Ernie Cheatham

Ernest Clifford Cheatham Jr. (July 27, 1929 – June 14, 2014) was a United States Marine Corps officer, a veteran of the Korean War and the Vietnam War, a recipient of the Navy Cross,[1] and American football defensive tackle who played for the Baltimore Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ernest Clifford Cheatham Jr.
Nickname(s)Big Ernie
Born(1929-07-27)July 27, 1929
Long Beach, California
DiedJune 14, 2014(2014-06-14) (aged 84)
Virginia Beach, Virginia
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service1952–88
RankUS-O9 insignia.svg Lieutenant General
Commands held1st Marine Division
1st Marine Amphibious Force
4th Marine Amphibious Brigade
2nd Battalion, 5th Marines
Battles/warsKorean War
Vietnam War
AwardsNavy Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Ernie Cheatham
No. 79, 66
Position:Defensive tackle
Personal information
Height:6 ft 4 in (1.93 m)
Weight:255 lb (116 kg)
Career information
High school:St. Anthony High School
College:Loyola Marymount
NFL Draft:1951 / Round: 21 / Pick: 248
Career history
Career NFL statistics
Games played:6
Player stats at PFR

Early life and educationEdit

He was born on 27 July 1929 in Long Beach, California, the son of Ernest Clifford Cheatham, Sr. and Orissa Adams Cheatham.

American Football CareerEdit

Cheatham played college football at Loyola Marymount University for the Loyola Marymount Lions team. After college, he was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 248th pick, round 21 of the 1951 NFL Draft. Before playing in the NFL, Cheatham served in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War. After the war, in 1954, he played a total of 6 games in his NFL career, 4 for the Steelers, and 2 for the Baltimore Colts.[2]

Military careerEdit

Korean WarEdit

Cheatham put his NFL career on hold to serve in the Marine Corps during the Korean War.

Vietnam WarEdit

Lt Col Cheatham served as commander of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines during the Vietnam War.[3]

On 2 February 1968 Cheatham was at Phu Bai Combat Base when he was ordered into Huế to take command of his companies already engaged in the Battle of Hue. Before leaving for Huế, Cheatham reviewed Marine urban fighting doctrine which recommended staying off the streets and moving forward by blasting through walls and buildings. He proceeded to gather the necessary equipment including M20 Bazookas, M40 106mm recoilless rifles mounted on M274 Mules, C-4 explosive, flamethrowers, tear gas and gas masks. This equipment was loaded onto a convoy which arrived at the MACV Compound at 1 pm on 3 February, Cheatham then joined his company commanders in Huế University and they proceeded to develop the tactics to be used in recapturing southern Huế. Cheatham led his forces as they methodically cleared the Viet Cong and People's Army of Vietnam forces from the western area of southern Huế.[4]

He was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism leading 2/5 Marines during the battle. His Navy Cross citation reads:

"The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to as Colonel [then Lieutenant Colonel] Ernest C. Cheatham, Jr. (MCSN: 0-58120), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion, Fifth Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced)", Fleet Marine Force, in the Republic of Vietnam from 3 February to 3 March 1968.

"During Operation Hue City, Colonel Cheatham led his battalion in extremely heavy house-to-house fighting against a numerically superior North Vietnamese Army force. Advancing through the city on 4 February to assault the well-fortified Treasury Building/Post Office complex, his unit came under intense fire from concealed enemy positions. The enemy resistance halted the Marines' advance during two days of bitter fighting. Nevertheless, Colonel Cheatham remained steadfast in his determination to secure the enemy stronghold. Skillfully deploying a 106-mm. recoilless rifle squad into advantageous firing positions, he personally pinpointed the targets with M-16 tracer rounds and directed accurate fire on the enemy, which significantly reduced the pressure on his assaulting force. Completely disregarding his own safety, he joined the assaulting unit and aggressively led his men in routing the North Vietnamese from their entrenched positions. While proceeding through the city on 6 February, he organized his battalion for an assault on the enemy-held Provincial Headquarters Building. Ignoring the hostile fire all around him, he directed his men to covered positions while he fearlessly advanced to an exposed position from which he could locate the sources of enemy fire. Calling an M50 Ontos forward, he directed effective suppressive fire on the enemy and then courageously led his unit as it continued the assault. Colonel Cheatham's dynamic and heroic leadership and his unflagging example inspired all who observed him and contributed greatly to the defeat of the enemy and to their subsequent withdrawal from the city. His dauntless courage and unfaltering devotion to duty upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."[1]

Post VietnamEdit

He was promoted to Colonel in 1973 and Brigadier general in 1977. He served as the Commanding General, Landing Force Training Command, Atlantic and Commanding General, 4th Marine Amphibious Brigade.

He was promoted to Major general in 1981 and on 13 August 1982 assumed command of the 1st Marine Division from MajGen James L. Day.[5] He would command the division until 13 June 1985.

He served as the Commanding General 1st Marine Amphibious Force, Camp Pendleton, California.

He was promoted to Lieutenant general in June 1985 and served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower at Headquarters Marine Corps until his retirement in January 1988. In 1987 Cheatham was considered as a potential successor to replace General Paul X. Kelley as Commandant of the Marine Corps, however LtGen Alfred M. Gray Jr. was ultimately selected.[6]

See alsoEdit

Military offices
Preceded by Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division
August 13, 1982 – June 13, 1985
Succeeded by


  1. ^ a b "Valor awards for Ernest C. Cheatham , Jr". Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  2. ^ "Ernie Cheatham NFL Football Statistics". Pro-Football-Reference. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  3. ^ Shulimson, Jack; LtCol. Leonard Blasiol; Charles R. Smith; Capt. David A. Dawson (1997). U.S. Marines in Vietnam: 1968, the Defining Year. History and Museums Division, USMC. p. 110. ISBN 0-16-049125-8.
  4. ^ Bowden, Mark (2017). Huế 1968: A turning point of the American war in Vietnam. Atlantic Monthly Press. pp. 239–43. ISBN 9780802127006.
  5. ^ Major General Ernest C. Cheatham Jr. takes command of the 1ST Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, as he receives the division colors and relieves Major General James L. Day, right. Series: Combined Military Service Digital Photographic Files, 1921 - 2008. National Archives. 13 August 1982. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  6. ^ John H. Cushman Jr. (5 June 1987). "Activist General in line for top Marine post". The New York times. Retrieved 12 November 2018.