Wednesday, June 18, 2014



            If asked to name one of the most important, but under-celebrated, American Military leaders of all time, I would posit that Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold is such a figure. Born in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania to a farm family on June 25, 1886, “Harley”, as he was known to his Physician father and other family members entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point at the Age of 17, fulfilling a family tradition of military service.
            Commissioned into the Infantry and serving in that department of the U.S. Army for a time, he caught sight of the French pilot Louis Blériot flying his fragile monoplane while passing through Paris. The spark ignited by that exposure led to the young officer’s request for transfer to the Signal Corps where initial interest in military aeronautics occupied a tiny compartment. Traveling to Dayton, Ohio where the Wright Brothers held classes, the young Lieutenant became one of the first members of the U.S. Army to earn “wings”, being issued Military Aviator certificate No. 2 flying the Wright Model B biplane under the guidance of Wilbur himself.
            Even after the close of World War I – in which Henry helped to shape the infant “flying service” but only got to France himself at the tail end – U.S. Generals and Admirals steeped in long tradition saw only a minor future role for aviation. An early disciple of the outspoken Billy Mitchell, Arnold developed a clear-cut vision of that future, with an almost-devout belief that the victor in any future conflict would  be the protagonist able to gain and maintain air supremacy.
            Unlike Mitchell whose views (later to be proven correct) got him ridiculed by his military foes and finally court-marshaled, Hap Arnold took a different route. With his winning personality, and surrounded by a carefully-crafted network of close friends, like Carl “Tooey” Spatz, Ira Eaker and Jimmy Doolittle, (all of whom were destined to play key roles in the war to come), he quietly carried out a marketing campaign designed to foster a national interest in aviation and the field of aeronautics, and a cadre of recruits for the small but dedicated band of flyers who became the backbone of the Army Flying Corps. With a life-long interest in science and engineering, he made friends with the likes of William E. Boeing, Glen Martin and Donald Douglas, absorbing a keen knowledge of aircraft design and manufacturing, believing that a healthy and vibrant aviation industry was an essential ingredient in the   military capabilities necessary to hold the winning cards in any future conflict.
            These friendships were deep and abiding, and in my view answer the question of how one man was able to accomplish so much in so short a military epic. One of his closest and most enduring friendships was with the man who would become the U.S. Army Chief of Staff and later Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, without whose confidence and support, World War II in the air might have played out very differently. And in the case of Donald Douglas, whose airplanes changed aviation for ever, his daughter would later become the bride of Arnold’s son William Bruce Arnold.
            General Henry “Hap” Arnold was in command of the U.S. Army Air Corps at the outbreak of WWII, and thanks to his foresight, the Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” and B-24
“Liberator” 4-engine bombers were rolling off America’s assembly lines, a reflection of his belief that only by the destruction of an enemy’s industrial capacity would defeat “on the ground” take place. It was Arnold whose imagination spawned the timely Doolittle Raid on Japan at a time when the Allies had tied themselves to a “Europe First” war strategy, and whose commitment to the doctrine of “Daylight Precision” bombing eventually led to the destruction of Germany’s war-making infrastructure, a concept “vetoed” by Winston Churchill but “saved” by its author’s personal persuasiveness in a fierce meeting with the British wartime leader. It was Arnold who fostered the design and construction of the B-29 “Super Fortress” whose utter devastation of Japan’s industrial, manufacturing and transportation resources had spelled the end for the Rising Sun Empire even before the dropping of atomic weapons by those same B-29s.
            By war’s end, the USAAF was flying 63,715 aircraft, and five-star General of the USAAF “Hap” Arnold commanded nearly two-and-a-half million uniformed men and women. That part of his legacy of which he would have been most proud was the creation of what stands even today as the world’s “largest airline”, with 10,456 transport aircraft flying regular passenger and cargo service between bases and depots on six continents.

            The most cherished of all Arnold’s wishes would come true after his retirement, when in September, 1947 a new and independent United States Air Force would be given official life. He would come out of retirement long enough to be presented with a new blue uniform, and to be named General of The Air Force with a five-star rank; the only American officer to have held such rank in two services: General of The Army, and General of The Air Force.
            There was one battle even this warrior could not win. His relentless workload and endless world travel took a heavy toll, with four heart attacks chalked up along the way. General Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold lost his life, every bit a casualty of war, at his ranch in Sonoma, California on January 15, 1950 at the age of 63
            . [Every time I look at my own blue uniform, issued first  in 1950 and hanging proudly in my closet, I whisper a word of thanks to this “god father” of so many of us who have called The U.S. Air Force “Home”.]

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