dark days of World War
II when the bitter war was far from won, it was a Texas tenant
farmer's son who took command of the U.S. Eighth Air Force in England,
playing a key role in making the Normandy invasion possible.
Lt. Gen. Ira
Eaker, a native of Mason
County, was credited with building the Eighth Air Force from
scratch to launch daylight bombing raids against German factories,
eventually crippling Nazi war production. In 1944 he took over command
of Mediterranean Allied Air Forces with more than 12,000 aircraft,
and he was transferred in early 1945 to Washington as deputy Air
Force chief under his longtime friend, Gen. H. H. "Hap" Arnold.
aviator and Air Power leader," General Eaker was awarded in 1953
the Congressional Gold Medal received by only five other airmen
-- Orville and Wilbur Wright, Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager and
Billy Mitchell. The British soil from which Eaker's aircraft flew
missions was a long way from Field Creek, the six-family community
where Yancy and Dona Lee Eaker lived and where Ira, first of their
five sons, was born. In 1906, when Ira was nine, the Eakers moved
in a covered wagon. It took five days to travel the distance of
about 100 miles. Three years later, when drought conditions parched
Texas farms, the Eaker family moved to southeastern Oklahoma. They
returned to Texas in 1922.
from Southeastern Oklahoma State University at Durant, and enlisted
as an army private when the United States entered World
War I. Transferred to the Signal Corps' aviation section, he
trained as a pilot at Kelly Field in San
Antonio. The war ended before he faced combat, but as a commissioned
officer his career in military aviation was under way.
During the 1920s,
Eaker made headlines with two innovative flights, one demonstrating
a pilot's reliance on aircraft instruments over a long distance
and the other demonstrating in-air refueling.
In 1927, piloting
a P-12 fighter equipped with a baby-buggy canopy covering the cockpit,
he made the first "blind" flight coast-to-coast while a companion
plane flew nearby to verify that Eaker remained "hooded" for the
full distance except on takeoffs and landings. Two years later,
he was the chief pilot of the Question Mark, a Fokker tri-motor,
which set a flight endurance mark that went unbeaten for many years.
Rigged for refueling by a hose dropped from a Douglas C-1, the Question
Mark logged 11,000 miles shuttling between San Diego and Los Angeles
in its record 150 hours, 40 minutes and 15 seconds -- about six
and one-quarter days -- of continuous flight.
Eaker retired from active duty after World
War II, he remained in the aviation industry with senior executive
posts at Hughes Aircraft and Douglas Aircraft. From 1964 to 1982,
he wrote a weekly column for the San Angelo Standard-Times that
was syndicated to seven hundred newspapers throughout the nation.
In 1972, he was the founding president of the United States Strategic
Institute. An act of Congress promoted him to four-star rank in
died at Andrews Air Force Base in 1987 and was buried at Arlington
Cemetery with full military honors.