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Bernard Rogers

U.S. Army Chief of Staff, NATO Commander.  Born: July 16, 1921, Fairview, Kansas.  Died: October 27, 2008, Falls Church, Virginia.

In December 1966 the Army helicopter set down at Quan Loi, the First Infantry Division's outpost just 15 miles from the Cambodian border. The division's assistant commander stepped out to begin his tour of inspection and for two-and-one-half hours, the general circulated among the men, interviewing officers and sergeants, but especially privates, his most often asked question: "Is there anything I can do, for you?" Bernard Rogers of Fairview, Kansas, was that general and, from his position as captain of the cadet corps at West Point to Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces in Europe, his concern for the welfare of the common soldier was a hallmark of his career.

Born in 1921, Rogers attended high school in Fairview and spent a year at Kansas State University before receiving an appointment to West Point. His reputation there as a "bright and promising young officer" won him, in 1946, the position of aide to General Mark Clark, commander of the American forces in Austria. In 1947 Rogers received a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University and by 1954 had received both a bachelor's and master's degree in philosophy, politics, and economics from that institution. Between periods of education and endeavor, Rogers served in Korea, earning a Bronze Star of Valor.

Advancements came swiftly for Rogers and, while serving in Vietnam with the First Infantry Division, he received his first general's star.

It was while serving as commander of the 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Fort Carson, Colorado, in 1969 that Rogers gained attention for his reform program to make army training more meaningful for the common soldier and improve communication between officers and enlisted personnel. He eliminated KP duties, early morning formations, and roll calls, and "G.I. parties" to scrub barracks for Saturday inspection. He established councils for junior officers and for enlisted personnel to air grievances and encourage suggestions, and worked toward resolution of race and drug problems on base. His liberal innovations were credited with stimulating substantial reenlistments at Fort Carson.

He received his fourth star in 1974 and in 1976 was given command of Armed Forces Command at Fort McPherson, Georgia, where he had authority over all army units in the United States. In 1979, General Bernard Rogers became Supreme Allied Commander in Europe of the l6-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization, commanding four million troops and assuming the chief burden for determining under battlefield pressures what the allied military response toward a Soviet-sponsored invasion of Europe would be. General Rogers concentrated his efforts in developing a "Flexible Response" policy--decreasing NATO's dependence on nuclear armaments by building up conventional forces.

Bernard Rogers received many awards and recognitions of his service, including the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star. He has been variously described as "brilliant," "complex," "poised," "elitist," and dedicated to the West Point tradition. But General DeWitt Smith, commandant of the Army War College, described him this way: "Deep down, I think Bernie Rogers is still a small town boy from the Midwest. He still talks about Kansas, and Kansas is still with him. There's a directness, a frankness, an understanding that little people count as well as big people. He still has his feet in the dirt and he's proud of it."

He was named the Native Sons and Daughters' Kansan of the Year in 1984. In 1987 Rogers criticized the Reagan administration because he felt an arms control agreement was being rushed. In turn, he was strongly rebuked by Secretary of State George P. Shultz, provoking Rogers' resignation and retirement.  He died October 27, 2008, in Falls Church, Virginia.

Entry: Rogers, Bernard

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2003

Date Modified: August 2013

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