Fifteen years ago this month, at the dawn of a new era of human history, the Air Force Association came into being.
Charter Day was February 4, 1946, less than six months after World War II. The new organization had nine members who shared common memories of history’s first great air war.
Today, after a decade and a half of cold war, limited war, and space race, AFA numbers more than 55,000 members throughout the nation. It is the best known and most influential organization of its kind in the world, with a long list of accomplishments to its credit.
This is a fifteen-year report on those accomplishments, on where AFA has been, and where it is today. With this report, AIR FORCE/SPACE DIGEST proudly commemorates AFA’s fifteenth anniversary.
At the outset, AFA set itself a triple objective:
- To assist in obtaining and maintaining adequate airpower for national security and world peace.
- To keep the AFA members and the public abreast of developments in the field of aviation.
- To preserve and foster the spirit of fellowship among former and present personnel of the United States Air Force.
Energetic efforts to translate these objectives into action began almost at once. The newborn Association played an active role in campaigning for creation of an independent United States Air Force. It led in a nationwide drive for a strong USAF in the defense-economy days before the Korean War. Then, during the war, AFA was among the first to call public attention to brutal Communist treatment of prisoners of war and methods of brainwashing that resulted in false “confessions” of US germ warfare.
After Korea, which had provided fresh proof that the road to war is paved with unpreparedness, AFA stepped up campaigning once again for strength and progress in aerospace development, at the same time running a series of major conferences dealing with problems of the new jet and space ages. In 1957, AFA officially sponsored a yearlong series of observances marking the fiftieth anniversary of US military aviation. Two years later, in 1959, came the first World Congress of Flight at Las Vegas, Nev., a unique and successful attempt to bring together in one place and at one time the hardware of military and civil aerospace activity and the leaders of world aviation.
Through it all, AFA has time and again laid this principle on the line: Only through total unification of the armed forces can the United States attain her full armed potential. AFA has continually supported legislation to this end. The trend toward unification has been unmistakable in the past several years.
This, then, is a quick run-through of the works by which AFA has been known through the past fifteen years. But it touches only the highlights of the Air Force Association story, which actually began in France in 1945.
Let us take a closer look, year by year.
In April of 1945, Gen. H. H. “Hap” Arnold, World War II Commander in Chief of the Army Air Forces, was on an inspection tour of installations on the European continent. With him was Maj. Gen. Fred Anderson, then up for reassignment to Washington as Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. General Arnold talked of his hope for an independent civilian organization to carry on the airpower crusade after hostilities were over. He suggested that General Anderson, after he returned to the States, try to find a man of stature, a veteran of the World War II Air Force, to lead the group.
General Anderson found the man he wanted in Maj. Gen. Edward P. Curtis, who had served as Chief of Staff of our strategic air forces in the ETO and was then awaiting his discharge from active duty. Ted Curtis was also an air veteran of World War I. He shot down six enemy planes in that one. (This same Ted Curtis, it might be noted, now an Eastman Kodak executive, served years later as President Eisenhower’s Special Assistant for Aviation Facilities Planning and then as General Chairman of the first World Congress of Flight.) In 1945, as he was being mustered out of the service, Ted Curtis received a letter from “Hap” Arnold requesting him to take on the Air Force Association task. Curtis accepted, and the idea was in motion.
On October 12 of 1945, twelve men met in New York to do something about setting up the Air Force Association. They came in response to a letter from Ted Curtis, which read in part:
“The present thinking is that this should not be a veterans’ organization in the ordinary sense of the word. . . . It is to be strictly an air organization designed to perpetuate the fellowship of former members of the Air Force and to provide a national organization which will help to educate its own members and the public at large in the proper development of airpower……
The dozen men present were Gen. Carl Spaatz, later the first Chief of Staff of the Air Force; Julian B. Rosenthal; Rufus Rand; Willis Fitch; Everett Cook; J. H. “Jock” Whitney, Ambassador to Britain under President Eisenhower; C. V. “Sonny” Whitney; John S. Allard; So! Rosenblatt; Col. (now Maj. Gen.) Robert E. L. Eaton; the late W. Deering Howe; and Mr. Curtis.
