Joe Stilwell

Vinegar Joe Stilwell

The only soldier ever to be awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge as a General Officer.

Consulate – Chengdu China

by John Easterbrook Class of ’62 – Grandson of Vinegar Joe

The Walkout from Burma 1942. His Aides, Frank Dorn 2d while Dick Young is 3d.

Dick Young Died October of 2009. He was 90 and lived in PaloAlto, Ca. Frank “Pinky Dorn was Class of 1923 – Cullum Number 7122

CBI Patch

ChinaBurmaIndia Theater of War

Inducted into the Army Sports Hall of Fame September 17, 2010

Click on the photos below for detail information and larger scale photos

There are some 300 additional photos at


Four Years at West Point 1900-1904

Captain of the Cross Country Team, 2 Army A’s in Football and —

He Brought Basketball to West Point First game 1903

The Years from Graduation to CBI

The Walkout – May 1942

Preparation for the Return to Burma June 1942 – November 1943

Return to Burma December 1943 – August 1944

Okinawa June 23, 1945 – October 15, 1945

In 1991 the Chinese Communist Government established a Museum in his Honor.

His papers are at the Hoover Institute

Diaries —

Biographical Data and Register of his Papers —


is at


General Stilwell was born March 19, 1883, in Palatka, Florida, but spent most of his early years in Yonkers, New York. In high school he excelled in sports and when he entered the United States Military Academy in the summer of 1900, sports continued to be part of his life. He earned his “A” as an Army football quarterback; started basketball at West Point, coaching and playing on Army’s first team; and captained the cross-country team.

Throughout his life he took pride in staying in good physical shape primarily through running and walking. (During his assignment as an instructor at West Point, 1906-10, he would run the hills early in the early mornings. On one such run he observed two cadets returning from Highland Falls and chased them back to the barracks. In 1939, when Stilwell was promoted to brigadier general he received a congratulatory letter that read: “Ever since you chased Carberry and myself from the South Gate around the reservoir and the barracks and then didn’t report us, I have been your enthusiastic booster, so I am naturally delighted at your promotion. ” The letter was signed by George Patton.

Stilwell was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army in 1904, and requested assignment to the Philippines where he took part in guerilla suppression actions. He was the first of his class to return to West Point as an instructor, and during World War I he served as Intelligence Officer for the US IV Corps, planning the St. Mihiel offensive. Following the War he became the Army’s first Chinese language student.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s he served ten years in China as a language student, in the US 15th Infantry, and as our attach to China and Siam, gaining intimate knowledge of the Chinese people and actively observing and reporting on the Sino-Japanese War. In the mid-1930’s he served under then COL George C. Marshall as a tactics instructor at Fort Benning, Georgia; it was here that he received his “Vinegar Joe” nickname for correctly imprinting a lesson on a young officer in training who tried to bluff his way through an exercise that in combat would have cost lives.

In the years just prior to World War II, he successively held commands at the brigade level at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, at the division level with the 7th Division at Fort Ord, and at the corps level with III Corps at the Presidio of Monterey. It was during these assignments that he earned recognition as the Army’s most capable large unit field commander.

Very shortly after the United States entered the War, General Marshall called Stilwell to Washington to plan and command the first US offensive action of World War II, the invasion of North Africa. However, concurrently the need arose to keep China in the War to tie down hundreds of thousands of Japanese troops. With his China background, Stilwell was personally selected by Secretary of War Stimson and General Marshall to be the senior officer to go to China. Despite his desires for combat command of US troops in the first major engagement of the War, and the certainty of the China-Burma-India Theater assignment being to one of the backwaters of the War, ripe with international politics and no command of US troops, he accepted with a simple “I’ll go where I’m needed.”

Arriving in the China-Burma-India Theater just in time to experience the collapse of the Allied defense of Burma, and thus cutting China off from all land and sea supply routes, his courageous walkout from Burma, and his bluntly honest assessment of the situation captured the imagination of the American public.

When Stilwell arrived in New Delhi on May 24, he was greeted by a crowd of news correspondents anxious for comment on his ordeal and for his view of the military disaster. Later that evening, the general held a press conference at which he described the campaign in Burma.

“I claim we got a hell of a beating,” he snapped. “We got run out of Burma, and it is humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back and retake it.”

