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Major General William Mitchell Autographs, Memorabilia & Collectibles

Born: December 29, 1879
Died: February 19, 1936
Biography | show moreshow less
General William "Billy" Mitchell (1879-1936) joined the US Army as a private during the Spanish-American War. Remaining in the service, and correctly foreseeing the future military importance of air power, he took private flying lessons when the army deemed him too old for pilot training. He proved a bold, courageous and much decorated airman in World War I, commanding by war's end all American air units in France. Mitchell's outspoken advocacy of air power, and impatience with superiors who didn't share his vision, soon got him in trouble. Despite tests conducted at his urging in 1921, which proved that battleships could be sunk by aircraft, Mitchell was relegated to secondary posts, and he reverted to his pre-war rank of colonel. Mitchell predicted in 1924 that Japan could launch a successful attack on Pearl Harbor. After he told a Congressional committee that Army and Navy leaders showed "an almost treasonable administration of the national defense," he was court martialed in 1925 for insubordination, found guilty, and sentenced to five years leave without pay (changed to half pay by President Coolidge). One member of the court martial jury, Douglas MacArthur, defended Mitchell on the grounds that officers had the right to criticize superiors for flawed policies, a remarkable foreshadowing. Mitchell resigned from the service, a public hero but a pariah within the military establishment. When World War II vindicated many (though not all) of Mitchell's theories, attitudes changed. The B-25 Bomber, was named the Mitchell, the only US warplane named after a person. President Franklin Roosevelt promoted Mitchell posthumously to Major General. Popular culture, including the 1955 film The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell, has generally treated him as hero. As shown in this letter, Mitchell believed in a US Air Force, separate from the Army and Navy, commanded by its own officers. The goal was achieved in the post-World War II reorganization, two decades after Mitchell's death.

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