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US Air Force Celebrates 75 Years!

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September 18, 2022, marks the 75th birthday of the United States Air Force. This branch of the United States military was established through the National Security Act, though officials realized the strategic value of air power long before.

Early Wright Flyer

During the Civil War, military balloons provided an eagle-eye view of the battlefield and helped military leaders conduct reconnaissance missions and direct fire over enemy territory. In 1907, the US Army Signal Corps created the Aeronautical Division and contracted with the Wright Brothers to deliver Aeroplane No. 1. Still in its infancy when WWI began, military aviation quickly expanded. In 1918, the government removed aviation from the Signal Corps and established the US Army Air Service. By the time WWI ended, the Air Service had nearly 200,000 officers and men, 45 squadrons, and 740 planes. Following WWI, the Army Reorganization Act in 1920 created the Air Service, and the Air Corps Act of 1926 established the Army Air Corps.

As the United States entered WWII, the Army Air Forces supplanted the Army Air Corps in 1941. By 1942, the Army Air Forces fell under a single command that rapidly expanded to include 16 air forces, 2.4 million officers and men, and some 80,000 aircraft. Nearly 30,000 women served in the Women’s Army Corps during WWII. The Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron was created in September 1942 to allow female pilots who worked as civilians attached to the Army Air Forces to ferry planes, fighters, bombers, and transports within the United States. They also trained male airmen. In 1943, they became the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), an organization that broke ground for later USAF female pilots.

Tuskegee Airmen of the 332d Fighter Group

Two years after WWII ended, the National Security Act of 1947 created the Department of the Air Force, and on September 18, 1947, the United States Air Force was born. As an official branch of the military, the USAF began to diversify. During WWII, most personnel in the Army Air Force were white males. Still, the success of the Black WWII fighter pilots from the 332d Fighter Group (Tuskegee Airmen) in Italy helped pave the way for racial integration in the USAF. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 abolishing segregation in the armed forces.

President Truman also signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948. It allowed women to serve in limited roles in the USAF. In 1976, women were accepted into the USAF on an equal basis with men. Jeannie Marie Leavitt became the first female fighter pilot in the USAF in 1993. She later commanded a combat fighter wing.

F-35A Lightning II

Today, as the USAF celebrates 75 years, they continue to adapt to rapid technological changes to make America the leader in airpower. The Air Force’s five core missions include air 1- superiority, 2- global strike, 3- rapid global mobility, 4- intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and 5- command and control.

If you would like to learn more about the critical role played by the USAF and its predecessor organizations in defense of the nation, explore these and other related collections today on Fold3®:

51 Comments

  1. John Ahrens says:

    Please correct the following The Air Force is the 5th military service.
    U.S. Army
    U.S. Navy
    U. S. Marines
    U. S. Coast Guard

    • Jenny Ashcraft says:

      Thanks, John! Of course, we can’t forget the Coast Guard! And Space Force, the newest branch of the military.

    • Moreland Houck says:

      You aren’t the John Ahrens who worked fot Conrailmin NYC in the 1970’s-80’s and retired to Cape Cod are you.

    • My,dad was a cook in the United States Air Force,during the Korean Conflict.He,did his basic training at Lackland US Air Force base.Served,his four years.And,was Honorably Discharged.From,McChord Air Force base,Pierce county,Washington USA.
      Sincerly,Paul Vernon Thomas

    • Gregory A Lisko says:

      The Coast Guard is the Department of Transportation until called into service during time of war, falling under the Department of the Navy. We had Coast Guard attachments with us during Desert Shield/Storm and Drug Interdiction because of there knowledge of Maritime Law. Puddle Pirates are pretty good guys.

  2. Ken says:

    Technically the US Coast Guard is not the fifth military service, as it fell under the US Customs and the US Department of Transportation over the years. It was founded as part of the US Revenue Seevice.

    • Jen says:

      You’re factually incorrect. The Coast Guard is, by law, a branch of the military, and traces its founding to 1790. It also was never under Customs, though it has customs authorities – I think you meant it was in the Treasury Department (created by Hamilton at a time when there was no US Navy), then Transportation, then DHS. Its placement outside of DOD is intentional, as it is the only military branch with law enforcement authorities, but it is still a military branch.

