July 1, 1962
Alva R. Fitch graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1930. The United States was in the midst of the Great Depression, still recovering from the loss of life and innocence that came from their participation in World War I.
At 23, the young 2nd lieutenant couldn’t have imagined another war on a global scale was brewing overseas. When war did come to America, the young captain might have guessed that he would command an artillery battery and later a battalion, but couldn’t have predicted he would spend years as a prisoner of war, watching friends die of exhaustion, starvation, malaria, or just being shot because they were a liability to their captors.
His wife would not know until years later of her husband’s suffering on the Bataan Death March, the cruelty of his captors, the conditions at Cabanatuan Prison in the Philippines, or the terrifying fate of having the ship he was imprisoned aboard bombed and sunk by U.S. Navy aircraft – twice.
Fitch would experience all of these things and more, during a military career which spanned 36 years. And he would live to tell about it.
Following the war, Fitch attended Command and General Staff College and became an instructor there. He then attended the Strategic Intelligence School before serving as the Military Attaché to El Salvador and worked as the chief of the Latin American Section of the G2, Department of the Army, just prior to the Korean War.
This was his first experience in the Intelligence field – but certainly not his last. In fact, Fitch would become known as one of the Pioneers of Army Intelligence for his enduring contribution to the evolution and professionalism of Military Intelligence.
When Maj. Gen. Fitch reported for duty as the deputy assistant chief of staff, intelligence, ACSI, in October 1959, the Army intelligence field was facing a severe personnel problem. A highly decorated veteran of two wars, Fitch knew first-hand the criticality of intelligence to the commander, but he was watching the erosion of the pool of intelligence experience. He was convinced the only solution was to create a separate branch for intelligence.
In an interview after his retirement, Lt. Gen. Fitch described the dire situation and some of his frustrations:
“At the time there was no Regular Army Intelligence Branch, only a Reserve Intelligence Branch. When an intelligence officer came on active duty, he was assigned to one of the active duty branches such as Ordnance, or Quartermaster, or Signal Corps, or whatever. Then, if he was any good, that branch would call him back. Intelligence was manned with 95 or 98 percent Reserve officers who possessed World War II experience. They were approaching their 20-year deadline where they would have to be released. I could see no way of running intelligence once they retired. So, I set about getting a Regular Army Intelligence Branch organized and approved.
I ran into all sorts of difficulties with the staff. Some of the ‘rednecks’ on the staff were opposed to it. They argued that we had never had an Intelligence Branch in the Regular Army before and had won two wars, so, they wondered why in the hell did we need one now? It took a lot of work. The disaster that we were facing was obvious, but you couldn’t sell it.”
When Maj. Gen. Fitch took over as the ACSI in 1961, the Army was finally ready to listen to him. He oversaw the execution of General Order 38 creating the Intelligence and Security Branch on July 1, 1962. The order was signed by Gen. G.H. Decker, chief of staff of the Army. It was a proud moment, but the work had only just begun. In Fitch’s words,
“With a new branch, all of the malcontents who weren’t doing very well in their branches wanted to move. I personally reviewed the records of every single officer we accepted into Army Intelligence just to make sure that that wasn’t happening. The result has been that we’ve got a damn good branch.”
The creation of a separate branch for MI was a key milestone. For nearly two centuries, individuals and organizations had been supporting commanders during wars only to be discontinued, reassigned, or severely cut back when the war ended.
For the first time, MI was a career field. The Army would not have to start over each time there was a need for intelligence, but could rely on the experience and specialized intelligence training of professional MI officers, noncommissioned officers and enlisted Soldiers. Five years after it was created, the Norris Board recommended that the Intelligence and Security Branch be renamed MI Branch, assigning it a combat support role.
Lt. Gen. Fitch graciously acknowledged that he did not create the MI Branch singlehandedly or in a single moment. He credited Gen. Maxwell Taylor, the Army’s chief of staff in the 1950s, for accepting that in peacetime, intelligence was the only active branch and the only one in contact with the enemy. Taylor supported the MI Branch effort, dedicating money for research and development.
Decker activated the branch, solving much of the personnel problem. Gen. Harold Johnson, who succeeded Decker, pulled everything together when he appointed the Norris Board. To quote Lt. Gen. Fitch, “From somewhere between 1950 and 1965, 1966, or 1967, maybe 1968, intelligence went from being the Army’s orphaned stepchild to becoming a branch of considerable importance.”
For his role in the creation of the MI Branch, Lt. Gen. Fitch was inducted into the MI Hall of Fame in 1988. Fitch Auditorium in Alvarado Hall was memorialized in his honor in 1991.