Stilwell then established a training center for two divisions of Chinese troops in India, and in late 1943, launched a campaign with those units to recapture northern Burma. His offensive defeated the Japanese in northern Burma, shortened the air “Hump” supply route and eventually reopened the Burma Road (later renamed the Stilwell Road) as a land supply route. During the combat in both the first and second Burma campaigns, he was often at the front lines urging aggressive action by the Chinese forces. He saw more frontline combat than any other general officer during the War.

1944 General Stilwell back in Burma – If anyone questions if he was a front line General – Note the cloths line and laundry in the back ground.

At the height of his success, in October 1944, he was recalled from the Theater by President Roosevelt. As Barbara Tuchman relates in her book Stilwell and the American Experience in China, he was sacrificed as a political expedience. He later served as Commander of Army Ground Forces, Tenth Army Commander in the closing battle for Okinawa, and as Sixth Army Commander, dying on October 12, 1946, of cancer at the Presidio of San Francisco while still on active duty.

Among his military decorations are the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Legion of Merit degree of Commander, the Bronze Star, and, the decoration he esteemed more than any other and which was presented to him the day before he died, the Combat Infantryman Badge.

Throughout his life General Stilwell displayed quintessential American character traits, and his life was never tainted by scandal or questionable morals. Above all was his sense of integrity; he was an absolutely honest and straightforward man, highly respected by all who came in contact with him for this trait. Close behind was the fact that he was a decisive man of action with extraordinary drive, persistence, and energy. Concurrently he had a keen insight into what was right and stuck by his positions. Of his disagreements with China’s Chiang Kai-shek and his recall from China he wrote: “The trouble was largely one of posture. I tried to stand on my feet instead of my knees. I did not think the knee position was a suitable one for Americans.”

He was a man of candor; he did not mince words, coming directly to the point in a no nonsense manner. As with all great leaders, he had a surplus of personal courage; whether it was in the Philippines, during the Sino-Japanese War, on the Walkout from Burma, or during his frequent front line visits in Burma, he was always moving towards the action to imprint his inspirational leadership on all those around him.

General Stilwell was known throughout the Army as the true Soldiers’ General, for his personal style of leadership, his belief in the worth of the individual, and for his concern for the welfare of the soldier; his soldiers nicknamed him “Uncle Joe,” certainly a more suitable one than the “Vinegar Joe” he essentially gave himself. He was a modest man, never seeking the trappings of office, never putting himself in the limelight, and often making himself the butt of his own jokes. His trademarks were an old campaign hat, GI shoes, and no insignia of rank….he didn’t need anything else for he led by example and inspiration and was admired for doing so.

No matter the difficulties, no matter the obstacles, he never wavered in his absolute dedication to his country, always kept the mission in the forefront, and always accomplished it in a superb manner.

Stilwell with his dog, Gary, on the beach in Carmel, late 1944.

He wrote: “If a man can say he did not let his country down, and if he can live with himself, there is nothing more he can reasonably ask for.”

Stilwell at the Presidio of San Francisco, CA when he commanded 6th Army, August, 1946.

Links to the China Burma India Theater of War

Web site dedicated to CBI

1. General Joseph W. Stilwell – CBI Theater of World War II


3. LIFE – The Burma Road – October 6, 1941

4. LIFE – The Rat Trap – May 18, 1942

5. LIFE – Airborne Raiders in Burma – June 12, 1942

6. LIFE – Burma Mission – June 15 and 22, 1942

7. LIFE – British Raid Burma – June 28, 1942

8. LIFE Photographer in Burma – August 10, 1942

9. LIFE – Flight from Burma – August 10, 1942

10. LIFE – Yanks Make a Hit in India – January 18, 1943

11. LIFE – China Air Task Force – April 12, 1943

12. LIFE – British Raid Burma – June 1943

13. LIFE Visits an Army Hospital in Burma – November 1, 1943

14. LIFE – The War in Burma – April 10, 1944

15. LIFE – Elephants at War – April 10, 1944

16. LIFE – Joe Stilwell’s War – April 17, 1944

17. LIFE – Airborne Raiders in Burma – June 12, 1944

18. LIFE – The Ledo Road – August 14, 1944

19. LIFE – The Hump – September 11, 1944

20. LIFE – Stilwell Road – February 12, 1945

21. Numerous links relating to the CBI Theater

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