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First Name: Ira

Last Name: Eaker

Birthplace: Field Creek, TX, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Middle Name: Clarence

Date of Birth: 13 April 1896

Date of Death: 06 August 1987

Rank: General

Years Served: 1917-1947
Ira Clarence Eaker

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Ira Clarence Eaker

General, U.S. Air Force

General Ira Clarence Eaker was born on 13 April 1896 in Field Creek, TX; the son of a tenant farmer. He attended Southeastern State Teachers College in Durant, OK, and then joined the U.S. Army in 1917.

He was appointed a Second Lieutenant of Infantry, Officer's Reserve Corps, and assigned to active duty with the 64th Infantry Regiment at Camp Bliss, El Paso, TX. The 64th Infantry was assigned to the 14th Infantry Brigade on 20 December 1917, to be part of the 7th Infantry Division when it deployed to France.

On 15 November 1917, Eaker received a commission in the Regular Army and remained with the 64th Infantry until March 1918.

Military Career

In March 1918, Eaker was placed on detached service to receive flying instruction at Austin and Kelly Fields in Texas. Upon graduation the following October, he was rated a pilot and assigned to Rockwell Field, CA.

In July 1919, he transferred to the Philippine Islands, where he served with the 2nd Aero Squadron at Fort Mills until September 1919; with the 3rd Aero Squadron at Camp Stotsenburg until September 1920; and as Executive Officer of the Department Air Office, Department and Assistant Department Air Officer, Philippine Department, and in Command of the Philippine Air Depot at Manila until September 1921.

Meanwhile, on 1 July 1920, he was commissioned into the Regular Army as a Captain in the Air Service and returned to the U.S. in January 1922 for duty at Mitchel Field, NY, where he was Commander of the 5th Aero Squadron and later was Post Adjutant.

In June 1924, Eaker was named Executive Assistant in the Office of Air Service at Washington, DC, and from 21 December 1926 to 2 May 1927, he served as a pilot of one of the Loening OA-1 float planes of the Pan American Goodwill Flight that made a 22,000 mile trip around South America and, with the others, was awarded the Mackay Trophy. He then became Executive Officer in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of War in Washington.

In September 1926, he was named Operations and Line Maintenance Officer at Bolling Field, in Washington, DC. While on that duty, he participated as Chief Pilot on the endurance flight of the Army plane, Question Mark, from 1 to 7 January 1929, establishing a new world flight endurance record. For this achievement the entire crew of five, including Eaker and Mission Commander, Major Carl Spaatz, were awarded the DFC. In 1930, he made the first transcontinental flight entirely with instruments.

In October 1934, Eaker was ordered to duty at March Field, CA, where he commanded the 34th Pursuit Squadron and later the 17th Pursuit Squadron. In the summer of 1935, he was detached for duty with the Navy and participated aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, on maneuvers in Hawaii and Guam.

Eaker entered the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, AL, in August 1935, and upon graduation the following June, entered the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, KS, from which he graduated in June 1937. During his time at Ft. Leavenworth from 3-7 June 1936, Eaker made the first blind (instruments only) transcontinental flight from New York to Los Angeles. He then became Assistant Chief of the Information Division in the Office of the Chief of Air Corps (OCAC) in Washington, during which he helped plan and publicize the interception of the Italian liner Rex at sea. In November 1940, Eaker was given Command of the 20th Pursuit Group at Hamilton Field, CA. In 1941, he was promoted to Colonel while at Hamilton Field.

Promoted to Brigadier General in January 1942, he was assigned to organize the VIII Bomber Command (which became the Eighth Air Force) in England and to understudy the British system of bomber operations. Then, in December 1942, he assumed Command of the Eighth Air Force. In a speech he gave to the English that won him favorable publicity, he said, "We won't do much talking until we've done more fighting. After we've gone, we hope you'll be glad we came."

Much of Eaker's initial staff, including Captain Frederick W. Castle, Captain Beirne Lay, Jr., and Lieutenant Harris Hull, was composed of former civilians rather than career military officers, and the group became known as "Eaker's Amateurs." Eaker's position as Commander of the Eighth Air Force led to his becoming the model for the fictional Major General Pat Pritchard in the 1949 movie Twelve O'Clock High.

Throughout the war, Eaker was an advocate for daylight "precision" bombing of military and industrial targets in German-occupied territory and ultimately Germany-of striking at the enemy's ability to wage war while minimizing civilian casualties. The British considered daylight bombing too risky and wanted the Americans to join them in night raids that would target wider areas, but Eaker persuaded a skeptical Winston Churchill that the American and British approaches complemented each other in a one-page memo that concluded, "If the RAF continues night bombing and we bomb by day, we shall bomb them round the clock and the devil shall get no rest." He personally participated in the first U.S. B-17 Flying Fortress bomber strike against German occupation forces in France, bombing Rouen on 17 August 1942.