    • MACS Robert E. Friedlieb, USN (Ret) says:

      Having the Coast Guard under Homeland Security in peace is intentional. If it were a DOD component it would be subject to the Posse Comitatus Act and would not be able to perform drug interdiction or other law enforcement actions. While I was in the USN aboard aircraft carriers we had various Coast Guard Units deployed with us to perform such functions. Naval personnel could only interdict if we were attacked which did happen on a few occasions to the regrets of the hostile actor! We had much BIGGER guns!

    • David L. Moore says:

      Coast Guard bosuns ran most of the landing craft in both theaters in WW2.
      Douglas Monro is the one Coast Guard member who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroism at Guadalcanal.
      Had a coworker that was a Coastie that served aboard a salvage vessel in the Mekong Delta.

    • allen williams says:

      Interesting that the US Coast Guard is regarded as a “military” service. His Majesty’s Coastguard is characterized as a civilian service devoted to the assistance of persons and vessels in difficulties on and off shore, dealing with substantially polluting incidents, and nothing else. It can be alerted from a telephone by dialling 999 (or 112), like Fire, Police, or Ambulance services, in coastal areas. or by radio. They are not concerned with law enforcement, and have no powers of arrest. Nor are they armed.

  3. Martha Davidson says:

    Fascinating and impressive! My dad, who served in the Air Force during the Korean War, shared this article with me…

  4. James R. Michaels says:

    The Air Force is forever in my mind.
    Thank you for the article

    Lt Col James (Jim) R. Michaels, Ret.
    Bedford, TX
    Age 91
    Flew F86 in Korea

    • Roger W. DeLorey says:

      My career in the Air Force was very memorable. My service covered 26 years and retired as a MSGT. I entered and had a direct assignment to Barksdale AFB as a 70010 Clerks Helper. I served in SAC for 10 years and received an assignment with the Auditor General Service. I obtained accounting courses and converted to an Internal Auditor. I finished my career with the Air Force Audit Agency for 16 years. There were less than 20 Enlisted Internal Auditors and a very proud group of men. Enjoyed my career in the Air Force.

    • Zoran Novak says:

      My half brother August Novak served as A/1c USAirForce Korea but I can’t find any information about his life and service in the Air Force from June 15, 1951 to December 21, 1960. He died on September 28, 1973 and was buried on 05. October 1973 at Long Island National Cemetery.
      I asked for his information in eVetrecs, completed the information they were looking for, but to date I have not received any response.
      I would like to ask you if you can help me in finding his information and his family.

  5. Linda Johnson says:

    I raised my right hand for a 3 year enlistment in the USAF May 1960.
    Stationed at Strategic Air Command HQ, Omaha, NE, I was there during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Assigned to Communications and worked in the underground at SAC HQ. An interesting experience!

  6. Charles C Blankenship says:

    This block wouldn’t take a post of a picture to show a Control Tower at Kimpo, Korea c1956. I’m sure the F-86 pilot would have enjoyed the same. I joined the Air Force in 1955 and my first PCS assignment was Kimpo to learn to be an air traffic controller. I was at Eielson AFB, AK during the Cuban Missile Crisis. One can watch the PBS TV air to see our contributions. Spliced between the overseas assignments and a Patterson AFB, OH PCS tour were two tours at Eglin AFB, FL Knew several brown shoe Airmen and Berlin Airlift GCA controllers.

    • Marvin Aaron says:

      You will find a picture of the control tower with the pock marks in the movie
      “Operation Kiddy Car Airlift” about the evacuation of 1,000 Korean orphans
      from Kimpo …..
      ohttps://www.stripes.com/operation-kiddy-car-keeping-a-korean-war-hero-s-memory-alive-1.476030hans
      I was in Korea for 13 months 1968 – 1969 first to Oson then tdy to PYD then back to Oson then for the remainder of my 13 months it was Kimpo fom there to Amarillo AFB, Texas ……. Thank you for your service ….

