John Jarvis Tolson III – Lieutenant General, United States Army

From a contemporary news report:

“An Army Lieutenant General who, as commander of an Army Division in Vietnam, he helped to pioneer the use of helicopters as a leading instrument of modern warfare, died on December 2, 1991 at Rex Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was 76 and lived in Raleigh. The cause of death was a heart attack.

“It was while he was commander of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in 1967-68 that he used helicopters as a shuttle to quickly move soldiers and supplies to the scene of battles against the elusive Viet Cong guerrillas and their North Vietnamese allies. More than 400 helicopters and 15,000 troops were under his command, and he deployed them in such major encounters as the relief of Khe Sahn and a counterthrust to the Communist Tet Offensive of 1968. ‘Basically through his skill as an aviator and his insight as a military thinker, he saw value in the machine at his disposal,' said R. Steven Maxham, Director of the Army Museum at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

“A native of New Bern, North Carolina, he studied at the University of North Carolina and graduated from West Point in 1937. In World War II, he helped to organize the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment and served on all of its jumps, including the recapture of Corregidor. After the war, he trained as an airplane and helicopter pilot, was appointed the Army's Chief of Doctrine and Combat Development and later was commander of Aviation Training at Fort Rucker. He wrote the manual on the helicopter's value in air transport, although at the time many officers remained dubious of its value. When he put his theory into practice in Vietnam, he was at the front line himself. He logged more than 1,000 hours of combat flying and barely escaped death when an enemy bullet tore through the door and windshield of a helicopter he was flying. After his Vietnam tour, he was promoted from Major General to Lieutenant General and given command of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. There he continued to be an innovator. Publicly acknowledging illicit drugs as a growing problem, he granted amnesty and provided treatment for soldiers who came forward, a departure from the usual practice of discharging offenders. He also assigned soliers to help impoverished towns near the base with medical care, school repairs and other aid. He retired in 1973 as Deputy Commander of the Continential Army Command and for the next four years was Secretary of North Carolina's Military and Veterans Affairs Department. His military decorations indluded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

“He is survived by his wife, the former Margaret Jordan Young; two sons and a daughter.”

He was cremated and buried on December 4, 1991 in Section 8 of Arlington National Cemetery.

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