After a winding military career that took him and his family all over the world, Maj. Gen. Neal Creighton, former commanding general of Fort Riley and 1st Infantry Division, recently died with his wife, Joan, beside him.
The family said Creighton, who died on Sept. 15, will be buried at West Point at a later date.
Born in 1930 in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Creighton followed in the military footsteps of his father, who was a career Army Air Corps officer that served in World War II.
When Creighton graduated from Chapel Hill High School, he attended Sullivan’s Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., before joining the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, with the class of 1953.
He married his wife, Joan Hicks, in 1958 while stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky. Creighton went on to attend the University of Madrid, Spain, and gained his master’s degree in foreign languages from Middlebury College in Vermont.
Creighton served as a faculty member at the U.S. Military Academy from 1960 to 1963, first as an instructor then assistant professor of Spanish. He and Joan adopted their daughter Linda while at West Point, then had Lisa and Neal while in Panama.
When he graduated from West Point, Creighton served 31 years in the military, eventually rising to the rank of major general.
In December 1982, Creighton became the commanding general of Fort Riley, coming off a stint as deputy chief of staff for the Allied Central Europe headquarters in the Netherlands.
Though it was his first time at Fort Riley then, Creighton had served with the 1st Infantry Division as a combat veteran in Vietnam in the ’60s and as commander of the division’s European-based forward element.
On March 15, 1984, Edward Seaton, then-publisher of The Mercury, wrote in an editorial crediting Creighton, who was leaving for a post with the Department of Defense, for helping forge relationships between the military and surrounding communities.
“Few Fort Riley commanders in recent years have won such respect from political and social leaders in Kansas as has this two-star general,” Seaton wrote. “The military’s role in American life is a distinctive one, and one that not every general is able to integrate so frictionlessly into the tapestry of the civilian communities that embrace a military installation. This two-star general set a new standard for understanding, cooperation, friendliness, and joint existence that certainly has no finer example in the entire military establishment.”
While his career took him all over world — from a role in the Panama Canal negotiations to helping establish the National Training Center in California — and had him serving in several military leadership positions, Creighton wrote in his 2008 autobiography, “A Different Path: The Story of an Army Family,” that Fort Riley played a memorable part in his life as he retired from the Army not long after his posting there.
“I really can’t think of a better assignment to retire from than from being commander of the First Infantry Division,” Creighton wrote in the book. “It was a real culmination of my time in the Army. It was a pinnacle that I never imagined I would reach.”
After his military service, Creighton became president and CEO of the McCormick Foundation in Chicago, Illinois, in 1986. The foundation sponsored and built the 1st Infantry Division Museum in Wheaton, Illinois, during Creighton’s time.
During Creighton’s tenure, McCormick provided matching funds to support the YES! Fund in Manhattan.
The fund’s grants are given annually and support before- and after-school activities for Manhattan area youth.
Afterward, Creighton served as the interim president of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri; executive director of The Liberty Memorial Project (now known as the National World War I Museum) in Kansas City, Missouri; and campaign director of the fundraising effort to build the National Museum of the U.S. Army, which is scheduled to open later this year in Washington, D.C.
Creighton’s son, Neal Creighton Jr., said his father always led the family with hope in mind, even as his health deteriorated. He recalled his father attending and supporting numerous sporting events, taking them on family vacations and showing him how to not take life so seriously and take care of his own family.
“I remember you encouraging me to never quit and enrolled me in team sports so I could learn to compete and work with others — but most importantly to never give up,” Neal wrote to his father this past Father’s Day. “This served me well in life at West Point, Ranger School, Desert Storm and all the business adversity in life. In these things, I never quit and led a much richer life because of you. Thank you for teaching me.”
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