21 December, 2018
After Trump said he'd nominate Mattis for the top Pentagon job, the late Senator John McCain hailed him as "one of the finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops".
Many observers and critics of the president had long believed that Mattis was one of the key figures in the administration protecting the country from Trump's worst ideas and plans.
He also signposted his utter frustration at Trump's decision on Wednesday - against the advice of his defence secretary - to order the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria.
Speculation that Mattis might not last long in his post grew in October when Trump said in a CBS interview the general was "sort of a Democrat" and might be leaving.
What added to the consternation was the list of grievances Mattis detailed in a remarkable letter Thursday, in which he said he and Trump had differing views on countering Russian and Chinese authoritarianism, as well as the utility and importance of alliances across the globe.
Born in Pullman, Washington, Mattis enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1969, later earning a history degree from Central Washington University.
But news of his departure, which he broke to stunned Pentagon staff earlier in the afternoon after meeting with Trump at the White House, still came as a shock to Washington.
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En route to his first visit to Iraq as defense secretary, Mattis bluntly rebuffed Trump's assertion that America might take Iraqi oil as compensation for US efforts in the war-torn country. "I don't know if it was specifically Syria", the official said.
The men have previously clashed on numerous other issues - including the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump pulled out of in May while Mattis defended parts of it. Trump withdrew from the agreement in May.
The Pentagon chief was also against the creation of a separate new branch of the United States military called Space Force, but Trump ordered it anyway.
The Pentagon chief was also against the creation of a separate new branch of the United States military called Space Force, but Trump ordered it anyway. In reality, it was clear Mattis quit.
It would be a Christmas miracle if the Trump administration didn't have a staff shake-up before the end of the year.
He acted as a robust campaigner for Trump during the presidential campaign, often leading chants of "lock her up" against Hillary Clinton for alleged crimes in mishandling confidential data and other unsubstantiated claims. "Instead we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defence, including providing effective leadership to our alliances". He said the country must also be "clear-eyed" about threats including from groups such as the Islamic State.
Mattis, who has been nicknamed "Mad Dog" for his combative attitude, said his last day at the Pentagon will be February 28.
In an administration infamous for leaks and turmoil, Mattis' reticence to create controversy generated extra scrutiny the few times he appeared to subtly criticize the political climate in the U.S. "Secretary Mattis has been an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration".