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February 19, 1936 - Military aviation pioneer Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell (right) is born.  The son a wealthy senator from Wisconsin, Mitchell entered the US Army in 1898 with the goal of fighting in the Spanish-American War.  Remaining in the service, became deeply interested in aviation and ultimately became deputy commander of the Aviation Section, Signal Corps in 1916.  Promoted to brigadier general during World War I, he oversaw all American air units in Europe and coordinated a successful aerial campaign during the Battle of St. Mihiel.  Returning to the US, he had hoped to be named head of the US Army Air Service, but instead was made Assistant Chief.  In this role, he became an outspoken advocate for air power and a separate air force.  Though a daring and innovative leader, his brash style and willingness to circumvent the chain of command made him numerous enemies.  In 1921, he successfully demonstrated that aircraft could sink armored battleships.  Sent on an inspection tour to the Far East in 1924 to remove him from the limelight, he correctly anticipated war with Japan and predicted an aerial attack on Pearl Harbor.  Having alienated his superiors, he was re-assigned to San Antonio in 1925 with the rank of colonel.  In the wake of the USS Shenandoah airship crash, he accused senior leaders of the military and government with incompetence.  For this he was controversially court-martialed.  Found guilty and sentenced to a five-year suspension, he elected to retire and continued to serve as an advocate of air power until his death in 1936.

Photograph Courtesy of the US Air Force


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