By Master Sgt. Daniel DeForest, 50th Space Wing History
/ Published July 11, 2006
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- There was a common thread through all the early satellite projects, Corona, MIDAS, SAMOS, etc. - it was General Bernard Schriever.
But while the General may have gained fame as the "Father of the United States Air Force Space and Missile Programs", his career included many contributions to our nation's defense before the "Space Age." It started in 1932, and evolved to a career covering pivotal events in the history of the Air Force, including over three years of combat service in the Southwest Pacific during World War II.
Born in Bremen, Germany, in 1910, General Schriever's family moved to the U.S. in 1917, a difficult time to be a German in the U.S., as the nation declared war on Germany just three months after their arrival. His father died just over a year later, shortly after moving his family to New Braunfels, Texas. General Schriever became a U.S. citizen in 1923, and, after graduating from Texas A&M in 1931, joined the Army as an artillery officer. His interest in aviation, still a very new and dynamic field in the early '30s, led him to become an aviation cadet in 1932. After graduation, he went to March Field, California, where he worked for a lieutenant colonel named Henry H. "Hap" Arnold.
After President Roosevelt's ill-advised cancellation of civilian airmail contracts in 1934, 1st Lieutenant Schriever carried mail over the Salt Lake City-Cheyenne route in open cockpit O-38 aircraft, none of which included the instrumentation or two-way communications used by civilian planes. Although Lieutenant Schriever survived without injury, at least ten Air Corps pilots died across the country. The abysmal performance of the Air Corps highlighted the need for more modern equipment, and actually ended up helping the service in the long run by making it impossible to ignore the poor state of the Air Corps' equipment.
In 1937, Schriever left the service to fly for Northwest Airlines. He returned in October 1938, assigned to the 7th Bomb Group at Hamilton Field, California. He became a test pilot in 1939, moving to Wright Field, Ohio, where he attended the Air Corps Engineering School, graduating in 1941. He then returned to California, earning his master's degree in engineering from Stanford University, where he reluctantly remained after the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Partly due to his engineering talents, but mostly because of the huge military mobilization after Pearl Harbor, he was promoted to captain in April 1942 and major in June 1942, the same month he graduated from Stanford.
He wasted no time in getting into the war, arriving in Australia and joining the 19th Bomb Group the same month he graduated. He flew nearly 40 combat missions with the 19th, flying B-25s and B-17s and moving forward with the group and the rest of the General George Kenney's 5th Air Force from Australia, through New Guinea and the Philippines, to Okinawa. But, with his engineering training and talent, General Kenney decided that Lieutenant Colonel Schriever's talents would be better used in the 5th Air Force Service Command, where he led engineering and maintenance efforts in support of the growing number of aircraft in the theater. He moved up again after receiving a promotion to Colonel in December 1943, and ended the war in Okinawa as head of the advance headquarters, Far East Air Service Command.
After the war, Colonel Schriever's old boss, General Arnold, made him the chief of scientific liaison for the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff-Materiel. General Schriever later wrote in the book, The U.S. Air Force in Space that General Arnold made the move because many of the scientists that helped make the huge technological breakthroughs achieved during the war were returning to their civilian jobs at universities and, "We need to maintain a close and cooperative relationship with the scientific community. It is not enough to just have a close relationship with the aviation industry."
In his new job, Colonel Schriever worked with several of the scientists whose work formed the foundation of today's space programs, including the famous Theodore von Karman, who General Arnold asked to form the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). Colonel Schriever worked with the SAB, ensuring they understood the goals of the nation's leadership, and ensuring the government, in turn gave the board what it needed. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1953.
In June 1954, he moved to the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC), where he became assistant to the commander, a move made in preparation for the next pivotal moment in U.S. Air Force history, the establishment of the Western Development Division in July 1954.
First tasked with developing ICBMs, General Schriever oversaw the development of the country's first ballistic missiles. Shortly after establishment, the WDD also gained responsibility for space programs, with the establishment of requirement WS-117L. As noted in previous articles, WS-117L morphed into three different requirements and systems, Corona, MIDAS, and SAMOS, which set the stage for systems still in use today, such as reconnaissance satellites, DSP and DMSP. He was promoted to major general in 1955.
General Schriever continued his contributions to the development of new systems as ARDC commander, and earned his third star upon assuming command in April 1959. The command was renamed Air Force Systems Command in April 1961, and General Schriever earned his fourth star in July of the same year. He remained in command of AFSC until his retirement in 1966, leading the development of all Air Force ballistic missiles and other aerospace projects.
Over his 33-year career, General Schriever contributed to the modernization of the Army Air Corp's equipment, the victory of the allies in World War II, and our country's victory in the Cold War. He truly earned the distinction of "Father of the Air Force Space and Missile Program."