“Loyalty Goes Up And Down”: Leading American Soldiers In Service Around The World

Thomas N. Griffin


LTG(R) Thomas N. Griffin, Jr. was born in January 1933 in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. His father graduated from the Military Academy in 1929. The family returned to Hawaii in 1938, when his father was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry. He remembers the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, recalling that the house was shaking, and his father’s aide coming to take him and his mother to a more secure location. Due to concerns about additional Japanese attacks, it was quite some time before the family was allowed to return home. He remembers P-40 Warhawks taking off from roads downtown because the runways were damaged in the attack. When his father shipped off to fight in Europe during WWII, the family returned to the continental United States. In 1946, after the war ended, the family moved to Germany while his father served on occupation duty. He attended a DoD school in Nuremberg and the Fishburne Military School in Falls Church, Virginia, before attending the Sullivan School in preparation for attending West Point. He did well at the Military Academy, playing football and serving as a Company First Sergeant. When he graduated, he branched Infantry and was assigned to Germany as a Platoon Leader. The Army had a strong presence in Germany during the late 1950s due to Cold War fears, and he found that the draftees were good Soldiers. Returning to the United States in 1960, he was assigned to the Old Guard at Ft. Myer, Virginia, noting that it was “tough duty” in a ceremonial unit, but the Soldiers were “remarkable.” For a period, he left the Army, but with his wife’s encouragement he reentered the service. After the Infantry Officer Advanced Course and the U.S. Army Special Warfare School, he deployed to Vietnam and was assigned to MAC-V (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam), where he worked first with a Vietnamese Psychological Warfare Battalion, and then as an Advisor to the Ranger Task Force in II Corps. He found the Vietnamese Rangers to be good Soldiers who performed well if capably-led. In many cases, the Rangers were used to rescue other ARVN units in contact, or on outpost duty along routes. Returning from Vietnam in September 1966, he was assigned to the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division. Following that assignment, he returned to West Point where he served as a Tactical Officer before becoming the Regimental Tac for the 4th Regiment. After West Point, he returned to Vietnam, where he was the Executive Officer for the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division as the army was withdrawing from Vietnam. He noted drug and race problems, and that the “spirit of the offensive” was gone. After the 101st departed Vietnam, he was reassigned to Saigon until August 1972. Returning from Vietnam, he was assigned to the 3rd Basic Training Brigade at Ft. Ord, California, first as the Chief of Training and then as the Commander of the 1st Battalion. This was during the early stages of the All-Volunteer Army, when many in the nation did not hold a high opinion of the Army. After his basic training assignment, he transferred to the 7th Infantry Division, and was serving as the G3 when South Vietnam fell. Starting in June 1976, he worked in the Personnel Command, managing Infantry Lieutenant Colonels. He felt that his job was helping people out by trying to get them good assignments. After attending the War College, he took command of 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in the western corridor of Korea, stationed along the DMZ. Returning from that assignment, he became the Chief of Force Readiness at the Pentagon, where they were working to rebuild the “hollow Army” following the end of the Vietnam War. He then served as a Senior Fellow in the Executive Seminar in National and International Affairs in the Foreign Service Institute of the Department of State, working to enhance understanding between the Army and the Department of State. He then completed assignments managing Infantry Colonels at PERSCOM and serving as the Deputy Director of Plans for the United States Pacific Command before returning to Europe in July 1983 to be the Assistant Division Commander for the 3rd Armored Division, tasked with defending the Fulda Gap from the threat of Soviet invasion. In August 1984, he took command of the Berlin Brigade, where he was responsible for defending the city, serving the community commander, and integrating with the French and British, who also controlled sectors of the city. While in that assignment, Major Arthur D. Nicholson, a member of the United States Military Liaison Mission, was killed by the Soviets while on patrol in East Germany, and La Belle Disco was bombed in a terrorist attack. He then took command of the 3rd Armored Division, and his tankers were the first Americans to win the Canadian Army Trophy. His final assignment in the Army was as the Chief of Staff for Allied Forces in Southern Europe. He retired from the Army in June 1991. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, living through the attack on Pearl Harbor, and growing up in post-war Europe. He describes his experiences at West Point, and in various assignments in the Army. He recalls many of the people he served with, and experiences he had at different posts. Finally, he reflects on what his service means to him.


name Thomas N. Griffin
institution USMA
graduation year 1956
service Infantry
unit 3rd Infantry; MACV; 1st Battalion 325th Infantry; USCC; USARV; 7th Infantry Division; 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division; 3rd Armored Division; Berlin Brigade
specialty USMA Tac Officer / Berlin Brigade
service dates 1956 1991