Born in Washington, DC on July 2, 1898, McAuliffe was a student at West Virginia University from 1916-17, and graduated from West Point in November of 1918. He advanced up through the grades of Second Lieutenant in 1918 to General in 1955.
McAuliffe was serving as Commander of Division Artillery of the 101st Airborne Division when he parachuted into Normandy on D-Day. In December of 1944, due to the absence of General Maxwell D. Taylor, McAuliffe was forced to serve as acting Commander of the 101st Airborne Division and its attached troops during the Siege of Bastogne. It was when they became surrounded and the Germans demanded their surrender that he sent back his now-famous reply to the German commander: "NUTS!". His forces were able to hold off the German siege until the 4th Armored Division was able to arrive to provide reinforcement. For his actions, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
Following the war, McAuliffe held many positions, including the Head of the Army Chemical Corps, and G-1, Head of Army Personnel. He returned to Europe as Commander of the 7th Army in 1953, and Commander-in-Chief of the United States Army in Europe in 1955.
In 1956 he retired from the Army, and worked for Cyanamid Corporation from 1956-63. He served as chairman of the New York State Civil Defense Commission during 1960-63. He resided in Chevy Chase, Maryland until his death on August 11, 1975, and is buried along with his wife and son in Arlington National Cemetery.