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Billy Mitchell

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Dec 15, 2021

William Lendrum Mitchell (December 29, 1879 – February 19, 1936) was a United States Army general who is regarded as the father of the United States Air Force.[1][2]

United States Army WWI general (1879–1936)
For other people named Billy Mitchell, see Billy Mitchell (disambiguation).

Billy Mitchell

Birth name William Lendrum Mitchell
Born (1879-12-29)December 29, 1879
Nice, France
Died February 19, 1936(1936-02-19) (aged 56)
New York City, United States
Buried
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1898–1926
Rank Major general (posthumous)
Commands held Air Service, Third Army – AEF
Battles/wars Spanish–American War
World War I

Awards Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
World War I Victory Medal
Congressional Gold Medal (posthumous)

Mitchell served in France during World War I and, by the conflict’s end, commanded all American air combat units in that country. After the war, he was appointed deputy director of the Air Service and began advocating increased investment in air power, believing that this would prove vital in future wars. He argued particularly for the ability of bombers to sink battleships and organized a series of bombing runs against stationary ships designed to test the idea.

He antagonized many administrative leaders of the Army with his arguments and criticism and, in 1925, was returned from appointment as a brigadier general to his permanent rank of colonel due to his insubordination. Later that year, he was court-martialed for insubordination after accusing Army and Navy leaders of an “almost treasonable administration of the national defense”[3] for investing in battleships instead of aircraft carriers. He resigned from the service shortly afterward.

Mitchell received many honors following his death, including a commission by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a major general. He is also the first person for whom an American military aircraft design, the North American B-25 Mitchell, is named. Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is also named after Mitchell.

. . . Billy Mitchell . . .

Mitchell as assistant chief of Air Service (in non-regulation uniform)

Born in Nice, France, to John L. Mitchell, a wealthy Wisconsinsenator,[4] and his wife Harriet Danforth (Becker), Mitchell grew up on an estate in what is now the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis, Wisconsin.[5] Mitchell’s father served in the American Civil War as a first lieutenant in the 24th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment along with future general Arthur MacArthur the father of General Douglas MacArthur. The elder Mitchell served as a United States senator from 1883 to 1889. His grandfather, Alexander Mitchell, a Scotsman, established what became the Milwaukee Road railroad and the Marine Bank of Wisconsin. Mitchell Park and the shopping precinct of Mitchell Street were named in honor of Alexander. Mitchell’s sister Ruth fought with the Chetniks in Yugoslavia during World War II and later wrote a book about her brother, My Brother Bill.

Mitchell was accepted into Columbian University (later renamed George Washington University) in Washington, D.C., but dropped out to join the United States Army during the Spanish-American War, though he eventually graduated from the school.[6] While there he was a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.[7] Upon dropping out of Columbian at age 18, he enlisted in the United States Army as a private and was mustered into Company M of the 1st Wisconsin Infantry Regiment on May 14, 1898.[8] Mitchell was immediately assigned and mobilized into Brigadier GeneralArthur MacArthur‘s command in the Philippines, where MacArthur was placed in charge of the Department of Northern Luzon in the spring of 1899.[9] Mitchell participated in operations against Filipinoinsurgents in northern and central Luzon[9] at the end of the Spanish-American War and during the Philippine–American War. He quickly gained a commission due to his father’s influence and joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

Following the cessation of hostilities, Mitchell remained in the Army. From 1900 to 1904, Mitchell was posted in the District of Alaska as a lieutenant in the Signal Corps. On May 26, 1900, the United States Congress appropriated $450,000 to establish a communications system connecting the many isolated and widely separated U.S. Army outposts and civilian Gold Rush camps in Alaska by telegraph.[10] Along with Captain George C. Brunnell, Lieutenant Mitchell oversaw the construction of what became known as the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS).[11] He predicted as early as 1906, while an instructor at the Army’s Signal School in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, that future conflicts would take place in the air, not on the ground.

A member of one of Milwaukee’s most prominent families, Billy Mitchell was probably the first person with ties to Wisconsin to see the Wright brothers plane fly. In 1908, as a young Signal Corps officer, Mitchell observed Orville Wright’s flying demonstration at Fort Myer, Virginia. Mitchell took flight lessons at the Curtiss Flying School at Newport News, Virginia.

In March 1912, after assignments in the Philippines that saw him tour battlefields of the Russo-Japanese War and conclude that war with Japan was inevitable one day,[citation needed] Mitchell was one of 21 officers selected to serve on the General Staff—at the time, its youngest member at age 32. He appeared in August 1913 at legislative hearings considering a bill to make Army aviation a branch separate from the Signal Corps and testified against the bill. As the only Signal Corps officer on the General Staff, he was chosen as temporary head of the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps, a predecessor of the present day United States Air Force, in May 1916, when its head was reprimanded and relieved of duty for malfeasance in the section. Mitchell administered the section until the new head, Lieutenant Colonel George O. Squier, arrived from attaché duties in London, England, where World War I was in progress, then became his permanent assistant. In June, he took private flying lessons at the Curtiss Flying School because he was proscribed by law from aviator training by age and rank, at an expense to himself of $1,470 (approximately $33,000 in 2015).[12] In July 1916, he was promoted to major and appointed Chief of the Air Service of the First Army.[13]

On December 2, 1903, Mitchell married his first wife, Caroline Stoddard. They had three children: Harriet, Elizabeth, and John Lendrum III. Although the marriage was initially happy, his behavior became more and more erratic, primarily as a result of his heavy drinking. The two had a bitter divorce, rife with accusations on both sides, which was finalized on September 22, 1922. On September 27, after a Milwaukee courtroom trial, the judge decided in Caroline’s favor. Lawyers for Caroline and biographers reported that the marital problems were caused by Billy Mitchell, who became so erratic that his wife even considered sending him to a psychiatrist. Caroline won custody of the children and got a decent alimony ($400.00 a month in child support).[14]

. . . Billy Mitchell . . .

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. . . Billy Mitchell . . .