  7. Very nice article, Jenny! Our family was thrilled to celebrate the USAF 75th! Thank you for all your good work in this area.

    • Jenny Ashcraft says:

      Denise, your father, Col. Gail Halvorsen (the Candy Bomber), was such an outstanding representative of the USAF. We miss him and honor his memory.

    • Denise Halvorsen Williams says:

      Thank you Jenny, we do miss him greatly. Such a light!

  8. Yes,my dad.Nelson Thomas was drafted during the Korean conflict.He,chose the United States Air Force.He,was a cook.
    Sincerly,Paul Vernon Thomas.

  9. Happy,75 year celebration to the United States Air Force.God,bless America.My,dad Nelson Thomas did his basic training at Lackland US Air Force base,San Antonio Texas.Served,his four years.And was honorably discharged from the US Air Force base in Pierce county,Washington USA.
    Sincerly,Paul Vernon Thomas.

  10. Peter Trehearn says:

    My Welsh grandfather P . T. Trehearn , a pre WW1 upholsterer, was sent to Canada (Camp Borden) and America (Camp Taliaferro, Texas) with the Royal Flying Corps to teach Riggers constructing the Biplanes 1917 – 1918. Vernon Castle, famous in America as a dancer ‘Vernon and Irene Castle’ was one of his senior officers who tragically died in a crash while teaching a cadet to fly. The cadet survived. Castle was given a heros funeral, Fort Worth, Texas.

  11. David moore says:

    My wife’s father John Carpenter joined the Army Air Corps in 1936. A New York City boy on his own since 13 until enlisting at 18 for “3 hots and a cot”.
    He flew photo recon missions in the Pacific in WW2 and Korean War.
    He retired in 1961 after 25 years service on Medical disability.

    • Your wife’s father John Carpenter and my father Nelson Thomas have both served in our country’s military.During the Korean Conflict.Together,let’s salute them.
      God bless America.
      Sincerly,Paul Vernon Thomas.

  12. Ron Oliver says:

    My family has served in every branch except the Coast Guard. Currently I have two cousins who followed their father as Air Force pilots. Still trying to understand how a bunch of peace loving people so consistently chose to serve over the centuries.

    • David L. Moore says:

      Some gave some,some gave all.
      My family goes back to the Maryland Regiments in the Revolution. Served on both sides in the War Between the States.
      My great uncle suffered from gas in WW1 as did my wife’s grandfather.
      As I noted in a previous note her Father was an Air Force Master Sergeant with 25 yrs service. My father served as a Marine from Bougainville to Iwo Jima. His brother was a soldier with the 307th Inf.
      He survived Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa because his buddy Desmond Doss rescued him and 74 other men while under fire lowering them down an escarpment. Doss was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Truman.
      They were the “Greatest Generation “!

    • Good afternoon.David L.Moore
      I like in your response to Ron Oliver.That,”some gave some,some gave all.”My,dad Nelson Thomas was a cook in the US Air Force.Together,let’s salute them.God,bless America.Sincerly,Paul Vernon Thomas.

  13. Matt Davison says:

    I am an Air Force veteran. You sent me Jack Sh#% about the 75th anniversary, but you managed to send a congrats email to my wife. Thanks anyway. No hard feelings.

  14. I joined the USAF in 1961 shortly after graduating from High School. After Basic and Tech School, my first assignment in 1962 as a Radio Relay Equipment Repairman was to Gander, Newfoundland. When I arrived there, and passed through the gate of this remote site, I saw a sign that read “1933rd AACS (Army Air Corps Communication Service), The Air Force finally got around to updating that sign while I was there 🙂

  15. Phillip Thomas says:

    Dang, I am older than the Air Force. Born 1 June 1941. Retired Master Sgt. [AFSC 90270] Jan 1960 – Mar 1980. Independent Medical Tech 902. Serves stateside 3 tours with SAC, Columbus AFB Miss. 2 tours at Loring AFB Maine. + 10 years in Europe Germany, Italy, Spain & Nam July 1967 – July 1968. Retired from Hospital Sq as NCOIC Nursing Service at Patrick, AFB, Fla.

