Ira C. Eaker, (1896–1987)


Ira Eaker and Carl Spaatz were two brilliant officers whose careers intertwined, from before the famous flight of the Question Mark in 1929 to the sending of the Eighth Air Force against Germany.

Army Air Forces general.

Ira Clarence Eaker was born in Field Creek, Texas, on April 13, 1896, and in 1917 he became a pilot in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps. During January 1–7, 1929, he joined Carl A. Spaatz and Elwood Quesada on a seven-day nonstop endurance flight over Los Angeles that required 41 in-flight refuelings. In 1940 Eaker was selected to visit England and study the Royal Air Force in combat and, the following year, he received command of the 20th Pursuit Group at Hamilton Field, California. Once the United States entered World War II, Eaker gained temporary promotion to brigadier general and accompanied Spaatz to England to organize the VIII Bomber Command.

During the war, General Eaker personally led the first U.S. B-17 bomber strike against German occupation forces in France (against Rouen on 17 August 1942). As commander of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean, he flew the first bombing raid from Italy into Germany, landing in the Soviet Union after striking a series of military targets. He advocated precision daylight bombing, a tactic that most Allied leaders were skeptical about. In addition, he also developed the plan to bomb enemy targets around the clock using U.S. B-17s to strike by day and Royal Air Force bombers to attack by night.

In the fall of 1942, Eaker replaced Spaatz as commander of the Eighth Air Force. In January 1943, during the Casablanca Conference, he personally convinced Prime Minister Winston Churchill to continue precision daylight bombing in concert with nighttime raids performed by the Royal Air Force. In June 1943 Eaker transferred to the Mediterranean, and in April 1945 Eaker returned to Washington, D.C., as deputy commanding general of the Army Air Forces, and its new chief of staff.

Before he retired from Air Force service in June 1947,General Eaker worked closely with General Spaatz and Assistant Secretary of War W. Stuart Symington to establish a separate U.S. Air Force. Awards would follow. He received the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and myriad other military awards from other countries as well as the United States, including a special Gold Medal from Congress in 1979.

After his Air Force retirement, General Eaker worked at the Hughes Tool Company and Hughes Aircraft until 1957. For almost two decades, he wrote a column on military affairs that was syndicated to 180 newspapers. He died in 1987, two years after President Ronald Reagan awarded him his fourth star. The wartime hero and aviation pioneer is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


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