James Maurice Gavin, born 113 years ago of yesterday, would rise to become the youngest Major General to command a division in World War II. He led the 82nd Airborne during the D-Day invasion, Operation Market-Garden and the Battle of the Bulge.

He was known “The Jumping General” or “Jumpin’ Jim,” as he would jump into combat with his men, carrying an M-1 rifle, just like the infantrymen did. He was the only officer to make four combat jumps during the war. 

Early Years and Military Service

Gavin was born in Brooklyn, New York. Soon afterward he was placed in an orphanage by his birth mother, an Irish immigrant. He was adopted in 1909 by Martin and Mary Gavin from Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania and given the name James Maurice Gavin.

His father was a hard-working miner, but young James wanted no part of that. As a young man, he was fascinated by and read everything he could about the Civil War. He worked an assortment of odd jobs to help his family make ends meet, but due to a shortage of opportunities, he ran away from home to New York City at the age of 17. 

After wiring his parents that he was fine, he enlisted in the Army, despite being underage, by telling the recruiter that he was an orphan. He was sworn in during early 1924 and was assigned to Panama, where he underwent his basic training with his unit on Ft. Sherman. (Ft. Sherman would later become home to the U.S. Army Jungle Warfare School.) He was assigned as a crew member of a 155mm Coastal Artillery Gun. 

Gavin quickly impressed his First Sergeant with a boundless enthusiasm to learn. The first sergeant made him his assistant and promoted him to corporal. Because he had never graduated high school, his unit got him enrolled in a local army school, where the top graduates had an opportunity to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. 

Gavin was taken under the wing of another mentor, Lieutenant Percy Black, who tutored him on algebra, geometry, English, and history. He passed the exams and was accepted into West Point.

Gavin arrived at West Point as a plebe in the summer of 1925. Because he had missed much of his basic education, he had to work harder than the other cadets, so he would arise at 4:30 every morning and read his books in the bathroom, the only place with enough light to read.