  16. Beth Willard says:

    Happy 75th anniversary USAF! I served 92-96 with the 22nd Air Refueling Squadron Mountain Home AFB Idaho. I was an assistant crew chief on a KC-135R Stratotanker. We were part of the 366th Wing “Gunfighters” the Air Force’s first Composite Air Intervention Wing.

  17. James L McCauley Jr says:

    My father was an aircraft mechanic in the Army Air Force in WWII. He stayed in the Army when it became the USAF. I was in the USAF 1971 -1991, and celebrated the 25th in 1972. Got out 6 years before the 50th. I was in USAF Space Command, which is now the Space Force. They do the same job today in Space Force that I did in Space Command. I was at Cape Canaveral. Those in Space Command in 2019 must have felt the same when it became Space Force as my dad did when they created the USAF from the Army Air Force.

    • Arthur Christopher Barker says:

      James, you joined the Air Force the same year I enlisted. I was stationed at Ft. Campbell with the 101st Airborne Division for 3 1/2 years in Detachment 1, 16th Weather Squadron, 5th Weather Wing. I made Staff Sergeant 11 months before my four-year enlistment ended. I wish the US Space Force had been around when I was in the service because as a “space nut” I would have immediately signed up. I hope they decide that their dress uniform should be silver on black — the “colors” of space.

  18. Susan Pianka says:

    My Dad is older than the Air Force too! He actually enlisted in the army just before the end of WWII (too young when it started), and when Japan surrendered spent time in the Philippines and then in Japan as part of the occupation forces; he ended up transferring to the Army Air Force as a radio operator assigned to Korea… and says he entered the army but was discharged from the air force! (and has the paperwork to show it!) I’ve got several stories from him, and always like to read the articles from Fold 3. Keep up the good work.

  19. allen williams says:

    All but 30 years late, as usual.

  20. Rob Love says:

    There is a Museum at Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus, New Mexico dedicated to Pershing’s 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico to track down Villa. It was the first use of our air force with mostly Curtis Jennys. They have a full size replica hanging from the rafters along with a replica armored car and several authentic trucks and cars from the raid. It was a training ground for Pershing and the air force, many lessons learned before heading off to Europe to fight the Hun. Gen Geo Patton was involved. He had just purchased his ivory handles pistols. Many of the pilots went on to high positions in the air force.

  21. Suyapa Silvia says:

    My father-in-law served with the 29th Radio Squadron Mobile at Brooks AFB, Texas, then at Clark AFB, Philippines in 1952-1955. Lt. Col. Thaddeus L. Woltanski was the unit’s first commander. If anyone recognizes this unit and has information about anyone who served with it, I would greatly appreciate an email to: [email protected].

  22. Nancy H Smith says:

    My father was in WWI, he went overseas on the Demosthenes on May 3,1918 with his comrades from the 183rd Aero Squadron. The 183rd was part of the V Corps Observation Group whose primary mission was visual and photographic reconnaissance, often over enemy lines. I am looking for more information about this group. I have my father’s WWI photo album with both ground and aerial photos. Not sure of his story because he was ill or disabled most of my childhood. I never had an adult conversation with him to ask questions. His name is Thomas Julian Hutto. If anyone can help fill in his story, please help to honor those who fought in this war.
    Thank you!

  23. Walter Bruce Kohlun says:

    This is long overdue, my father was in the Army Air Corp at the time the USAF was created. Are there any historical documents on either Kearney Air Force Base Nebraska (where I was born in 1948) or Bergstrom AFB, Texas? At one point I remember an illustrated (mostly black and white photographs) of my father’s unit stationed in the Aluetion Islands, Alaska during WW ll. It disappeared after my father passed.

  24. C. R. "Bob" Evans says:

    I entered the USAF in Sept 1954 with basic training at Sampson AFB on the Finger Lakes in New York. Moved from there to Whitman AFB at Knobnoster Missouri. After two plus years there, I was transferred to Tachikawa Japan where I filled out my 4 year tour. I was a S/Sgt with time in grade. My 4 year tour grew me up and gave me an accounting/budget trade that served me through my retirement in 2003. An important segment of my life. Bring back the draft.

  25. Barbara Blythe says:

    Today I raise my glass to all the brave men, women & to my father, Albert P. Rudisill who was an Air Force pilot during WWII. I understand that he flew 33 missions over Germany. His twin brother was also a pilot & became a POW. Both survived the war. If there is any info concerning my father, I would love it if someone could contact me as I never got to meet him before he passed.

  26. Annette Henigan says:

    My dad served in Army Air Corp til 1945. His records have all been lost but I have photo in leather flight cap and jacket. I understand he was either navigator or worked on flight simulators. His name was Lawton Caley, a Kansas boy. He and mom lived at San Bernardino, Calif at that time. Wish Someone knew him who could fill me in

  27. James Bryant says:

    My grandfather was at MIT during WWI and instead of being drafted was sent along with some of his classmates to Dayton, OH to work with Orville Wright conducting wind tunnel experiments. The work of the group resulted in the internally-braced wing which made the bi-plane obsolete.

  28. William L. Thim says:

    This is my first assignment as an Aircraft Mechanic on a T-6 in Korea in the 50’s. As a young boy, from Hermosa Beach, California, the first time out of state and exposed to a new country.
    I really enjoyed the people and the culture. When I returned home, I realized the tremendous bond I had with the people in Korea. This experience I will cherish forever. It showed me how fortunate I was to be an American.

  29. Suzanne Patton says:

    I was born in1940, My Dad was graduating from Rush Medical School. There was a meeting where the AAF personnel offered a Officer’s rank, and salary if they signed up that day, or they could join later and be digging a fox hole. My life turns out to be a opportunity to see the world, be proud of my family of military personnel who are represent the Marine Corps, Army, Navy and of course the Air Force. I have one nephew in West Point, graduating in 1 year and his brother is heading into the Naval Academy. My Dad served 25 years, My husband served 24 years flying, but his favorite Plane was the RF101Tactical Reconnaissance that he flew in Vietnam.

  30. Richard George Bean says:

    I was born September 16th, 1947 same year as the Air Force, My father joind the service and was given 2 stripes to enlist where as the Army wanted to give only when he wanted to reinlist after a short stint as a civilian. He was a MP at first then switched to working on plane engines until he was discharged after a heart attack after serving 28 years and attaing Chief Master Sargent, he was one of few Persons considered for the New Rank of Chief Master Sargent of the Air Force.
    I joined the Air Force in June 1966 after Graduating high school while living in OHAU, Hawaii
    as my father was ststioned at Hickam Air Force Base. served in the Air Force for 20yrs, went to radar school at Boloxi, Mississippi was stationed at Fortuna Air Station, McCellan AFB,North Highlands, CA (Sacramento, CA), then Otis AFB on Cape Cod, Massachuetts, Upper Heyford, United Kingdom, Hill AFB , Ogden then to Thailand, Myrtle Beach AFB, So. Carolina, BitBurg, Germany, to Bergstrom AFB, Auistin, TX, to Holloman AFB retired as a Tsgt with 20 yrs service. I now live in Peoria, AZ. I am now 75 like the Air Force, a widower of almost 4 yrs in fair health enjoy fishing, bowling and church. Motorcycling when I get my bike fixed (A 1985 Harley-Davidson FLHTC Electric Glide Bagger, Corvette Blue)

  31. Laurie Weston says:

    My father was in the Army Signal Corps and eventually in the Air Force. He commanded the secret Signal Corps group on Catalina Island, CA during WWII. The museum on the island has been trying to gather information on the WWII era since it all became declassified. I have sent them information on my Dad. Anyone else out there who had a relative who served on Catalina Island?

  32. I was able to meet two of the Tuskagee airmen in the Palm Springs, CA area; Rusty Barnes and Lt. Col. Bob Friend.

    They were great pilots who helped win the air war in WWII and were gentlemen.

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