Air Force Birthday

The Veterans Land Board (VLB) acknowledges those who soar high today on the 75th birthday of the Air Force. To honor those flyers today, we would like to remember a figure integral to the creation of the Air Force in 1947, a military man who didn’t live to see it, but who put his military career on the line to advocate for the Air Force. That man was Army General William “Billy” Mitchell, now known colloquially as the “Father of the Air Force.” Even better, Texas can claim him as a partial son, like many who have been stationed on our fine military bases in Texas.

Billy Mitchell was the son of a Wisconsin senator who joined the Army in 1898 to fight in the Spanish-American War. He served in Cuba, the Philippines, Alaska, and Europe in that conflict, then continued as a career military man. He fell in love with air flight as a commander of Army Aviation in Virginia in 1916 and decided to become a pilot. After overcoming challenges to get his pilot’s license, he traveled to France in 1917 to study military aircraft production and was present when the United States declared war on Germany in World War I. He was immediately promoted to Brigadier General and successfully commanded almost 1,500 aircraft at the Battle of St. Mihiel. For the success of this mission, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for valor, and in 1919, France awarded him the Legion of Honor.

Due to Air Service postwar WWI drawdowns, Mitchell was passed over for the command of the Army Air Service and reverted to his prior rank of Colonel, but he continued to advocate for an Air Force branch of service. In front of a Congressional subcommittee, he challenged the Navy to a test to prove that airplanes could bomb ships. The Navy gave in, and in July 1921, Mitchell’s unit sank an “unsinkable” captured German battleship, the Ostfriesland. Following this, Mitchell was transferred to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, in 1925, but his troubles continued as he commented on the record to the press that “…brave airmen are being sent to their deaths by armchair admirals who don’t care about air safety.”

That level of candor got the attention of higher authorities, and in October 1925, Mitchell was called to Washington, D.C. for a court martial. Mitchell used the six-week trial as a bully pulpit to bring attention to the absolute military necessity of air superiority. He was convicted of insubordination, but rather than serve a prison sentence he resigned his commission. He was finished in the military, but he remained an advocate of air power and lectured, wrote, and promoted the need for an Air Force until his death in 1936.

Mitchell predicted a future war with Japan, and that air superiority would win that war. He was proven right on both counts and vindicated when the National Security Act of 1947 created a separate Air Force as part of the Armed Services. The day the legislation took effect, the cover of Air Force Magazine ran a story that read, “The Day Billy Mitchell Dreamed Of.”

To this day, Billy Mitchell is lauded in the Air Force for his belief in air power and his sacrifices to promote the need for the Air Force. In acknowledgement of his contributions, President Harry Truman promoted him posthumously to Major General.

The VLB wishes the U.S. Air Force a wonderful 75th birthday, and salutes the “Father of the Air Force” and all the Airmen in The U.S. Air Force.

The VLB is happy to provide any needed help for these American heroes. The mission for the VLB is “to ensure that we offer the very best package of Veterans benefits in the country and those of us who work for the VLB strive to meet those goals every day. For more than 70 years, we have had the honor to serve Veterans, Military Members and their families in Texas, and we look forward to keeping that promise in the years to come.” Call 1–800–252–8387, email, or visit to see the different benefits available.

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A blog for the Texas Veterans Land Board that provides in-depth information on benefits, programs and resources for Veterans, military members and their families in Texas.

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