Four months later, on February 4, 1946, AFA was incorporated in the District of Columbia as an independent, nonprofit organization. From the outset, civilian control was paramount, fulfilling General “Hap” Arnold’s desires. Only civilian members have the right to vote and hold office in AFA.
The nine initial members (no “first” member shows up in the records) were Curtis, Rosenthal, Howe, Rosenblatt, and Allard of the original group, and Jimmy Doolittle, Jimmy Stewart, Lowell Weicker, and Grenville Carroll. By acclamation, Jimmy Doolittle was chosen President of AFA until an election could be held at a National Convention. First headquarters were established in a small basement office on K Street in northwest Washington, D. C.
Then things began to happen fast. An AFA group headed by General Doolittle paid a call on President Truman at the White House, where it received encouraging words. AFA’s first Squadron was formed in Baltimore, the first state Wing in Ohio. AIR FORCE Magazine, which had been the official service journal of the Air Force during the war, joined AFA in 1946 and has continued to be the major operation of the Association.
During the first year and a half, in the drive for an autonomous US Air Force, many thousand Army Air Forces veterans organized under the AFA banner. And Jimmy Doolittle was able to tell the first National Convention at Columbus, Ohio, in 1947:
“No organization did more than the Air Force Association to achieve a coequal and autonomous Air Force.”
The major address at this gathering in Columbus was delivered by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, then Army Chief of Staff. He said:
“The creation of the United States Air Force as an independent entity recognizes the special capabilities of airpower; the creation of the Air Force Association recognizes aviation problems that require specialized —and organized—civilian assistance toward their solution. In this group we have a wealth of military and civilian talent that will devote itself to our defense needs, even as it keeps always in view the potential usefulness of the airplane in bringing the world closer together in purpose as well as in time. . .
The fight then shifted to a new front. Under its second President, Tom Lanphier, the Association took the lead in a campaign for a seventy-group Air Force. At rallies across the country it called attention to the nation’s military weaknesses. From one meeting in Westchester County, N. Y., a telegram with hundreds of signatures went to the White House urging a larger Air Force.
AFA came into national prominence in 1948, with its second National Convention. This featured a mammoth stage show in Madison Square Garden, N. Y. Participants—headed by Jimmy Stewart and Bob Hope —included scores of public personalities from Bernard Baruch to Gypsy Rose Lee (whose act caused a temporary blackout in a four-hour TV presentation of the event). Garden President John Reid Kilpatrick called it “the greatest show ever put on” at the famed arena. The outcome so far as AFA was concerned was that people all over the United States learned of AFA and its airpower crusade.
Also at the New York Convention, which chose C. R. Smith of American Airlines as its third President, AFA decided to broaden its membership base, admitting as Associate Members men and women who believed in the objectives of AFA regardless of previous military service.
To dramatize the potentialities of the air age, former President Lanphier in 1949 made a well publicized round-the-world flight by scheduled airlines. He completed the global trip in less than 120 hours to set a scheduled airline record for globe-circling. A large envelope, postmarked by nations around the world during the trip, later was presented to the National Air Museum of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D. C.
AFA put on a spectacular air show at Chicago in 1949 in conjunction with that year’s National Convention. Military planes of many types crammed the Windy City’s O’Hare Airport. On hand with her crew was the B-50 Lucky Lady II not long after its completion of the first nonstop trip around the world. A C-54 also arrived direct from USAF airlift duty in Soviet-blockaded Berlin.
In Washington, AFA pursued its objective to upgrade the prestige and career status of the military profession. In 1949 President Smith sent a letter to every member of Congress calling for higher pay for all men in uniform—the start of a continuing AFA campaign in behalf of our military manpower.
Then the Air Force Association was threatened by a manpower problem of its own.
