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Gen. Henry 'Hap' Arnold, American hero

Monday, October 11, 2010

Henry "Hap" Arnold, a real American hero, was born in 1886, in Gladwyne Pennsylvania. He is the only man ever to hold the rank of 5-Star General in both the Army and the Air Force, but his route to the Air Force was a strange one. His father was a well-known physician in Pennsylvania who also served in the Pennsylvania National Guard. His father had enough clout with the military authorities that he was able to get young Hap appointed to West Point in 1903. While at West Point he was an indifferent student, better known as being one of the leaders of "The Black Hand Society" (a group of pranksters who were not at all in the good graces of the Army Brass) than he was as a model cadet. He rather favored being assigned to the cavalry after graduation, but his grades were such that he was fortunate even to graduate as an infantryman, in 1907.

It didn't take long for Arnold to feel a real dislike for the infantry, and when a chance arose to join a Capt. Arthur Cowen of the Signal Corps, in a project to map the Island of Luzan, in the Philippines, he jumped at the chance.

In 1911, Arnold and another officer, Lt. Milling, became the first two Army Signal Corps Officers to learn to fly. They were ordered to Dayton, Ohio, where their instructors were Wilbur and Orville Wright. Arnold made his solo flight after thee hours 48 minutes of instruction. Milling soloed after only two hours flight time.

Arnold and Milling became the Army's first flight instructors, at College Park, Maryland. At the time the Army had only two airplanes. It was here that Arnold set several altitude records, the last at 6,450 feet, in August 1911. In 1912, he was awarded the MacKay Trophy (the first), for the most outstanding military flight of the year. (Note: This is the same honor that McCook's Capt. Dick Trail received in 1967.) But it was also during this time that Hap Arnold suffered his first plane crash, and another near fatal crash within a short time of each other. He also learned that several of his close friends had been killed in plane crashes. Those events left Arnold with a phobia against flying. He grounded himself and accepted a desk job with the Signal Corps. He transferred to the Infantry and duty in the Philippines, where he became a close friend of then Lt. George Catlett Marshall. He did not fly again for four years.

In 1914, Arnold was returning to the United States from the Philippines when, during a stop in Hawaii, he got a telegram from Major Wm. "Billy" Mitchell, urging him to join him in the Air Arm of the Signal Corps.

Arnold did return to the Signal Corps, but his road back to flying was long and painful. He worked to overcome his strong fear of flying with extra duty volunteer flying during his off time, for only 15-20 minutes a day, for several months. Finally, in late November 1916, he flew solo for the first time in four years. By December he was doing acrobatic maneuvers in his plane.

When the United States entered World War I, Arnold repeatedly requested duty with the Air Service in France. Each time he was denied the opportunity to serve overseas. He received regular advancements in rank and at one time was the youngest full colonel in the Army; however he spent his time during the war preparing air bases in Panama, and generally lobbying for larger appropriations to the Air Arm of the Army -- over the strenuous objections of the Army General Staff. He was in the hospital in England, stricken with influenza, when the Armistice was declared, November 1918.

In the post-war Army, Hap Arnold was assigned as Chief of Air Information for the Army and worked to promote Army Aviation with aviation shows and a variety of publicity stunts involving Army airmen and their planes. This work involved his working closely with Brigadier Gen. Billy Mitchell, a fellow Arnold very much admired, and supported. (Billy Mitchell was the head of all Air Service in France during World War I. In the 1920s, he effectively proved to the Navy and government officials that airplanes could sink battleships. He frequently clashed with his superiors and he enraged enough high powered officials with his outspoken rhetoric that he was forced to resign from the Army. He is generally regarded as "The Father of the U.S. Air Force")

Arnold was warned that his support of Mitchell could have a damaging effect on his military career, but he insisted on testifying at Mitchell's court-martial hearing nonetheless. Apparently Arnold was more diplomatic than Mitchell, and his whole-hearted support of his friend did not adversely affect his military career.

In the days leading up to World War II General Arnold continued his active promotion of a strong Air Arm of the Army. He said, "The second best air force is like the second best poker hand -- it is no good at all!" He was instrumental in promoting the B-17 "Flying Fortress," a plane that could deliver its bomb-load with pinpoint accuracy and defend itself from enemy fighter planes. He was a leading advocate of strategic bombing. He believed that selective destruction of key industries could force surrender of a nation without having to occupy the country.

In the first months of World War II Arnold was named Chief of the U.S. Army Air Force. He was also named to the Combined Chief of Staff, on par with the British and American heads of services -- essentially making the Army Air Corps an independent branch of service. In 1944, he was promoted to General of the Army (5 stars). In 1947, with the passage of the National Defense Act of 1947, which set up the U.S. Air Force as an independent branch of service, he was named General of the Air Force (5 stars) -- still the only man ever to hold those two positions.

As head of the Air Force during World War II Arnold supported several initiatives that were crucial to the winning of the war -- the strategic bombing campaign, Gen. Doolittle's daring raid on Tokyo, the fire-bombing of Japan, the establishment of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASP), the systematic development of promising officers who would lead the Air Force for decades to come. Throughout the war Arnold was devoted to his troops and spent much of the war touring overseas air operations. The work was extremely stressful, and his tireless schedule took its toll. By the end of the war in 1945 Arnold had suffered four heart attacks, serious enough that he needed hospitalization. With each heart attack his doctors and his family urged him to retire, but he felt duty-bound to finish the war and "bring my boys home."

Gen. Arnold finally did retire in 1946. One year later the Air Force was made a separate branch of the service and President Truman named Arnold the first (and so far the only) General of the Air Force (a 5-star appointment for life).

Though Gen. Arnold was ill during much of his retirement he was determined to write his life's story, Ulysses S. Grant like, so that his widow could know financial independence after he was gone. He finished his book, Global Mission, shortly before his death in January 1950.

Gen. Hap Arnold was given a state funeral at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington Cemetery. He and his two sons are buried in Section 34 of that cemetery.

Source: "Air Power Henry" centennialofflight.gov, www.arlingtoncemetery.net

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I didn't know Dick won the MacKay Trophy!

I gotta read this more often!

-- Posted by greb on Sun, Jan 16, 2011, at 12:59 AM

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Days Gone By