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General Frank Besson
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     General Frank S. Besson, Jr.

 

Frank Schaffer Besson, Jr. was born 30 May 1910 in Detroit, Michigan to Frank Schaffer Besson and Virginia Koehler Besson. As the first male child born to a classmate of the West Point Class of 1909 (his father's class), he won the Class Cup (shown in photo). The Cup was cast from class members' sterling silver Cadet napkin rings.

 

Photo of baby Besson with silver cup.

Besson entered the United States Military Academy, West point, and is shown in this photo with the class of 1909 at their 1929 Reunion.  He graduated in the top ten of his class in 1932, wearing stars for academic excellence.  Upon graduation, an officers' saber was presented to him by the Class of 1909, which he wore as part of his uniform.

class of 1909 photo

In 1940, First Lieutenant Besson was assigned to the Engineer Board at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where he developed new equipment for the support of combat operations.  One of the developments was Pierced Steel Planking (PSP).  Chief of the Army Air Corps, General H.H. "Hap" Arnold was looking for an airfield that could be built in one day, accommodate his heaviest bombers, and easily camouflaged.

Besson's section developed PSP, seen in this later photo from Iran.  The PSP was manufactured in 2 x 8 foot sheets that were hooked together.  Once grass grew through the holes, the runway could not be easily seen from the air, but was strong enough to carry the heavy bombers.

standing on the runway

As a lieutenant colonel in 1943, Besson was assigned as Assistant Director and General Manager of the Third Military Railway Service in Iran, assuming full command in 1944.  His mission was to manage the Iranian State Railroad to get U.S. supplies to Russia.  The railroad was a single track road, winding 1,000 miles from the Persian Gulf through marshlands, rugged mountains and desert to the Iranian-Russian border on the Caspian Sea.

at a desk

Despite language barriers, environmental conditions and other difficulties, the railroad surpassed all previous performance records.  Under his command, more than five million tons of essential war materials were delivered to the Russian Army to help repel the German attack.

He was awarded the Army Legion of Merit for his outstanding work.  The Shah of Iran personally presented him with the Iranian Medal, the Order of Hoymanoun, Second Class.

supervising rail ops in japan

After V-E Day in May 1945, Brigade General Besson was assigned as Deputy Chief Transportation Officer of the Western Pacific, and assumed total control of the railroads in the Eighth Army's assigned zone of occupation. Incoming occupation troops were soon moving throughout northern Japan by rail from shipside to airport.

Besson was promoted in early 1945 to Brigadier General, becoming the youngest BG in the ground forces of World War II.

From 1946-1948, BG Besson was assigned by MacArthur as Director of the Civil Transportation Division, Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers in Japan.  He was responsible for all military water, motor and rail transportation activities in Japan, the Philippines, the Marianas, and Korea.

Among his accomplishments was the establishment of a "depot on wheels," storing in 20,000 rail cars valuable military equipment released by inactivated units.  This equipment, saved from deterioration and loss, was later rehabilitated and played an important part in the Korean campaign.  Besson's work in the Pacific earned the praise of General Douglas MacArthur.

BG Besson returned to the U.S. in 1948 and served for nearly five years as Deputy Chief of Army Transportation.

Besson was promoted to Major General in 1950, and assumed command of the U.S. Army Transportation Center and School at Fort Eustis in 1953.  He directed extensive studies to develop new doctrines that would enable the Corps to better cope with the requirements of modern warfare.

His visions involved the routine, rather than the emergency, use of air transportation, employment of express surface transport, full exploitation of special purpose containers, vehicles, material handling equipment and ships of radical design.

General Besson

That aerial tramway and De Long Pier were tested at Fort Eustis and in France during the early 1950s.

tramway at what is now Busch Gardens

 

He pioneered many concepts aimed at injecting greater speed and efficiency into the transportation system. he used containerization, roll-on/roll-off vessels, and improved amphibious vessels, such as the 5-ton and 15-ton LARC's and the 60-ton BARC.

The maiden voyage of the BARC (barge, amphibious, resupply, cargo) was at Fort Lawton, Washington in 1952.  BG Besson (inside cab) rides with project engineers from the Transportation Research and Development Station (TRADS).

riding with the BARC maiden voyage

From 1958 to 1962, Besson served as the Chief of Army Transportation. He also traveled worldwide reviewing transportation operations and needs. In this photo are Major General Besson, Lt General A. G. Trudeau and Captain Allard at an Air Force DEWLINE site in Greenland, 1958.

ride with a BARC in Greenland

The photo below shows Besson with a soldier and the commander of Fort Story, Col Thompson, discussing the merits of the BARC, later designated the LARC-60.  Training for the LARC-60 took place at Fort Story until 2001.

ride with a LARC at Ft Story

In 1962, Besson was promoted to Lieutenant General, and became the first chief of the U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC).  AMC represented a major reorganization within the Army, consolidating all seven technical services. Many consider his role in helping establish the AMC, and his six years of service as its first commander, as his most important contribution to the Army.

This photo shows Besson climbing into a helicopter for an aerial tour of the port of Okinawa.

climbing into a helo in Okinawa

 

In 1964, Frank S. Besson, Jr. became the 75th officer in the Army's 189-year history to become a four star general.  He was the first Transportation Corps officer to achieve that rank and also the first to achieve the rank as head of a logistical organization in peacetime.

General Frank Besson with pipe in hand

After retirement in 1969, General Besson was recalled to serve as Chairman of the Joint Logistics Review Board, reporting on worldwide logistic support to U.S. forces during the Vietnam conflict.  In 1970, he was appointed by President Nixon as a founding director and first CEO of the National Rail Passenger Corporation, the operators of AMTRAK.

He was founder and Director of the Board of Services National Bank of Alexandria, Virginia, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Environmental Research Corporation of Fairfax County, Virginia.

General Besson retired in 1970 after more than 37 years of commissioned service, 25 of them as a general officer.  He received many U.S. and foreign awards and decorations, including the Distinguished Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Legion of Merit with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Iranian Order of Homayoun Star, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and the Republic of Korea's Order of the Military Merit, Second Class (Ulchi).

 

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