It came with new war—a war that caught America fully as unprepared as AFA had long predicted. When the nation responded to Red aggression in Korea thousands of Air Force veterans—many of them AFA members—were recalled to active duty. Some AFA units were decimated. In San Francisco, for example, eighty-five percent of AFA’s chapter members were called back. The pinch was on.
Meanwhile, AFA jumped into the tactical controversy (still not resolved in 1960) over air support for ground troops with a special magazine issue on the subject. AFA President Harold Stuart, later Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, toured Korea for on-the-
spot reports to members. Then AFA helped introduce the nation to a new breed of fighting man—the jet combat pilot. The Association held rousing homecoming celebrations for men who held the air fort over the Yalu. The welcoming party for one of the returning jet aces was a nostalgic reminder of earlier days. Col. Francis “Gabby” Gabreski, America’s top living ace of all wars, was one of the early leaders of the Air Force Association and its first Wing Commander in California. Another ranking World War II ace, Bob Johnson, served as AFA President for two terms in 1950 and 1951.
The wartime pinch in national air strength was emphasized in 1950 when an air show at AFA’s National Convention in Boston had to be held with only one US military plane in the air—that a Marine Corps helicopter. Royal Canadian Air Force jets were the main participants.
So far the Air Force Association had been preoccupied with the need for greater acceptance of the airpower concept—and had carried out the campaign in a fraternal atmosphere. Evidence of far broader objectives came to light in 1950 when AFA initiated the Armed Forces Day Dinner in Washington—a tribute to all members of the defense establishment held annually since that time (under cosponsorship of the Navy League, Military Order of the World Wars, and AFA). AFA also brought together a number of Air ROTC groups in one national honor fraternity, the Arnold Air Society, established Cadet membership in the Association, and launched its now broad educational program.
The Air Force Association further broadened its approach the following year, 1951, with the initiation of the Industrial Associate program, knitting two major elements in the airpower team closer than ever. Since then industry has played a major role in some of AFA’s most important programs. These began with the symposium on industrial preparedness at the Detroit Convention in 1952. They have continued in conferences, seminars, and briefings, at each Convention and between annual meetings at points across the country. These gatherings have dealt with such matters as jet noise, airport expansion, air logistics, manpower, materiel, research and development, and the space challenge.
A spectacular pageant in the Hollywood Bowl, in which Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope, and many others took part, celebrated the fifth anniversary in 1951. The pageant covered the history of flight from Kitty Hawk to the present.
All the while, as the bloody battle of Korea continued, AFA campaigned under the leadership of 1952 President Art Kelly to clarify in the public mind the true nature of the Communist threat (those were the days of “agrarian reformers” in China and confusion over Russia’s part in the Korean War).
In 1953, the fiftieth anniversary year of powered flight, AFA stepped in to assist the struggling Kill Devil Hills Society in adequate observance of the first flight of the Wright brothers off Kill Devil Hill near Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903. (This project, which started with little more than the monument on the sand dunes at the site, climaxed in 1960 with dedication of a tourist center there under auspices of the US Public Park Service, with AFA participating in the dedication.) In 1953, as well, AFA entered into closer relationships with Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve groups, relationships which have grown increasingly closer through the years.
During 1954, with retired Gen. George C. Kenney at the AFA helm, the Association mounted a determined campaign to seek public understanding of the problems facing prisoners of war in Korea who “confessed” that they took part in US germ warfare against Communist forces there. Without condoning such “confessions,” the Association argued that these prisoners were victims of brainwashing and other inhuman treatment that added a new dimension to the prisoner-of-war problem—and indeed to war itself. (Later on, a special Air Force Board convened to study the matter came to substantially the same conclusions as these earlier AFA pronouncements.)
