A brash tank commander for Patton in WWII who never let up in Vietnam.
When Lieutenant General James F. Hollingsworth died at 91 on March 2, 2010, America lost a legendary figure of near epic proportions who left a lasting impression on all who ever encountered him. A warrior who served the nation for 36 years, James Hollingsworth was the most decorated officer in the history of Texas A&M University.
Born on the family farm in Sanger, Texas, in 1918, Hollingsworth was the eldest of four sons. He entered the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas in 1936 and worked his way through school in a creamery, graduating in 1940 with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and a commission in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. In World War II, he was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division and participated in seven major campaigns from North Africa in 1942 to the occupation of Berlin in 1945.
He rose from platoon leader to command a regimental-size armored task force at 26 in General George Patton’s Third Army. In one memorable engagement while leading the 2nd Armored Division’s advance guard in the dash to the Elbe River, Major Hollingsworth encountered dug-in German defenders. As he lined up his 34 tanks, he gave a command rarely heard in modern warfare: “Charge!” As his tanks raced toward their positions, the Germans broke and ran. Patton later called Hollingsworth one of the two best armored battalion commanders in World War II.
After the war, Hollingsworth served on the staff of Seventh Army and in several other key billets, while also attending the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the Army War College.
Hollingsworth served in Vietnam as the assistant division commander of the 1st Infantry Division in 1966-67. There he became known by the radio call sign “Danger 79er.” In Vietnam his reputation as an irreverent, brash, hard-charging, lead-from-the-front type of general only grew. Historian Dale Andrade described him as “profane and unforgiving yet…with a deep-seated concern for the welfare of those who served under him.” During his tour with the “Big Red One,” Hollingsworth received two Distinguished Service Crosses for extraordinary valor in combat.
After his first tour in Vietnam, Hollingsworth commanded the training center at Fort Jackson, S.C., and then U.S. Army Alaska. In August 1971, he returned to Vietnam as deputy commander of the XXIV Corps before being reassigned as commander, Third Regional Assistance Command at Long Binh in December 1971. He was commander of all the American advisers in Military Region III and oversaw the bitter battle at An Loc during the 1972 Eastertide Offensive. Referring to the North Vietnamese attackers during the offensive, Hollingsworth famously told a reporter that he was “going to kill them all before they get back to Cambodia,” and that it felt “real good to be killin’ hell out of the communists.”
These comments did not endear him to General Creighton Abrams nor President Nixon’s White House advisers, who were concerned about the efficacy of Vietnamization and the reputation of the South Vietnamese army. American advisers in An Loc, however, idolized the general for his comments and were eternally grateful for the massive air support he was able to marshal that helped turn the tide of the battle.
General Hollingsworth was then sent to South Korea, where he assumed command of I Corps (ROK/US) Group, the largest combined field army in the world.
After retiring from active service in 1976, Hollingsworth was soon asked to evaluate the U.S. Army’s capability to meet the Warsaw Pact threat to NATO Central Europe. The Hollingsworth Report recommended $46 billion to correct deficiencies and enhance the Army’s capabilities. It led to a 1977 Armed Services Committee Study of the entire U.S. forces’ capabilities in NATO Central Europe. The result was the build up of the Army and a total commitment to the defense of Europe, which impacted greatly on the demise of the Warsaw Pact.
In 1999, a bronze statue of Hollingsworth was dedicated at Texas A&M bearing the inscription, “He was revered by his troops and feared by the enemy as a warrior who was always on the scene in times of need or at time of immense peril.” Hollingsworth joked that his statue was taller “by three feet” than Patton’s at West Point.
A three-time recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, Hollingsworth also received four Distinguished Service Medals, four Silver Stars, three Legion of Merit medals, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, six Purple Hearts, the Soldier’s Medal, four Bronze Star Medals and a remarkable 38 Air Medals.
A great patriot, superb soldier and statesman, who went on to excel in business, James Hollingsworth led by example and was a stellar role model for several generations. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on May 20, 2010. May the old warrior rest in peace; the world shall not soon see his likes again.
Originally published in the October 2010 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.