James Maurice Gavin was born in Brooklyn on March 22nd, 1907 Irish parents. His Christian name was James Nally Ryan. He is placed at the age of 2 years in the orphanage of the Convent of Mercy in Brooklyn, where he was adopted in 1909 by Martin and Mary Gavin, from a family of mining in Pennsylvania.
Because of poor social conditions, Gavin decided to leave his adoptive home on the day of his 17th birthday by taking a train to New York.
At the end of March 1924, James Gavin talked with a recruiting officer of the U.S. Army, and on the 1st of April 1924, James was sworn into the Army lying about his age. He made his classes in Panama in a unit of the U.S. Coast Artillery.
Gavin spent his free time reading, he was forced to leave school early to help his family and was aware of his lack of education. His boss, the First Sergeant, “Chief” Williams, recognized the potential of Gavin and made him his assistant and he was promoted to corporal six months later.
To advance in the military and on the advice of Williams, he applied for a local military school, whose graduates had a better chance to enter West Point. Gavin succeeded to pass the physical tests and entered school on the 1st of September 1924. He studied algebra, geometry, English and history. He passed examinations and with the help of his tutor Lieutenant Black, he was allowed to integrate West Point in 1925.
Because Gavin didn’t have the necessary basic education to understand the lessons, he got up at 4:30 every morning to read and learn. After four years of intensive work, he graduated in June 1929 and promoted to second lieutenant.
Gavin was assigned to the 25th Infantry Regiment, Arizona. He remained in that position for three years. After that, he joined the Infantry School U.S. Army at Fort Benning. In 1933, Gavin, who did not wish to become an instructor, was assigned to the 28th and 29th regiments of infantry at Fort Sill.
In 1936, James Gavin was sent to the Philippines. After a year and a half, he returned to Washington and served with the 3rd Infantry Division where he was promoted to Captain. Back at West Point, to work at the School of tactics, he was asked to analyze and understand the tactics, weapons and vehicles in Germany. For the first time, Gavin spoke of “airborne” and a study of movement techniques led him to volunteer for the new airborne unit in April 1941.
Gavin began the training at the Airborne School at Fort Benning in July-August 1941. He then took command of C Company, 503rd Parachute Infantry Battalion (PIB). General Lee named Gavin operations officer and Training (S-3). October 16th, 1941, he was promoted major.
In February 1942, he studied at the “Command and General Staff College” at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, which qualified him to serve on the staff of a division. In spring 1942, Gavin and General Lee went to the headquarters of the army in Washington to discuss the first American airborne division. The 82nd U.S. Infantry Division was chosen as the first Airborne division. In August 1942, Gavin was promoted to lieutenant colonel and then colonel commanding the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division.
April 29th, 1943, Gavin left the New York Harbor aboard the Monterey. The convoy arrived in Casablanca, North Africa on May 10th, 1943. They joined by land Oujda, a town in the Moroccan desert and the division was moved to Kairouan in Tunisia on July 9th, 1943, they jumped to the north and east of Gela, in Sicily, Colonel Gavin leading.
Nicknamed “Slim Jim” by his soldiers, Gavin jumped in September 1943 in Italy with his regiment and became the commander of the division. Gavin was promoted on October 10th, 1943 Brigadier General at age 36. That made him the youngest general in the U.S. Army. The division joined Ireland on December 9th, 1943, to reorganize and arrived in England in February 1944.
June 6th, 1944, General Gavin jumped in Normandy with his men and led the assault against the bridge of La Fière near Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Upon returning from the Normandy campaign, General Ridgway was appointed head of the eighteenth Airborne Corps and Gavin was promoted to major general and commander of the 82nd AB.
September 17th, 1944, General Gavin took his division and jumped in Holland for Operation Market-Garden.Informed on the 17th of December in the evening of the German offensive in the Ardennes forest, Gavin decided to send all men available. On the 18th, the division is on its way without preparation, short of ammunition and winter clothing and Werbomont arrived in Belgium.
In late January 1945, the division was moving and early in February took position in Germany. March 30th, General Gavin was ordered to join the region of Bonn and Cologne in early April. In late April the division crossed the Elbe and the division enters Berlin in late July.
After the war, Gavin was appointed to a senior command post. He was one of the key people in the discussions which led to the creation of “Pentomic Division”, following a possible use of atomic weapons on the battlefield, as head of research and development of army. Gavin retired in March 1958 with the rank of Lieutenant General. After leaving the army, he was recruited by a consulting firm, he was appointed vice president in 1958 and was elected president in 1960 and finally “Chairman” until his retirement in 1977.
Between 1961 and 1962, it will be for special leave, at the request of President Kennedy, U.S. ambassador to France. Gavin died on February 23rd, 1990 and was buried in the Old Chapel at West Point.