When the Communists persisted in making major propaganda tools of small groups of Air Force prisoners of war, AFA President John R. Alison in 1955 petitioned Congress, the White House, and the United Nations to take action. AFA takes humble pride in the belief that its actions in those grave hours increased public understanding of the prisoner-of-war challenge in Korea and helped counteract that Communist offensive. Significantly, AFA’s Presidents in those critical years—Kenney and Alison—were veterans of war in the Far East and ardent students of Communist tactics (General Kenney was America’s top air commander in the Pacific; Reserve Maj. Gen. John Alison was a leader of the Air Commandos in Burma during World War II).
With the Korean War past, once again the accent turned to campaigning for America to keep her aerospace guard up. While Air Force global deterrent strength was generally responsible (though not generally understood) for preventing limited war in Korea from expanding into big war, the problem at the conclusion of the Korean conflict was to maintain this deterrent superiority in the face of Russia’s crash program to develop its own global striking power. In the long run, the airpower education challenge was as great as ever. To meet the challenge, Gill Robb Wilson, AFA’s 1956 President and a noted speaker, took the platform over a route that extended more than 60,000 miles. He traveled, incidentally, on his own time and money. All of AFA’s elected officials serve voluntarily, without compensation.
From the New Orleans National Convention in 1956, which commemorated the ten-year anniversary of AFA, went out the message: “The airpower educational job must be done if mankind is to survive our age, and we, the AFA, must be in the lead.”
AFA pulled out the stops in 1957 as official sponsor of the fiftieth anniversary of America’s military airpower. John P. Henebry, of Chicago, one of the Air Force’s most decorated World War II combat commanders and a Korean War leader, was Association President that year. Five decades earlier, on August 1, 1907, the Army Signal Corps had raised the curtain with establishment of an Aeronautical Division. AFA’s Golden Anniversary program ran the gamut of events throughout the year.
Air shows and banquets were held in major cities. AIR FORCE Magazine devoted its August 1957 issue to a history of the Air Force, the first complete one-volume history of its kind ever presented. It was later commercially published as a hard-cover book. An Air Force Golden Anniversary postage stamp was issued during AFA’s 1957 National Convention and achieved the largest first-day sale in the history of the Post Office Department. AFA conceived, wrote, and produced a documentary motion picture, “Air Force Scrapbook,” which received high praise across the country.
Russia marked the year 1957 in her own way. On October 4, she put into orbit history’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik. The nation and the western world were momentarily stunned. AFA President Peter Schenk laid the matter at the doorstep of the Administration in an editorial entitled “The Sputnik Pearl Harbor” in the November issue of AIR FORCE. He asked:
“Does the President really believe the nation has a dynamic research and development program equal to the threat, when in fact the program has never in recent years been more sluggish or at a lower ebb? Does he, in fact, see the greatest national problem as one of survival in an age of technological competition? In short, when will the President lead the way so we can again become a nation of explorers and pioneers?”
To the Air Force Association the Russian feat helped prove what the organization had long claimed —that Russia had advanced technologically far beyond official estimates in this country—although the real threat exposed by Sputnik I was swallowed up in Russian propaganda, in the IGY activity, and our own official but naïve “space-for-peaceful-purposes” philosophy. The impact of long-range ballistic missiles on national security was still not generally understood, and the obviously vital military mission in space was unpopular and officially unrecognized.
In March 1958, AIR FORCE Magazine took up the educational challenge with a pioneering special issue, “The Space Weapons Handbook.” It was devoted entirely to the ballistic missile program as a foundation for spaceflight, the space mission of the Air Force, and physiological problems involved in getting man into space. This issue was later commercially published as a hard-cover book. In November that year AFA introduced SPACE DIGEST, in effect a magazine within AIR FORCE Magazine, devoted to presenting the best available material from all sources, plus original articles covering the broad subject of space technology and its impact on modern society. (The first hard-cover book of these articles, taken entirely from SPACE DIGEST, will be published later this year.)
Meanwhile, the move into space had spread confusion. The true nature of aerospace power—civilian and military—needed pointing up. With this in mind, AFA undertook the first international event of its kind to be held in the US, a mammoth program integrating the full spectrum of flight—aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft.
