General Melvin Zais, a native of Fall River, Massachusetts, graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1937 with a Bachelor of Art in Political Science. He began his military career after graduation as a U.S. Army Reserve Second Lieutenant.
He was recalled to active duty in 1940 after a year in civilian life and served at Fort Benning , Georgia where he volunteered for the original paratroop battalion in the Army, the 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion.
After graduation from the Command and General Staff College in 1943, General Zais organized and trained the 3rd Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment and led them into combat in Italy and France. Service as Regimental Executive Officer during combat in Belgium and Germany was followed by command of the Regiment upon its return to Fort Bragg.
General Zais was selected as Brigadier General on June 1, 1964. Between 1964 and 1966, he became Deputy Commanding General, Field Force and Assistant Division Commander of the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam. His second tour in Vietnam was served as Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division and XXIV Corps during the period of July 1968 to June 1970. He assumed command of the Third United States Army at Fort McPherson, Georgia in June 1972 which position he held until June 1973. He was named Commanding General, Allied Land Forces, Southeast Europe, Turkey, effective August 1973 following his promotion to General on July 13th the month prior.
His military decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal on five occasions; the Silver Star twice; the Legion of Merit four times; the Distinguished Flying Cross twice; the Bronze Star Medal; the Joint Service Commendation Medal; the Army Commendation Medal twice; the Purple Heart; and numerous foreign awards and honors.
General Zais had two sons with Marjorie Aileen Emert Zais, Barrie E. and Mitchell M. Zais both of whom are officers in the United States Army. Marjorie Zais passed away and General Zais subsequently married Patricia V. Light at Fort Myer, Virginia, becoming the stepfather of David R. and John P. Light.