When the U.S. declared war on Japan, Germany and their allies in December 1941, one of the greatest military challenges was thrust on a general who claimed Fargo as his hometown.

Adjutant General James Ulio had the responsibility of quickly building an army large enough to simultaneously fight wars in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific. At the time, the U.S. Army had "about 200,000 soldiers" — and it was Ulio's responsibility to expand the Army into a fighting force that would number in the millions. Largely because of this, author Alan Mesches gave much of the credit for the allied victory to Gen. Ulio.

Unlike most of the other generals in the Army, Ulio did not attend college. However, he was intelligent, resourceful, diligent in his work and, perhaps most importantly, he grew up in a military environment. Ulio's father was an Army officer and the family lived on Army bases. From 1901 to 1911, Ulio Sr. led the ROTC program at the North Dakota Agricultural College (NDAC, now North Dakota State University).

James Alexander Ulio was born June 29, 1882, at Fort Walla Walla in Washington Territory to James and Caroline "Carrie" (Kohlhauff) Ulio. James Ulio Sr. was a first lieutenant who had served in the Army since 1855, and Ulio Jr. received his elementary education in Walla Walla. One of his good friends at the fort was Jonathan Wainwright, who was one year younger and, as a major general, was a celebrated World War II hero.

In order to obtain his high school education, Ulio Jr. traveled with his mother to Fort Keogh, near Miles City, Mont., where he attended Custer County High School for ninth through 11th grade. He completed his high school education at Washington School in Miles City and, shortly after graduation in 1900, Ulio decided to join the Army, preferably as an officer. He traveled with his mother to Butte, Mont., to take the West Point entrance examination, and he passed, “but only secured an alternative nomination.”

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Ulio returned to Fort Keogh and enlisted on Sept. 1, 1900, and was assigned to the 10th Infantry and moved up in the ranks from private to corporal and eventually he was appointed to battalion sergeant major. Determined to become an officer, Ulio took a “competitive examination" at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and because of his high score, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry on October 10, 1904, and sent to Fort Brady, Mich., near Sault Sainte Marie.

James Ulio Sr. as seen in the 1903 North Dakota Agricultural College yearbook. Special to The Forum
James Ulio Sr. as seen in the 1903 North Dakota Agricultural College yearbook. Special to The Forum

Meanwhile, Olio’s family had relocated to Fargo where, in 1901, James Sr. was appointed professor of military science and tactics at NDAC. Military instruction was provided at the college since 1892, and all but one of the earlier instructors also taught academic classes. In 1897, Lt. C. G. French was assigned by the War Department to head up a military science department at NDAC. On April 1, 1900, the War Department replaced French with Ulio.

James Sr., for the first time, established a set curriculum for the students. When James Jr. was on leave or between assignments, he often spent much of his time in Fargo with his parents. He must have established a number of friends in Fargo because when he returned in 1942, the Bismarck Tribune reported that Ulio “came back to the old hometown and neighborhood. Back to where folks called him ‘Jim,’ and were proud of the hometown boy.”

For the rest of his military career, James Jr. always referred to Fargo as his home. When his father died in 1912, classes at NDAC were called off the afternoon of the funeral, and “a three-volley round (of a cannon) was part of the military honors.” After his mother, Carrie, died in 1927, Ulio’s trips to Fargo became less frequent.

In 1906, Ulio Jr. was assigned to the 1st Infantry Regiment and sent to the Philippines. After the Spanish-American War in 1898, the U.S. claimed the Philippine Islands from Spain. However, many of the country’s inhabitants wanted independence and fighting broke out between Philippine guerillas and American soldiers. When the guerilla revolt ended in 1908, Ulio returned to the U.S. and was assigned to the Vancouver Barracks in Vancouver, Wash.

On March 11, 1911, Ulio was promoted to first lieutenant and sent to the Schofield Barracks and Fort Shafter, both in Honolulu, Hawaii. On March 14, 1916, Ulio went to El Paso, Texas, to help protect Americans who lived close to the Mexican border from attacks by the followers of Pancho Villa. While there, Ulio was promoted to captain.

James A. Ulio as seen in 1940. Public Domain / Photo by Harris & Ewing / Wikimedia Commons
James A. Ulio as seen in 1940. Public Domain / Photo by Harris & Ewing / Wikimedia Commons

After Congress declared war on Germany on April 4, 1917, Ulio was sent to Camp McClellan in Alabama and on Aug. 19 was promoted to the temporary rank of major and served as adjutant to the 29th Division. In March 1918, he embarked to France and attended the Army General Staff College. On May 31, Ulio was assigned to the headquarters of the 35th Division where he served as Assistant Chief of Staff for Personnel. Future President Harry S. Truman served as a battery commander with the 35th.

On Sept. 10, American forces under the command of Gen. John J. Pershing and with the assistance of 110,000 French soldiers attacked the Germans at the St. Mihiel salient in France. This was the first large offensive launched mainly by the U.S., and the American and French troops were victorious.

The 35th Division was involved in the battle and, during the battle, Ulio was busy evacuating and feeding French citizens. For his action, Ulio was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal from the U.S., the French Legion of Honor from France and the Order of the Crown from Italy. On Sept. 9, Ulio was promoted to lieutenant colonel (temporary).

The Armistice was signed on Nov. 11, ending the war, and Ulio remained in Germany as part of the occupation force until August 1919. He then went to Armenia as chief of staff of the American Relief Administration in that county. After the war, he returned to the rank of captain, but was promoted to major on July 1, 1920.

From 1920 to 1922, Ulio served in the Office of the Adjutant General in Washington, D.C., where his duties focused on assuring veterans of their benefits and reducing delays. In 1923, after spending six months in Greece as an administrator for the American Red Cross, Ulio was transferred to Fort Jay on Governors Island in New York City. For his appreciated work with the Red Cross, Ulio was given awards from Greece, Montenegro, Serbia and Panama.

In 1926, he returned to Washington, D.C., to again work for the Adjutant Director and, on Nov. 13, 1927 Ulio was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In 1930 and 1931, Ulio spent nine months at the Command General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he was reunited with his old friend, Jonathan Wainwright. Following graduation he returned to the Office of Adjutant General, and from 1931 to 1933, Ulio served as a junior military aide-de-camp, first to President Herbert Hoover, and then to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

From 1933 to 1934, Ulio attended the Army War College at the Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania where once again his classmate was Wainwright, along with Omar Bradley, Ulysses S. Grant III and Lewis Hershey.

We will conclude the story of James A. Ulio next week.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@gmail.com.