This was the first World Congress of Flight held at Las Vegas in April 1959. It was a weeklong air show exposition-conference run with the cooperation of most of the aerospace family, private and public, in this country and abroad (fifty-one nations were represented). Diplomats, industry executives, military leaders, and top officials of fifty-five aerospace organizations participated against a backdrop of missiles, spaceship models, jet warplanes, giant new transports, and the largest array of aerospace equipment and aerospace components ever assembled.
Life Magazine, which devoted five pages to the event, called it the “world’s greatest air-space show.” The program reached an estimated 20,000,000 people in an hour-long live telecast over the entire National Broadcasting Company network.
The second World Congress will be held in Las Vegas, September 13-19, 1962.
In the almost two years since the first World Congress, the Association under the presidencies of Peter J. Schenk and Howard T. Markey has held its two largest and most successful National Conventions. Each was built around a report-to-the-nation by the top commanders of the US Air Force. The Titan ICBM was first shown publicly at the 1959 Convention at Miami Beach, Fla. Minuteman, the mobile solid-propellant, second-generation ICBM, was unveiled at San Francisco in 1960.
While continuing the fight for adequate aerospace power against the mounting Russian challenge, AFA has developed an aerospace education program through its affiliated Space Education Foundation. This is centered in the Aerospace Education Council, composed of leading educators. The council is sponsoring space-age briefings for educators in seven major cities during the first few months of 1961.
AFA today is an organization of many parts and groups—active-duty personnel; Air Reservists and Air Guardsmen; Air Force Academy and AFROTC Cadets; Civil Air Patrol leaders and Cadets; civil and government leaders; educators and community leaders; engineers, scientists, and industrialists. Just as richly varied are the organization’s activities: publishing (AIR FORCE/SPACE DIGEST, several aerospace books in print or in progress, the AeroSpace Book Club); meetings, symposia, conferences, Conventions, Aerospace Panoramas, World Congresses of Flight, industrial briefings; the Industrial Associate Program; insurance programs (Flight Pay, Group Life, Travel Accident); Airpower Councils in local communities; national and local aerospace education programs; awards programs to honor accomplishments in many fields of aerospace development.
Most basic, now as at its inception, AFA remains primarily an organization of dedicated volunteers in individual Wings, Squadrons, and Flights, throughout the United States. They conduct active programs of aerospace activities year in and year out at the community level, paralleling the activities of the Association at the national level.
In line with this picture of diversity, the specific issues to which AFA has addressed itself and directs itself at present are legion. A compilation of them would fill volumes.
Over-all, pulling together the many threads of persons and groups, activities and issues that have come to characterize AFA, there is an essential unity built on devotion to the objectives of the world’s greatest aerospace organization. This dedication is perhaps best expressed in these words from the Preamble to the Association’s National Constitution:
“We band ourselves together …
for the defense and protection
of our national heritage as free men.”
As AFA’ completed its first fifteen years, it had moved into an era of “defense and protection” as far more than a function of aerospace power. The free world was locked in a grim across-the-board struggle for survival with international communism. AFA called attention to the nature of the times and of the challenge in its 1960 Statement of Policy:
“Historically, the United States has risen to its full stature only in times of grave emergency.
“Such an emergency exists today.
“We are at war—a war on many fronts.
“On the economic front the war is just beginning.
“On the military front we are still sparring.
“On the ideological and technological fronts we are in all-out conflict.
“It still remains for the nation to recognize these facts and rise to meet the challenge to its freedoms.”
In the military area, AFA declared, “The military mission in space must be recognized, identified, and exploited with overriding priorities and singleness of direction and purpose. Our deterrent power in the future lies in military space systems. . . . Bold exploitation of the space medium for avowedly military purposes can paradoxically be the shortest road to controlled peace.”
So far as AFA’s mission is concerned, current President Thos. F. Stack summed it up at the 1960 National Convention in San Francisco, Calif.:
“The job has just started.”