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Henry Harley Arnold

Updated on December 1, 2016

Henry Harley Arnold (1886-1950) was an American air force officer. As commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, he was one of the most important military men of that period, in charge of nearly 2,500,000 men and over 75,000 aircraft. On June 3, 1949, President Harry S Truman appointed him to the permanent five-star rank of general of the air force, the first such commission ever granted.

Arnold was born at Gladwyne, Pa., on June 25, 1886. He was a flier in military aviation from its infancy. In 1911, four years after his graduation from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he was ordered to Dayton, Ohio, for flying instructions under Wilbur and Orville Wright. A year later he won the first Clarence H. Mackay Trophy for a 30-mile reconnaissance flight in an early type of Wright biplane. He won the trophy again in 1935 for commanding a squadron of 10 bombers on an 18,000-mile flight from Washington, D.C., to Fairbanks, Alaska, and back.

A lieutenant assigned to the aviation section of the Signal Corps, young Arnold was stationed in Panama when the United States entered World War I. He organized and commanded an aviation defense unit there, which was known as the 7th Aero Squadron (1917-1918). After a few months overseas in 1918, he was assigned to San Francisco, Calif., as department air service officer (1919-1922). His World War I experience convinced him that air power would be the decisive factor in future wars.

Soon after the start of World War II, General Arnold became deputy chief of staff for air (1940). In March 1942, when the Joint Chiefs of Staff was organized, he was appointed commanding general of the Army Air Forces. His promotion in March 1943 made him the first full aviation general. In December 1944 he was raised to the five-star rank of general of the army, with General George C. Marshall, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and General Douglas Mac-Arthur. In that year he saw the establishment of the 20th Air Force, composed of B-29's. This force, which General Arnold kept under his direct command until the end of the war, dropped as much as 5,480 tons of bombs a day on the industrial cities of Japan in the summer of 1945. General Arnold retired as head of the Army Air Forces on Jan. 24, 1946, and was succeeded by General Carl A. Spaatz. He died at Sonoma, Calif., on Jan. 15, 1950.

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