Earle Wheeler

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Earle Wheeler
Earle Wheeler official photo.JPEG
General Earle Gilmore "Bus" Wheeler
Born(1908-01-13)January 13, 1908
Washington, D.C., US
DiedDecember 18, 1975(1975-12-18) (aged 67)
Frederick County, Maryland, US
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1924–1970
Rank General
Commands held Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Chief of Staff of the United States Army
III Corps
2nd Armored Division
351st Infantry Regiment
2nd Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Army Distinguished Service Medal (2)
Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star Medal (2)

Earle Gilmore Wheeler (January 13, 1908 – December 18, 1975), nicknamed Bus, was a United States Army general who served as the chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1962 to 1964 and then as the sixth chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1964–1970), holding the latter position during the Vietnam War.


Early life and education

Earle Gilmore Wheeler was born in Washington, D.C. on January 13, 1908 to Dock Stone and Ida Gilmore. He was later adopted by Ida's second husband. Wheeler began his military career in 1924, at the age of 16, as a private in Company E, 121st Engineers, District of Columbia National Guard. He was promoted to sergeant in 1926, then, in 1928, was honorably discharged in order to enroll at the United States Military Academy. He graduated from the Academy in 1932 and was commissioned into the infantry. After graduation he married Frances "Betty" Rogers Howell, whom he met at a society party in 1930. He served in the 29th Infantry Regiment from 1932 to 1936, then attended Infantry School in 1937. He served with the 15th Infantry Regiment, from 1937 to 1940, stationed in China from 1937 to 1938.


From 1940 to 1941, Wheeler was a mathematics instructor at West Point. Rising from battalion commander to more senior roles, he trained the newly activated 36th and 99th Infantry Divisions from 1941 to 1944, then went to Europe in November 1944 as chief of staff of the newly formed 63rd Infantry Division.

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

In late 1945, Wheeler returned to the U.S. as an artillery instructor at Fort Sill, then returned to Germany from 1947 to 1949 as a staff officer of the United States Constabulary (formerly VI Corps), occupying Germany. He attended the National War College in 1950. He 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.

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

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Earle Wheeler (holding model of helicopter) with Lyndon B. Johnson at the Declaration of Honolulu, 1966. Wheeler and Johnson at Hawaii Conference.jpg
Earle Wheeler (holding model of helicopter) with Lyndon B. Johnson at the Declaration of Honolulu, 1966.

President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Wheeler Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in July 1964 to succeed General Maxwell Taylor. Wheeler's tenure as the nation's top military officer spanned the height of America's involvement in the Vietnam War.

Wheeler's accession to the top job in the U.S. military, over the heads of officers with more combat experience, drew some criticism. Then Air Force Chief of Staff, General Curtis LeMay, called him "Polly Parrot" and said he was awarded a medal for "fighting the Battle of Fort Benning", an army post in Georgia where Wheeler served during much of World War II.

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 General William C. Westmoreland, the field commander, and President Johnson, pushed to raise additional American forces after the February 1968 Tet Offensive. American media at the time widely reported the Tet Offensive as 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 Wheeler agreed in more confidential circles. However, Wheeler was concerned that the American buildup in Vietnam depleted 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 US as an active reserve. The president decided this was not easily accomplished. Together with the Tet Offensive and shifts in American 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 American forces were withdrawn.

Wheeler retired from the U.S. Army in July 1970. Wheeler was the longest-serving Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to date, serving six years. Upon his retirement, he was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and was the first recipient of that decoration.


Wheeler died in Frederick, Maryland after a heart attack on 18 December 1975.

Dates of rank

No insignia Private, District of Columbia National Guard: 1924
WW1-Sergeant.svg Sergeant, District of Columbia National Guard: 1926
No insignia Cadet, United States Military Academy: 1928
US-O1 insignia.svg Second Lieutenant, Regular Army: June 10, 1932
US-O2 insignia.svg First Lieutenant, Regular Army: August 1, 1935
US-O3 insignia.svg Captain, Army of the United States: September 9, 1940
US-O4 insignia.svg Major, Army of the United States: February 1, 1942
US-O3 insignia.svg Captain, Regular Army: June 10, 1942
US-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant Colonel, Army of the United States: November 11, 1942
US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel, Army of the United States: June 26, 1943
US-O5 insignia.svg Temporary Lieutenant Colonel, Regular Army*: July 1, 1947
US-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant Colonel, Regular Army: July 1, 1948
US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel, Army of the United States: September 7, 1950
US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General, Army of the United States: November 8, 1952
US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel, Regular Army: October 6, 1953
US-O8 insignia.svg Major General, Army of the United States: December 21, 1955
US-O9 insignia.svg Lieutenant General, Army of the United States: April 21, 1960
US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General, Regular Army: May 13, 1960
US-O8 insignia.svg Major General, Regular Army: June 30, 1961
US-O10 insignia.svg General, Army of the United States: March 1, 1962
US-O10 insignia.svg General, Regular Army, Retired List: July 7, 1970

* - postwar reduction [1]

Decorations and medals

Defense Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg
Air Force Distinguished Service ribbon.svg Legion of Merit ribbon.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Bronze Star ribbon.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Army Commendation Medal ribbon.svg
American Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon.svg
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg
Army of Occupation ribbon.svg
National Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg
Legion Honneur Commandeur ribbon.svg Croix de guerre 1939-1945 stripe bronsepalme.svg
1st Row Defense Distinguished Service Medal Army Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster
2nd Row Air Force Distinguished Service Medal Legion of Merit Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster
3rd Row American Defense Service Medal American Campaign Medal European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three campaign stars World War II Victory Medal
4th Row Army of Occupation Medal with "Germany" clasp National Defense Service Medal with one service star Commander of the Legion of Honour (France) Croix de Guerre with Palm (France)

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  1. The Chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1949-2012 (PDF) (2 ed.). Joint History Office. October 27, 2012. p. 124. ISBN   978-1480200203.
Military offices
Preceded by
George H. Decker
Chief of Staff of the United States Army
October 1, 1962 – July 2, 1964
Succeeded by
Harold K. Johnson
Preceded by
Maxwell Taylor
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
July 3, 1964 – July 2, 1970
Succeeded by
Thomas Moorer