(Reuters) - The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during former president Ronald Reagan's administration, General John W. Vessey Jr., died on Thursday night, the New York Times reported. He was 94.
Vessey's daughter, Sarah Vessey Krawczyk, confirmed the former four-star general's death at his home in North Oaks, Minnesota to the newspaper.
Vessey was born in Minneapolis and enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard aged 16 as a motorcycle rider, before graduating from high school, according to the Joint Chiefs website.
He was in the 34th infantry division during World War Two in North Africa and was later sent to Korea and Germany. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for defending a military base in Vietnam in March 1967.
About 15 years later, Vessey became the 10th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the senior ranking members of the U.S. armed forces.
During his tenure from 1982 to 1985, there was an increased emphasis on defense in space among the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believing it possible to defend against nuclear weapons from space within the next century. Reagan seized on the idea and U.S. Space Command was launched in September 1985, according to the Joint Chiefs website.
Vessey retired in 1985 and went on to serve under presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton as a special emissary to Vietnam over the issue of military members missing from the Vietnam War.
He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1992.
"We have had a lot of famous generals who have been in the public eye, and I think rightly so — MacArthur, Eisenhower, Bradley," Vessey told The New York Times in 1984.
"I am not in that category. They don't need to see me. What they want me to do is to make sure that the armed forces of the United States are as effective as we can make them."
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Dominic Evans)