Monday, March 14, 2011

Frequently Mentioned Persons: Brigadier General John D. Crowley, Jr., U.S. Army Transportation Corps, MACV J-4, 1965-1966

Brigadier General John Denis Crowley, Jr., U.S. Army Transportation Corps, was the MACV assistant chief of staff for logistics (J-4), from February 1965 to August 1966.  He was the principal staff logistical officer responsible for all ammunition, construction, supply, maintenance, medical services, fuel, and transportation in South Vietnam. [1]  

 In 1965, Jack Crowley reached a high point in a career in which his fortunes rose and fell with the suddenness of a roller coaster.  Born in Boston in 1916, Crowley enlisted in the Army in 1934 and served in the 5th Infantry in 1934.  In 1938, Crowley won appointment to the US Military Academy but had the dubious distinction of being the “goat” (lowest academically ranked cadet) of the West Point class of 1942. During World War II, Crowley rose from second lieutenant to lieutenant colonel in less than three years as he commanded units with the 1st Filipino Infantry, the US Second Armored Corps, and the 101st Airborne Division.  The bold nature of airborne combat appealed to Crowley.  He led reconnaissance teams in the Battle of the Bulge and in a secret mission behind the lines inside Germany that hastened the collapse of the Ruhr Pocket.
For all his confidence and success in combat, Crowley languished in the Army officer corps once the war ended in 1945. Although the Army sent him to the Sorbonne for graduate studies in French and assigned him to West Point as a French language instructor, Crowley had reached a career dead end by 1952.  There were too many talented colonels and lieutenant colonels in the postwar infantry, and the Army seemed likely to pass him over for promotion to brigadier general and retire him once he attained twenty years' active duty.  As did many combat arms officers in the 1950s, including Clark, Crowley requested the Army transfer him from the Infantry to the Transportation Corps.
Crowley was a poorly qualified Transportation Corps general compared to his peers.  He did not attend the technical courses most junior, midlevel and senior officers did throughout their careers at the Army Transportation School at Fort Eustis, Virginia. He had never commanded a TC operational unit.  Yet Crowley managed to thrive in staff and administrative assignments where he hid his lack of technical expertise and relied on competent junior staff officers to handle details.  After a tour of duty on the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) staff in Paris from 1955 to 1958, where he served in the Atomic Logistics Section and as Chief of Emergency Defense Plans and Requirements, the Army selected him to attend the National War College, a senior service school and a major ticket punch that helped win Crowley promotion to brigadier general in 1963 and assignment to head the Army Transportation Research Command.  Incredibly, the goat became the first member of the West Point Class of 1942 to become a general officer.
Crowley looked the part of a successful general; he was tall and handsome, with thick silver hair swept back from his forehead in the style World War II-era officers favored.  Apart from his military appearance, the only qualification that recommended Crowley to MACV commander General William C. Westmoreland was Crowley's membership in the unofficial but very real airborne fraternity.  As mentioned before, Westmoreland overrepresented the MACV staff with Army airborne officers.  For example, the MACV deputy commanding general, chief of staff, J-1, J-3, J-4, and deputy commanding general, U.S. Army, Vietnam, were all airborne officers. 

Major General John E. Murray, U.S. Army Transportation Corps, commanded the 4th Transportation Command in Vietnam and was the last MACV J-4 in 1972.  He colorfully described Crowley:  "Part of our logistic troubles started out because our [second] head of logistics, who was a good friend of mine, was known as the Airborne's bad boy.  He was the last man in his class at West Point and the first to get a star,  but he also detested detail.  We called him Happy Jack.  We talked about required delivery dates and demand performance, and in his words, 'All that's shit.'  Logistics was beneath contempt and he conceived a man's job description as one that was only properly written with the point of a bayonet.  He wasn't a mutton-head; he wasn't addled because he liked martinis; he was just misplaced." [2]

Crowley's contempt for non-airborne officers and logisticians was apparently shared by his peers on the MACV staff, according to Major General Raymond Conroy, U.S. Army Transportation Corps, another former MACV J-4:  "I always had a feeling that they didn't really accept [Transportation Corps officers], as they should have, and I saw this at several levels.  And I saw it by talking to some of the people in the infantry division and so forth about their old friends.  Ole [Jack Crowley], he finally got into the Transportation Corps and got himself a star, and he would never have made it where we were and that kind of thing.” [3]

As Clark will confide in his diary, Crowley and his role as J-4 will become a lightning rod for controversy from Saigon to Washington in the fall and winter of 1965 as the logistic situation at South Vietnam's aerial and maritime ports worsened.

Brigadier General John D. Crowley, Jr., Assistant Chief of Staff for Logistics, J-4, MACV, 1965  (Photo courtesy U.S. Army).


[1] MACV General Order Number 2, 30 March 1962; Letter, MACV Number 01562, 30 November 1965, Subject:  Joint Table of Distribution, Headquarters Staff, USMACV, 15 November 1965.

[2] Interview, Major General John E. Murray, U.S. Army Transportation Corps Oral History Program, Transportation Corps General Officer Interviews, Biggs Library and Information Center, U.S. Army Transportation Center, Fort Eustis, Virginia.

[3] Interview, Major General Raymond Conroy, U.S. Army Transportation Corps Oral History Program, Transportation Corps General Officer Interviews, Biggs Library and Information Center, U.S. Army Transportation Center, Fort Eustis, Virginia.

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