Encompassing three wars and dramatic confrontations with the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, the career of Frederick “Fritz” Kroesen Jr. showed unparalleled dedication to the causes of freedom, national security, and American world leadership. Kroesen RC’44, CC’80, who achieved the rank of Army four-star general, passed away on April 30 at the age of 97.
Kroesen was born in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, in 1923 and grew up in Trenton. An avid equestrian and Boy Scout, he won ribbons at horse shows and worked in the stables at the New Jersey National Guard 112th Field Artillery Battery. At Rutgers, he majored in agriculture (earning a second bachelor’s degree decades later), rowed varsity crew, and entered the ROTC program.
Enlisting as a private, Kroesen attended Infantry Officer Candidate School and graduated as a second lieutenant before being sent to Europe in World War II. He led combat troops as a platoon and company commander in France and Germany, as a battalion commander in Korea, and as a brigade commander in Vietnam.
Following that conflict, Kroesen rose through the ranks to command the 82nd Airborne Division and serve as Army vice chief of staff. In 1979, he was promoted to commanding general of U.S. Army troops in Western Europe and NATO’s central army group. Headquartered in Heidelberg, West Germany, he oversaw the duties of more than 200,000 soldiers.
In September of 1981, terrorists affiliated with East Germany fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Kroesen’s armored car. His wife, Rowene, was in the car with him, along with the driver and another officer, but no one was seriously injured and only the rear of the vehicle sustained heavy damage. Kroesen described the attack years later in an interview for the Rutgers Oral History Archives, saying, “My wife reacted probably better than any of the rest of us in the car.”
Completing his active service in 1983, Kroesen remained engaged with military and security issues throughout his retirement. He performed high-level consulting work and authored an impressive number of articles for Army publications. His writings are compiled in an anthology first published in 2003 and reissued five years later.
In 1984, Rutgers presented Kroesen with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. In 1993, he was inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni, the highest honor given to the university’s graduates. The award celebrates alumni whose lives and accomplishments have improved the human condition and bettered the world.
“General Kroesen led a life of service and dedication to his country,” said Rutgers University President Robert Barchi. “His distinguished career spanned major turning points in American and global history, and his achievements bring great honor to the Rutgers community. When we say that Rutgers students and alumni bring positive change to the world, General Kroesen’s leadership is among the finest examples of what we mean.”