Lt. Col. Benjamin Hays Vandervoort ’38
National Archives USA
One of the most decorated Washington College alumni to fight for his country, Benjamin Hays Vandervoort ’38 (March 3, 1917 – November 23, 1990), earned numerous honors for his bravery in World War II. A famed officer in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, he was one of the few soldiers to be awarded three Distinguished Service Crosses for Bravery in combat, in addition to three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star with Valor. Renowned for his heroics during the Normandy Invasion, Lt. Col. Vandervoort refused to abandon his troops despite breaking his leg during the early morning jump into France. Actor John Wayne portrayed him in the 1962 movie, The Longest Day.
Vandervoort, whose brother also attended Washington College, was a member of the Washington Players drama club, the Y.M.C.A., the Mount Vernon Literary Society, and the football and track teams. He also was an officer in his fraternity, Theta Kappa Nu.
His senior yearbook hailed him as “one of the leaders in the class of ’38: President of the Thetas, President of the Debaters, A letterman in football.”
The same “aggressive influence…in all the many organizations in which he has held membership” in college made him an effective leader in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.
Vandervoort took part in all the Division’s World War II combat jumps, including those at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. He broke his leg during the jump on D-Day but continued fighting, using his rifle as a crutch. He was unstoppable until the winter of 1945, when a fragment of shrapnel struck him in the face, taking his left eye, leaving a hole in his forehead and causing severe sinus damage.Vandervoort was awarded three Distinguished Service Crosses for bravery in combat, three Purple Hearts, and a Bronze Star for valor; he also received honors from France, Holland and Belgium. In 1962, the film The Longest Day, in which he was portrayed by John Wayne, immortalized his heroics on the silver screen.