Creighton William Abrams, for whom the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank is named, is perhaps best known for being William Westmoreland´s successor as commander of Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), the headquarters controlling United States forces involved in the Vietnam War. During this period, he supervised the draw-down of American forces from over half a million men to less than ten percent of that figure.
Abrams was born on September 15, 1914, in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father worked as a repairman for the Boston & Albany Railroad, and young Creighton was very involved in 4-H; his teachers remembered him as a good student, a dependable boy of firm character. As captain and center of the Agawam High School football team, he led it to a perfect season - no losses, no ties, and no points scored against it. Little surprise, then, that he easily gained an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. He graduated from West Point in the middle of the class of 1936, with a mediocre average and a reputation as a prankster. His record earned him assignment to the Cavalry School at Fort Bliss and posting to the First Cavalry Division from 1936-1940, where he was promoted to first lieutenant in 1939 and (temporary) captain in 1940.
Abrams got in on the ground floor of the Armor Branch, being briefly appointed to a company command in the 1st Armored Division in 1941 before becoming a regimental adjutant,battalion commander, and executive officer in the 37th Armored Regiment of the 4th Armored Division. Concurrent with these promotions, he became a brevet major in March 1943 and was brevetted to lieutenant colonel in September 1943. A reorganization of armored divisions eliminated the armored regiments in favor of separate armored battalions assigned to combat command (brigade) headquarters, and so Abrams took command of the 37th Armored Battalion in late 1943. He would lead the 37th, and later (March 1945) Combat Command B of the 4th Armored Division across Europe, becoming widely known as one of the most aggressive and successful armor commanders in the United States Army.
The 37th Armored Battalion was often the spearhead of Patton's Third Army in its drive across France and into Germany, and was the first unit to break through German lines to relieve the 101st Airborne, which had become besieged in Bastogne during the Germans' Ardennes counteroffensive in December 1944. Despite being equipped with M4 Sherman and M5 Stuart tanks, which were grossly inferior to their German opponents, Abrams and the 37th continually outmaneuvered and outfought the German panzer troops they faced; Arracourt, where the 37th was caught by surprise by a numerically superior German force, was an illustration of Abrams' skill in using terrain and troop quality to overcome the shortcomings of his tanks, and he was awarded the first of his two Distinguished Service Crosses for the battle. Patton himself declared that Abrams was "the best tank commander in the Army". Abrams was brevetted to colonel in April 1945 and assigned to the Army General Staff, but in the postwar demobilization was reduced to his prewar rank of first lieutenant.
Lieutenant Abrams would be promoted to captain in June 1946 after finishing a tour with the War Plans section of Army Ground Forces, and to major in July 1948 after serving as Director of Tactics at the Armor School in Fort Knox. Abrams returned to Europe and tanks in late 1949 when he took command of the 63rd Armored Battalion, 1st Armored Division until 1951, when he was again brevetted to colonel and given command of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment through 1952, after which he went to the Army War College and from there, to Korea, where he filled various corps-level chief of staff positions until 1954 and stateside staff jobs for the remainder of the decade.
Colonel Abrams received his first star in February 1956 before serving three years as assistant chief of staff for reserve components, and his second in June 1960 before taking command of the Third Armored Division. His brigadier general's star was made permanent in 1963, and he was brevetted to lieutenant general in the same year before taking command of V Corps in Germany. He returned to the Pentagon in August 1964 as acting vice chief of staff, was brevetted to full general in September 1964, and given his permanent second star the following year. He would become Westmoreland's second in command at MACV in May 1967, and succeed the old artilleryman in June of 1968.
General Abrams set about changing the way the U.S. Army fought the war against the Communists. Instead of futile thrashing around in the jungles, swamps, and highlands ("Search And Destroy"), the Americans and their ARVN allies would concentrate on protecting the South Vietnamese civilians and blowing the crap out of Communists dumb enough to come after the civilians ("Clear and Hold"). This, and the policy of Vietnamization ("Hey, if we give the ARVN some decent weapons and training, they might actually be able to kick ass!") worked so well that by 1972 the ARVN were able to completely trash a full-scale invasion by the North Vietnamese with only air support from the United States. The success of Vietnamization allowed more American troops to be sent home, and in 1972 Abrams followed them, having acquired a loathing for politicians, especially Robert S. MacNamara and McGeorge Bundy, and an even greater hatred for defense contractors, who he accused of profiteering.
General Abrams was appointed Chief of Staff in June 1972, but his Senate confirmation was delayed until October for political reasons. He began the transition of the Army to an all-volunteer force as the draft was eliminated, and managed to expand it from twelve to sixteen divisions by closing seven headquarters units and streamlining the support services. He died in office in September 1974, succumbing to complications from surgery for lung cancer. He was survived by his wife Julia and six children: three boys and three girls. All his sons grew up to be Army generals themselves; all his daughters married Army officers. The General and his wife are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.