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First Name: Paul

Last Name: Beck

Birthplace: Fort McKavett, TX, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Service, U.S. Army (1918 - 1926)

Middle Name: Ward

Date of Birth: 01 December 1876

Date of Death: 04 April 1922

Rank: Lieutenant Colonel

Years Served:
Paul Ward Beck


Paul Ward Beck
Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Air Service

Paul Ward Beck was born on 1 December 1876 at Fort McKavett, TX, the son of U.S. Army Brigadier General William Henry Beck and Rachael Wyatt Elizabeth Tongate Beck.

Beck was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army 5th Infantry, on 1 September 1899. He was promoted to First Lieutenant on 21 March 1901. He graduated from the Infantry School; the Cavalry School in1905; and graduated from the Signal Corps School in 1906.

On 4 February 1907, he was assigned to the Signal Corps as a First Lieutenant. On 7 January 1911, he was selected to attend the first aviation school in San Diego, CA, taught by pioneer aviator Glenn Curtiss.

In January 1910, Beck conducted the first bombing experiment. On 21 January 1911, Lieutenant Beck went up in an aircraft with a wireless telegraph set (Type A-4) which he designed and placed on his lap (weight 29 pounds), flew to an altitude of 500 feet and conducted the first radio telegraph transmission from an aircraft; it was received over 40 miles away. Beck was promoted to Captain on 11 March 1911.

Captain Paul Beck qualified as a Military Aviator on 12 July 1912. He was the third of 25 pilots so qualified; the first being First Lieutenant Henry H. (Hap) Arnold. Later, Captain Beck flew a test air mail flight from Baltimore to Washington, DC, with Postmaster General Wicksham as a passenger.

Beck was recalled to the Infantry from the Signal Corps Air Service and promoted to Major (temporary) on 5 August 1917. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel (temporary) on 5 August 1918. On 28 August 1919, he was appointed Major (permanent). He transferred to the Army Air Service and, in January, was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and assigned as Commanding Officer of the Henry Post Airfield at Fort Sill, OK.

Beck, while visiting Oklahoma City, was shot and killed on 4 April 1922.

During his military career, Beck was the third Military Aviator licensed; the first to use radios on aircraft; and the first to fly the mail. Considered by many to be a visionary, Beck was the only officer/pilot to profess that the Signal Corps Air Service should be formed into its own corps service during the early years of Army Aviation. His vision came true with the formation of the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1926.


Paul Beck married Ruth Everett of Lyons, NE. They had one son, Paul Ward Beck, Jr. Her American ancestry dated back to Colonial and Revolutionary days and she was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Ruth Beck was the author of "The Heart of a Filipino," "The Trail," and a number of stories of life of American Indians. She made an exhaustive study of the history of the Indians, and of their racial characteristics and of their tendencies, and was an authority on some phases of Indian life.

Death and Burial

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Ward Beck died on 4 April 1922 after being shot in Oklahoma City, OK. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Ruth Everett Beck, on 22 July 1921. She is buried with her husband.

The Shooting of Lieutenant Colonel Paul W. Beck

Supreme Court Judge Jean P. Day and his wife, Audrey, were friends with Paul Beck. The three had dinner on Monday evening, 4 April 1922, at Skirvin, an elegant restaurant in Oklahoma City. Following the dinner, the Days invited a half dozen people to their home at 411 N. 19th Street for an impromptu party.

Judge Day's Account

In the early morning hours of 4 April, Judge Day left to drive some of his guests home despite the fact that they lived less than a block away, leaving Beck alone with Audrey Day.

The Judge returned forty minutes later, and looking through the front window into the living room, saw Beck assaulting his wife. [At the Coroner's Inquest, Judge Day described the scene as "they were embracing."]

Beck jumped to his feet as the Judge entered the living room.

Without saying a word, the Judge crossed the room to the stairway, and went up. He returned to the landing facing the living room with a pistol in his hand. Judge Day paused on the landing, saw no sign of Beck, and went into the kitchen to make a circuit of the lower floor. He was walking through the breakfast nook and into the dining room when he saw the portieres decorating the entrance to drawing room bunched, apparently hiding a man's figure.

When Day was four feet away, Beck stepped out. Day saw Beck draw back his right arm as though to strike, and Day stepped in and brought the gun down onto Beck's head. Judge Day claimed that he and Beck were facing each other when he struck Beck on the head with the pistol barrel, and the gun discharged.

Day's Story Questioned

Forrest Hughes, Oklahoma County Attorney didn't believe Judge Jean P. Day's story and Sheriff Ben Dancy said that Beck was shot in the back of the head. County Attorney Hughes, who was considering filing a murder charge against Judge Day, ordered a Coroner's Inquest. The issue was Judge Day's claim that he was facing Beck when the gun fired. The Judge's claim was shown to be false by the coroner's drawing which showed that the bullet entered Beck's head at the rear of the skull on the right side, and traveled directly into the middle of the brain. A fragment broke off and impacted the inside of the skull on the left side near the left eye, fracturing the skull at that point.

The Coroner's Verdict

Despite the evidence, the Coroner's Jury acquitted Judge Day, ruling that the Judge killed Beck in the course of protecting his home and his wife's honor. The Jury report noted that the slaying climaxed a party at the end of which Judge Day took his guests home, leaving Beck alone with Mrs. Day. When the Judge returned forty minutes later he found his wife in Beck's embrace. Day testified that he intended to strike Beck with the pistol, but the pistol discharged during the struggle. Day and his wife divorced soon after the slaying.

The Army Board

A board of Army officers ruled that Beck "died in the line of duty." The Board consisted of:

Major Thomas George Lamphier
Captain Vernon L. Burge
Captain Roger McCullough

The Army Board raised several questions, among which were:

Why was Judge Day so insistent on driving guests home who lived less than a block away?

If Judge Day intended only to strike Beck, why did he get his pistol?

If Judge Day intended to use the pistol to strike Beck, why did he strike him with the barrel and not with the butt?

In their report to the War Department, the Army Board included a letter that a woman who attended the party had written to Paul W. Beck, Jr. According to the letter, alcohol played a larger role during the party than was reported at the Coroner's Inquest, but, she wrote, "Lieutenant Colonel Beck was sober throughout the evening."

You can draw your own account of what actually took place.

Honoree ID: 2232   Created by: MHOH




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