Eaker was promoted to Lieutenant General in September 1943. However, as American bomber losses mounted from German defensive fighter aircraft attacks on deep penetration missions beyond the range of available fighter cover, Eaker may have lost some of the confidence of USAAF Commanding General Henry Arnold. When General Dwight D. Eisenhower was named Supreme Allied Commander in December 1943, he proposed to use his existing team of subordinate commanders, including Lieutenant General Jimmy Doolittle, in key positions. Doolittle was named Eighth Air Force Commander, and Arnold concurred with the change.

Eaker was reassigned as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, having under his command the Twelfth and Fifteenth Air Forces and the British Desert and Balkan Air Forces. He did not approve of the plan to bomb Monte Cassino in February 1944, considering it a dubious military target, but ultimately "signed off" and gave in to pressure from ground commanders. Historians of the era now generally believe Eaker's skepticism was correct and that the ancient abbey at Monte Cassino could have been preserved without jeopardizing the Allied advance through Italy.

Although his background was in single-engine fighter aircraft, Eaker became the architect of a strategic bombing force that ultimately numbered forty groups of 60 heavy bombers each, supported by a subordinate fighter command of 1,500 aircraft, most of which was in place by the time he relinquished command at the start of 1944.

On 30 April 1945, General Eaker was named Deputy Commander of the Army Air Forces and Chief of the Air Staff. He retired on 31 August 1947, and was promoted to Lieutenant General in the newly established U.S. Air Force on the retired list 29 June 1948.

Almost 40 years after his retirement, Congress passed special legislation awarding four-star status in the U.S. Air Force to General Eaker, prompted by retired Air Force Reserve Major General and Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and endorsed by President Ronald Reagan. On 26 April 1985, Chief of Staff General Charles A. Gabriel and Ruth Eaker, the general's wife, pinned on his fourth star.

While stationed in New York in the early 1920s, Eaker studied law at Columbia University. Eaker went back to school in the early 1930s at the University of Southern California and received a degree in journalism. With Henry Arnold, Eaker co-authored This Flying Game (1936), Winged Warfare (1937), and Army Flyer (1942).

Over his 30 years of flying, General Eaker became a Command Pilot and accumulated over 12,000 flying hours.

Medals and Awards

Air Force Distinguished Service Medal

Army Distinguished Service Medal (3 Awards)

Navy Distinguished Service Medal

Silver Star Medal

Legion of Merit

Distinguished Flying Cross (2 Awards)

Air Medal

World War I Victory Medal

American Defense Service Medal

American Campaign Medal

European-African-Middle East Campaign Medal with Bronze Service Stars

World War II Victory Medal

Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire

Knight Commander of the Bath

Legion of Honor, Grand Officer (France)

Croix de Guerre with Palm (France)

Krzyż Zasługi z Mieczami with Swords (Poland)

Order of Kutuzov, Second Degree (USSR)

Grand Master of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus (Italy)

Order of the Liberator General San Martin, Commander (Spanish: Comendador) (Argentina)

Order of the Southern Cross, Grand Officer (Brazil)

Officer, Order of the Sun (Peru)

Order of Aeronautical Merit (Brazil)

Order of the Condor of the Andes (Bolivia)

Order of Merit, Officer (Chile)

Order of the Liberator, Officer (Venezuela)

Partisan Star, First Class (Yugoslavia)


Command Pilot Badge

General Ira C. Eaker Award

The General Ira C. Eaker Award is given by the Civil Air Patrol in honor of the former Deputy Commander U.S. Army Air Forces and aviation pioneer. It is presented on behalf of CAP by CAP National Headquarters to cadets who have completed the specific requirements in the Phase IV of the cadet program. The award is accompanied by promotion to the grade of Cadet Lieutenant Colonel.

By regulation, this award should be presented by a region commander (or designee) or higher, a governor, congressman, federal judge, official appointed to a federal office, or a military officer in the rank of colonel (or the equivalent) or above.

Other Honors

• Eaker was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, in Dayton, OH, in 1970.

• On 10 October 1978, President Jimmy Carter, authorized by act of Congress, awarded in the name of the congress, a special Congressional Gold Medal to General Eaker for contributing immeasurably to the development of aviation and to the security of his country.

• Blytheville Air Force Base, Strategic Air Command (SAC) installation, was re-named Eaker Air Force Base on 26 May 1988. Eaker AFB was closed on 6 March 1992 due to Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) action. Military to civilian conversion began, and public aircraft began using the decommissioned base. The military still uses the re-named Arkansas International Airport.

• The airport in Durant, OK, was re-named Eaker Field to honor Eaker, a graduate of Southeastern State College in Durant. Now known as Southeastern Oklahoma State University, the student aviation majors use the airport as the home of the flight school.

In Retirement

Eaker was a vice president of Hughes Tool Company and Hughes Aircraft (1947-57) and of Douglas Aircraft (1957-61).

Starting in 1962, he wrote a weekly column, carried by many newspapers, on military affairs.

Death and Burial

General Ira Clarence Eaker died on 6 August 1987 at Malcolm Grow Medical Center, Andrews Air Force Base, MD. He is buried in Section 30 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

Honoree ID: 710   Created by: MHOH




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