenure as the nation's top military officer spanned the height of America's involvement in the Vietnam War. Wheeler's selection for the top job in the U.S. military, over the heads of officers with more combat experience, drew some criticism.

Wheeler oversaw and supported the expanding U.S. military role in the Vietnam War in the mid‐1960s, consistently backing the field commander's requests for additional troops and operating authority. He often urged President Johnson to strike harder at North Vietnam and to expand aerial bombing campaigns. Wheeler was concerned with minimizing costs to U.S. ground troops. At the same time, he preferred what he saw as a realistic assessment of the capabilities of the South Vietnamese military. This earned him a reputation as a "hawk."

Wheeler, with field commander General William C. Westmoreland, and President Johnson, pushed to raise additional U.S. forces after the February 1968 Tet Offensive. U.S. media at the time widely reported the Tet Offensive as a Viet Cong victory. This followed a widely-noted news report in 1967 that cited an unnamed American general (later identified as General Frederick C. Weyand) who called the situation in Vietnam a "stalemate." It was a view with which General Wheeler agreed in more confidential circles.

However, Wheeler was also concerned that the U.S. buildup in Vietnam was depleting U.S. military capabilities in other parts of the world. He called for 205,000 additional ground troops, to be gained by mobilizing reserves, but intended these remain in the U.S. as an active reserve. The president decided this was not easily accomplished. Together with the Tet Offensive and shifts in U.S. public opinion, this abortive effort contributed to President Johnson's ultimate decision to de-escalate the war.

After the election of President Richard M. Nixon, Wheeler oversaw the implementation of the "Vietnamization" program, whereby South Vietnamese forces assumed increasing responsibility for the war as U.S. forces were withdrawn.

General Wheeler retired from the Army in July 1970 after becoming the longest-serving Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to date; six years.

Medals and Awards

Army Distinguished Service Medal
Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star Medal

Death and Burial

General Earle Gilmore Wheeler died on 18 December 1975 in Frederick, MD, after a heart attack. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, in Section 30, Lot 434-1.

He was survived by his wife, Frances Howell "Betty" Wheeler; by a son, Gilmore "Bim" Stone Wheeler; two grandsons, William Gilmore Wheeler and John Robinson Wheeler; and two great-grandchildren, Chelsey Anne Wheeler McCarthy and William Gilmore Wheeler Jr.

Interesting Note

In 1980, Frances Howell "Betty" Wheeler, widow of General Earle Gilmore Wheeler, married retired U.S. Army General Frank S. Besson, Jr. Besson and Wheeler were friends and former members of the Class of 1932 at the U.S. Military Academy.

Frank and Betty lived in Alexandria until his death in 1985. After General Besson's death, Betty resumed using the name of her first husband, Earle Wheeler, and is buried with him at Arlington National Cemetery.

Honoree ID: 359   Created by: MHOH




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