Death of General “Hap” Arnold – January 15, 1950

Aviation pioneer Henry “Hap” Arnold died on January 15, 1950. Arnold had the distinction of being the only person to serve as a five-star general in two different branches. Arnold was General of the Army towards the end of World War II (December 21, 1944), and on May 7, 1949, Congress named Arnold as the only General of the Air Force. The U.S. Air Force did not become a separate branch until September 18, 1947, and Arnold had retired 1946. This public law changed Arnold’s final rank from Chief of Staff of the Army Air Force to General of the Air Force, making him the only person to ever hold the rank.


This West Point graduate was mentored by the pioneers of manned flight, sitting under the Wright Brothers as a student for two months. Arnold, along with another officer, became the first Army flight instructors at College Park, MD. While at College Park, he would set multiple altitude records topping out at over 6,500 feet. After avoiding a nearly fatal crash in 1912, Arnold removed himself from flying status for a period, with assignments taking him all around the world.


In 1916, Arnold found himself as in the 3rd Infantry Regiment as a 1st Lieutenant, at Camp Eagle Pass, TX. The Regiment was there to support the Mexican Border Expedition that followed the Pancho Villa attacks across the border. While serving with the 3rd Infantry Regiment, Arnold received orders to report back to the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps.


Over the next decades, Arnold would be at the leading edge of military aviation. During World War II, Arnold would grow the Air Corps from 22,000 men and 3,900 aircraft to over 2.5 million men and 75,000 aircraft. Arnold’s retirement came only after he suffered four heart attacks and after receiving word that Germany had surrendered.

Arnold would pass away five years later at his ranch in Sonoma, CA. Arnold would be honored with a State Funeral and then interred in Section 34 of Arlington National Cemetery.

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