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Monday, November 05, 2007

Get to know General Billy Mitchell

We all are familiar with the name General Mitchell here in Wisconsin. After all, the airport in Milwaukee is named after him. But how many of us actually know anything about General Billy Mitchell? The answer is all too few of us. So today I'd like to offer up a brief introduction to the man that Milwaukee's airport is named after. I'm sure someone in the Wisconsin blogosphere has covered this at some point and time, but it bears repeating.

*Billy Mitchell was born in 1879 in France to Milwaukee native and future Wisconsin U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator John L. Mitchell and his wife.
*Mitchell would join the military at age 18 during the Spanish American War.
*By the time the U.S. entered World War I, Mitchell was a lieutenant colonel.
*Once in France, Mitchell, who had an interest in air power since early in his career, began to explore air power with his French and British colleagues.
*In Europe, he received a field commission to Brigadier General.
*He would eventually see the advantage of air power while flying over the trenches of the Great War. He would apply that air power very successfully in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel.
*After the war, Mitchell would become a relentless advocate of air power. He would prove to the Navy in tests that air power could defeat ships of war, and much of what he advocated would play out much later in World War II.
*Mitchell, however, was not a very good salesman. His style easily turned off many in the military brass as well potential allies within the military.
*He would be demoted after the war to colonel and sent on a tour of the Pacific. Returning from Hawaii, Mitchell would predict the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines with eerie prescience 17 years before it occurred. The prediction would be correct in the order of the attacks, day of the week, and nearly dead on as to the time of day the attacks would occur.
*Mitchell's bristly nature led him to overplay his hand after two newsworthy air disasters by denouncing the military brass and appealing further to the public for support of air power. It would lead to the court martial that ultimately ended his military career.
*Mitchell would be posthumously made a two star major general by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
*As a result, General Billy Mitchell would not only have a major airport named after him, he would also be considered the father of the modern air force by many.
*General Mitchell, who passed in 1936, is buried in Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee.