As a junior officer Vandegrift was a troublemaker and not thought of well in any way by his superiors. His first fitness report included this comment:
This officer has not shown that he appreciates the responsibilities of his position as an officer, and unless there is a decisive improvement, his relations will not be to the advantage of the service.Good for the Marines they chose to keep him around and give him a chance, because he definitely seasoned with age - a glimmer of which was also seen in 1909 when he wrote an essay calling aviation the "cavalry of the future".
Vandegrift did not serve in France during World War I, but was posted around the world including seeing combat in Veracruz, Nicaragua, and Haiti. By the United States' entry into World War II he was a Brigadier General assigned to the 1st Marine Division. In March 1942 he was promoted to Major General and assumed command of the divsion. As the United States moved into the offensive against our Japanese enemy in August 1942 with the Guadalcanal Campaign, Vandegrift's division was the lead assault force.
For his valor and leadership on the day of the initial landings, he was decorated with the second-highest award his Corps could grant: the Navy Cross. For his resolute and indefatigable fighting spirit over the next four months, he received our Nation's highest: the Medal of Honor.
From Military Times' Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Major General Alexander Archer Vandegrift (MCSN: 0-1009), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished devotion to duty as Commander of the FIRST Marine Division and all ground troops in action with enemy Japanese forces during the attack on the Solomon Islands on 7 August 1942. Though subjected to intense enemy opposition, Major General Vandegrift led his command in superbly coordinated operations with the result that all objectives were captured and opposing enemy Japanese forces destroyed. His fine spirit of leadership and his courageous determination throughout the engagement were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (T-Z):
VANDEGRIFT, ALEXANDER ARCHER
Rank and organization: Major General, U.S. Marine Corps, commanding officer of the 1st Marine Division. Place and date: Solomon Islands, 7 August to 9 December 1942. Entered service at: Virginia. Born: 13 March 1887, Charlottesville, Va. Citation: For outstanding and heroic accomplishment above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the 1st Marine Division in operations against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands during the period 7 August to 9 December 1942. With the adverse factors of weather, terrain, and disease making his task a difficult and hazardous undertaking, and with his command eventually including sea, land, and air forces of Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, Maj. Gen. Vandegrift achieved marked success in commanding the initial landings of the U.S. forces in the Solomon Islands and in their subsequent occupation. His tenacity, courage, and resourcefulness prevailed against a strong, determined, and experienced enemy, and the gallant fighting spirit of the men under his inspiring leadership enabled them to withstand aerial, land, and sea bombardment, to surmount all obstacles, and leave a disorganized and ravaged enemy. This dangerous but vital mission, accomplished at the constant risk of his life, resulted in securing a valuable base for further operations of our forces against the enemy, and its successful completion reflects great credit upon Maj. Gen. Vandegrift, his command, and the U.S. Naval Service.
Vandegrift was later promoted to Lieutenant General and commanded the Marines' I Amphibious Corps from July-December 1943. He was appointed as the 18th Commandant of the Marine Corps on January 1, 1944 and served in that capacity for four years until December 31, 1947. He became the first Marine to attain the rank of full General while on active duty on April 4, 1945 (retroactive to March 21).
As Commandant, Vandegrift successfully resisted post-war moves to diminish the role of the Marine Corps and possibly the service's abolishment. His tenure as Commandant saw him twice decorated with the Navy Distinguished Service Medal (citations again from Military Times' Hall of Valor).
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Distinguished Service Medal to General Alexander Archer Vandegrift (MCSN: 0-1009), United States Marine Corps, for exceptionally meritorious service to the Government of the United States in a duty of great responsibility as Commandant of the United States Marine Corps from 1 January 1944, to 30 June 1946. General Vandegrift exercised extraordinary foresight, initiative and judgment in directing the policies and organization of the Corps, and in continuing without interruption the broad program of expansion and preparation for battle of this specialized branch of our military service. Analyzing the particularized problems incident to Marine Corps participation in large scale joint operations, he successfully carried out a pre-established program for the procurement and training of personnel, determined the design, types and amounts of combat equipment required by his assault and occupation troops to break the resistance of a determined and deeply entrenched enemy wherever encountered, and effected expedient methods of distribution which made possible the steady flow of men and materials in support of the continued offensive operations of his fighting forces in widespread areas. A leader of uncompromising integrity and indefatigable energies, General Vandegrift upheld and quickened the incomparable esprit de corps of his command and developed a level of combat efficiency to the end that the enemy was overwhelmed by the Marines wherever met. By his achievements as Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, General Vandegrift rendered service of inestimable value to the United States Navy and to his country. His unfaltering devotion to the honor of the Corps and to the fulfillment of tremendous responsibilities throughout this critical period in the history of the Nation reflects the highest credit upon himself and upon the United States Naval Service.
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal to General Alexander Archer Vandegrift (MCSN: 0-1009), United States Marine Corps, for exceptionally meritorious service to the Government of the United States in a duty of great responsibility as Commandant of the United States Marine Corps from 1 July 1946 to 31 December 1947. Completing nearly forty years of service on 31 December 1947, General Vandegrift has discharged with professional skill, vision and forcefulness the broad policies of the Marine Corps as well as the urgent and immediate programs involved in returning a superbly coordinated fighting force to a peacetime organization which, despite demobilization and reorganization requirements, has maintained the readiness to perform whatever tasks might be assigned in the interests of national security. By his inspiring leadership in peace as in war, General Vandegrift has rendered distinguished service to his country and to the Naval Service and has brought honor to the United States Marine Corps.
Although Vandegrift held no role after leaving the Commandant's position at the end of 1947, he was permitted to remain on the active list until April 1, 1949 so he could retire with 40 years of service; a fitting tribute and honor paid to one of our Nation's most important leaders during the Second World War. Vandegrift lived until age 86, passing away on May 8, 1973. He rests in peace at Arlington National Cemetery.
Since November 24, 1984, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Vandegrift (FFG-48) has borne the name of the hero commander of Guadalcanal in her defense of our nation on the high seas. The Vandegrift just recently returned to her homeport of Naval Base San Diego after a six-month Pacific deployment.
The 1st Marine Division is today headquartered at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.