Zais attended the University of New Hampshire and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. In 1937 he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve. In 1940 he was a member of the original Parachute battalion later the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. During World War II, Zais was the commander of the 3rd Battalion and, later, executive officer of the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment, fighting in Italy, in southern France, and in the Battle of the Bulge.
Zais attended the United States Army Command and General Staff College, and was also a graduate of the Armed Forces Staff College, and the National War College. He was promoted to brigadier general on June 1, 1964; major general on May 1, 1967; and lieutenant general on August 1, 1969. He was named Commanding General, Allied Land Forces South-Eastern Europe, Izmir, Turkey, effective August 1973 following his promotion to general on July 13 the month prior.
Zais' assignments included Commander, 1st Infantry Division, United States Army, Vietnam, 1966; Director of Individual Training, Office, Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 1966–68, during this time he led the army liaison team responsible for the involvement of Federal troops in suppressing the April 1968 Baltimore riot;:320-2 Commanding General, 101st Airborne Division (then designated as Airmobile), Vietnam, 1968–69. He led the 101st Airborne Division in the Battle of Hamburger Hill against the People's Army of Vietnam. He then became the Commanding General, XXIV Corps, Vietnam, 1969–70.
After returning from Vietnam, Zais served Director for Operations, J-3, Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, D.C., 1970–72 and as Commanding General, Third United States Army from 1972 to 1973.
On August 1, 1973 Zais was promoted to the rank of four-star general and appointed as Commander, Allied Land Forces South-Eastern Europe. He held the position until his retirement on May 31, 1976. Zais died on May 5, 1981 in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Awards and decorations
|Combat Infantryman Badge|
|Basic Army Aviator Badge|
|Master Combat Parachutist Badge with one bronze jump star|
|Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge|
|Army Staff Identification Badge|
|Vietnam Master Parachutist Badge|
|101st Airborne Division Shoulder Sleeve Insignia|
|9 Overseas Service Bars|
- Scheips, Paul (2005). The Role of Federal Military Forces in Domestic Disorders, 1945–1992 (PDF). US Army Center of Military History. ISBN 9781517253783. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Josh Barbanel (1981-05-07). "GEN. MELVIN ZAIS, 64, FORMER NATO CHIEF FOR SOUTHEAST EUROPE – Obituary". United States: NYTimes.com. Retrieved 2012-02-14.
- Third Army Website – Commander Biographies
- University of New Hampshire Army ROTC website – Distinguished Alumni
|| Commanding General of the Third United States Army
Olinto M. Barsanti
| Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division