Robert John Fleming, Jr.
Major General, United States Army
By A Loving Granddaughter: Marion Beasley
The son of an Army officer, he was born at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, (a Calvary post) on January 13, 1907. He was raised on a succession of Cavalry posts due to his father's assignments. During that time, he attended three different high schools and then attended Phillips Exeter Academy for two years and where he won a Presidential appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He graduated from West Point in 1928 and also earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1931.
His first regular post was at Fort Logan, Colorado, where he met his future wife. A publication called The Assembly once wrote "Eleanor complemented and supported Bob splendidly; indeed over the next four decades, the Flemings were widely recognized as the model service team."
An honor graduate of the Army Engineer School, he received a coveted assignment to the Fort Peck Engineer District where he was to assist in the construction of the Fort Peck Dam in Montana. In 1939, as a Captain, he was Assistant Department Engineer at Fort Shafter, Hawaii. In 1942, then a Lieutenant Colonel, he was Chief of Staff of the Hawaiian Department Services and later Deputy Chief of Staff, Central Pacific Area. He was responsible for many construction projects concerned with long-range reconnaissance and defense of the Hawaiian Islands. His projects also included a line of air bases between Hawaii and the Philippines, the road to the top of the Haleakala Crater and the radar station there.
His personal papers from this era were donated to the Hoover Institute for War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. In them, he recalled being assigned to the General Staff Corps, working with General Charles Herron, General Walter Short, General Delose Emmons and Admiral Chester Nimitz. He served as a personal assistant and project manager to those officers. He also handled General Short's corresponence with the War Department and delivered the delayed message on December 7, 1941 from General George C. Marshall in Washington alerting General Short to the position of the Japanese fleet.
After the war, he was responsible for the preparation of General Short's defense before the Roberts Commission which was formed to assess blame for the Japanese surprise attack on the Hawaiian Islands. Working with Admiral Nimitz, he served as his unofficial Army advisor, providing a liaison between the Army and Navy operations.
In 1943 he was promoted to full Colonel and served as Commanding Officer of the 1140th Combat Engineer Group in Kentucky. This group later served in Europe and supported the 1st and 9th Armies and was in charge of the occupation of the Rhineland Province and the Ruhr Valley in Germany. Marion notes that she has a photograph of her Mother and Aunt sailing on the Rhine River in Hitler's yacht, as they were the first group of American families that went to Germany after World War II.
Fleming continued his engineering assignments in Europe and was promoted to Brigadier General in 1955 while with the New England Division of the Corps of Engineers. In 1957 he returned to Europe as Commanding General, Theater Army Support Command in France. During that period France awarded him the Officer of the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre.
In 1961, Fleming was promoted to Major General while serving as Division Engineer at Dallas, Texas. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy appointed him Governor of the Canal Zone and President of the Panama Canal Company. He retired, due to age, in 1967. Marion notes that "this man would have stayed in the Army until his last day on earth if they had let him."
His other honors include, Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal. Foreign decorations include the Commander, Order of the White Lion and the Czech War Cross (pre-communist Czechoslovakia); Order of the Fatherland (Soviet Union); Order of Vasco Nunez de Baloa (Panama). His wife, Eleanor Marion Canby Fleming, is the only American woman to have received the female equivilent of this same medal.
To be continued .....