Skip to main content

Time Period: World War II and Vietnam War

Major General Ben Sternberg, USA is known for his combat leadership during World War II in North Africa, for which he received a DSC and other awards.

Born in Starke, Florida in 1914, Ben Sternberg enlisted in the Florida National Guard in 1930 before moving to the Army and studying at West Point. After graduation and receiving his commission in 1938, he quickly promoted to lieutenant colonel and was sent overseas to command the 2d Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division in North Africa.

Then-LTC Sternberg saw heavy action against the Germans, and was awarded a number of medals for his clear-headed and courageous leadership under fire. Sternberg’s DSC citation, received after the 1943 Battle of El Guettar, reads as follows:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Lieutenant Colonel (Infantry) Ben Sternberg (ASN: 0-21286), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Commanding Officer, 2d Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces from 23 to 25 March 1943, near El Guettar, Tunisia. In a determined effort to destroy the preliminary American offensive in this sector, more than 200 enemy tanks, halftracks and armored vehicles attacked the 1st Infantry Division at dawn on 23 March. Lieutenant Colonel Sternberg, at great personal risk and with complete disregard of danger to himself, immediately circulated throughout his battalion area, exposing himself to severe enemy machine gun, mortar and artillery fire in the treeless terrain in order to shift critical positions, stiffen resistance and personally direct local counter-attacks. When the battalion was once more subjected to furious enemy assault, Lieutenant Colonel Sternberg stimulated his troops by his own example to such determined resistance that the enemy was beaten off and the position held intact. The indomitable courage and initiative displayed by Lieutenant Colonel Sternberg inspired his command to greater efforts and aided materially in the success of the mission.

Shortly after this battle, Sternberg and his battle-hardened men were sent to Sicily, where they led the 2/18th Infantry as it captured the Ponto Olivio Airfield. He was awarded other medals, including a Silver Star (“for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy”), the Legion of Merit, and Bronze Star with two Bronze Star Clusters.

After the war, Sternberg returned stateside, where he taught at General and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth and West Point until he was sent to Korea from 1953-1954 to command the 5th Regimental Combat Team at 8th Army Headquarters.

During his service as a J-1 Manpower and Personnel Directorate, Military Assistance Command in Vietnam, he was promoted to the rank of major general. In that position, Sternberg was vocal about the need for more support in Vietnam, saying in 1965 that 500,000 more troops were needed to properly and successfully wage the war; expressing the possibility that the US would not be able to win the conflict outright.

In July 1966, while he was stationed at Ft. Campbell to lead the 101st Airborne, Sternberg was chosen to escort President Lyndon B Johnson in a tour around the base. In Johnson’s opening remarks to the troops regarding the ongoing conflict in Vietnam, he acknowledged Gen Sternberg and his wife, Elsie. The president went on to say:

Never have the people of this country had more justification for pride, nor more reason to be grateful, than they have today because of men like you. Their sons have joined a conflict as difficult and demanding, against an enemy as tough and resilient, as any American arms have ever faced in our long past history. And they have more than matched every hostile unit that they have ever encountered.

In 1971, Sternberg commanded the 25th Infantry Division in Honolulu. He retired as a major general and lived out the rest of his life in Hawaii.

The Sternbergs had a son, Ben Jr., two grandchildren, and a great-grandchild. Maj Gen Sternberg passed away in 2004 at 89 years old and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of the Jewish American Warrior.