Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Billy Mitchell...The Father of the United States Air Force
Somebody has to stop me. Our state has an over abundance of "first ever....", greatest (insert any profession) ever" and "father's of (insert anything)"....and although I'm very partial to Jefferson's Ole Evinrude being the father of the outboard motor, let us move on to this slightly more important entry: Billy Mitchell - Father of the United States Air Force.
Like his contemporary, Douglas MacArthur, he came from a wealthy and ambitious Scottish family that arrived in Milwaukee in the first half of the 1800's. For you Milwaukeeans out there, Mitchell Street and Mitchell Park are named after his tycoon grandfather, Alexander Mitchell. Mitchell Field, better known as the Milwaukee airport, belongs to Billy.
He had that sometimes quiet, know-it-all arrogance that Wisconsinites used to have in abundance. He proved the superiority of Air Power at a time when military brass thought that the building more and bigger battleships was the key to winning future armed conflicts.
He was born in Nice, France The son of Wisconsin Senator John Mitchell and his wife.
In World War I he was the flamboyant shining star of the US Army Air Corps, easily recognized as the best known American in Europe. However, there was a problem....He had too many new ideas, and they were all brilliant. The US Army in World War I was not a good place for exceptional thinkers who don't suffer fools gladly, and Mitchell was alienating his superiors at every turn.
After the war, in a series of spectacular live bombing runs conducted on a fleet of decommissioned warships, he clearly demonstrated the dominance of air power over sea power. In 1925, He wrote an extensive report that predicted future war with Japan and the attack on Pearl Harbor. His message was loud and clear: invest in air power now, or pay a heavy price later. However, the Navy, with the full cooperation of the Army, successfully opposed his every move to begin the modernization and expansion of an independent Air Service. In 1926, he was court-martialed for insubordination. He resigned from the Army and spent his last years advocating air power to all who would listen.
He died in 1936. All of his predictions came true. Gary Cooper played Billy in the
1955 biopic The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell. Not bad.
I put another one of those USPS stamps honoring a Wisconsinite in the above picture. Don't worry, the "stamped" series of posts can easily reach 30+ without it.