McNair, Lesley James “Whitey”, born on 25-03-1883 in Verndale, Minnesota, the son of James and Clara Manz McNair. He was the second-born of their six children, and the first son. His siblings who lived to adulthood were: sister Nora (1881–1971), the wife of Harry Jessup; brother Murray Manz McNair (1888–1976); and sister Irene (1890–1979), the wife of Harry R. Naftalin. McNair and family in 1943. son Douglas stands at right. Seated (left) are Douglas’s wife Freda and daughter Bonnie Clare. Seated (right) is Clare McNair.
McNair attended school in Verndale through the ninth grade, the highest available locally; his parents then relocated to Minneapolis so McNair and his siblings could complete high school. After graduating from South High School in 1897, he competed successfully for an appointment to the United States Naval Academy. While he was on the Naval Academy waiting list as an alternate, he began studies at the Minnesota School of Business in Minneapolis, where he concentrated primarily on mechanical engineering and statistics courses.
Frustrated with the wait to start at the Naval Academy, in 1900 McNair applied for admission to the United States Military Academy. Initially selected as an alternate in July 1900, he was quickly accepted as a member of the class that began that August. While at West Point, his fellow students nicknamed him “Whitey” for his ash blond hair; they continued to use it with him for the rest of his life. The description of McNair which accompanied the photo of him in West Point’s yearbook for his senior year refers to him as “Pedestrian Whitey” and details an incident when he had to walk from Newburgh to West Point, a distance of 11 miles (18 km), after having missed the last train while returning from visiting his fiancée in New York City; the yearbook also contains an anonymously authored poem, “‘Whitey’s’ Record Walk”, about the same incident.
Several of McNair’s classmates also went on to prominent careers in the Army, including Brigade General George R. Allin , Brigade General Charles School Blakely, Major General Robert M. Danford , Brigade General Pelham Davis Glassford , Brigadier General Edmund Louis “Snitz” Gruber , Major General Henry Conger Pratt , Brigade General Henry Joseph Reilly , General Joseph Warren “Uncle Joe” Stilwell, and Major General Innis Palmer Swift . McNair graduated in 1904, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. The top five or six graduates usually chose the engineer branch; McNair’s high class standing (11th of 124) earned him a place in the second choice of most high-ranking graduates, the artillery branch
He graduated eleventh in a class of 124 from the United states Military Academy and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant of Artillery. When the United States of America entered the First World War, McNair went to France, where he served with the 1st Infantry Division . For his outstanding service, he was awarded both the Distinguished Service Medal and the French Légion d’honneur. McNair was Chief of Staff of GHQ, U.S. Army from July 1940 to March 1942. He was promoted to Major General in September 1940, and temporary Lieutenant General in June 1941. In March 1942, General McNair became Commanding General, Army Ground Forces. His programs for the training and supply of individual replacements to combat units would later face widespread criticism after the U.S. Army invasion of North Africa in 1942, criticism that continued until the end of the war in Europe.
Death and burial ground of McNair, Lesley James “Whitey”.
Leslie McNair, who had already received a Purple Heart (Here hs left arm is in a sling under his shirt) for being wounded in the North African Campaign, was killed in his foxhole July 25, 1944 near Saint-Lô during Operation Cobra, by an errant aerial bomb dropped during a pre-attack bombardment by heavy strategic bombers of the Eighth Air Force . Start point confusion was further compounded by red smoke signals that suddenly blew in the wrong direction, and bombs began falling on the heads of the U.S. soldiers. This happened on both days, with totaling over 100 casualties including Lieutenant General Leslie McNair. General Omar “Brad” Bradley
, his ground forces stymied, had decided to use to break the German lines. 1,500 heavies, 380 medium bombers and 550 fighter bombers dropped 4,000 tons of high explosives and napalm. Bradley was horrified when 77 planes bombed short: The ground belched, shook and spewed dirt to the sky. Scores of our troops were hit, their bodies flung from slit trenches. Doughboys were dazed and frightened….A bomb landed squarely on McNair in a slit trench and threw his body sixty feet and mangled it beyond recognition except for the three stars on his collar. His son, Colonel Douglas Crevier McNair, Chief of Staff of the 77th Infantry Division, nickname “Statue of Liberty” was killed two weeks later on 06-08-1944, age 37, by a sniper on Guam and is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. McNair was not always successful in selecting subordinate commanders with genuine military leadership abilities. He had a natural affinity and very high regard for General Lloyd Fredendall, perhaps the most incompetent U.S. senior battlefield commander of World War II. McNair even included Fredendall on a list of three senior generals he thought capable of commanding all American forces in England. As part of Operation Torch, Fredendall was later sent to North Africa, where he was relieved of command by General Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower
after the debacle at Kasserine Pass. Lesley James McNair is buried on the American war cemetery of Colleville, France, Section F.