Bernard A. Schriever: The Forgotten General

United States’ Air Force General Bernard A. Schriever was one of the most influential Air Force officials in the proud history of America’s youngest Armed Service. His contributions to the development of the US Air Force rival that of the legendary Hap Arnold or the enigmatic Curtis LeMay. Today, Bennie, as his friends and family called him, is most recognized for his contribution to the development of the Air Force’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) force. Thus he is known as the father of America’s ICBM force. But he was more than an ICBM proponent. He saw the opportunity rockets presented, not only to the armed services, but to the general public. In line with this vision, Schriever put his immense energy and intelligence into the development of an infant America’s space program.

Bennie was born in Bremen, Germany on the afternoon of September 14th 1910. Early on his life, young Schriever was fascinated, as many boys of his time, by the sight of the massive German Zeppelins passing overhead on their way to strike Great Britain. He felt in love with aviation. A love he would come back to later in his life. He came to the United States in January 1917. His father, an engineer on a German commercial ship, was interned on the US in 1916, thus Bernard mother took his young children (Bennie had a brother) to America. Soon after arriving, the Schrievers moved to Texas. In 1923, young Bernard became a naturalized citizen. After high school, he went to Texas A&M and in 1930, Bennie graduated at near the top of his class. In 1931 he entered the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant on the Army’s coveted Field Artillery Division. It was late in 1931 when Bennie re-discovered his passion for flying. In 1932 he became an aviation cadet, providing to graduate from Kelly Field on June 1933. His first assignment was flying Keystone BE-4 and Martin B-10 medium bombers from March Field. The commander of the air wing was a young Lieutenant Colonel henry H. Arnold. In 1934, Bernard was assigned the air mail route from Salt Lake City, Utah to Cheyenne. The next year he was reassigned to the Civilian Conservation Corps, a reserve status assignment, out of New Mexico. In 1936, Bernard was called to active duty and send to Albrook Field in Panama. There he flew Boeing’s venerable P-12. The flying came to a halt in 1937, when Army budgetary cuts forced the service to decommissioned bases and personnel. As a result, Schriever was forced to become a civilian for the second time in his life. In the summer of 1937, he entered the civilian aviation sector and began flying for Northwest Airlines. His life as an airline pilot lasted almost a year. In October 1938, young Bernard won a major aviation competition granting him an officer slot.

After reenlisting in the Army for the third time, Bernard was sent to Hamilton Field for pilot training. After Hamilton, he was transferred to Wright Field where he assumed test pilot duties. In June 1941, he proceeded to graduate from the prestigious Army Air Corps Engineer School. He followed this accomplishment with a Master Degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University. Young Schriever went on to participate in World War II. He flew B-17s, B-25s and C-47s in the Pacific Theater. His actions in combat earned him the coveted position of Engineering Officer in General George C. Kennedy staff. Kennedy was the head of the Fifth Air Force and he took Bernard to every front in the Pacific to gather information about the enemy’s aircraft and systems. On one occasion, in 1943, the now Colonel Schriever was assigned by Kennedy to be at the Manila airport while the Americans where fighting for the Philippines. After the war, General Hap Arnold promptly recognized Bernard’s engineering and management skills and he appointed Bennie Chief Scientific Liaison Section and Deputy Chief of Staff, Material Division. It was there that Bernard would encounter some of the most forward thinking minds in the US Armed forces. His first order was the development of the ICBM concept. A task he took with great pride and joy. He worked tenaciously with scientific luminaries such as John von Neumann, Simon Ramo and Trevor Gardner. On August 2nd 1954, Bernard officially took command of the Western Development Division at Inglewood, California. It was at Inglewood where Schriever merged his scientific, management and industrial skills to form a program which eventually would surpass the scope of the Manhattan Project in force size, budgetary discretions and importance. By the early 1950s, the development of an offensive ICBM force to deter the emerging Soviet missile arsenal; was the Nation’s primary priority.

On October 4th, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. The successful launch by the USSR of the world’s first artificial space satellite put the US ICBM’s effort on a war-type footing. Because of the unexpected Soviet success, the US government gave Schriever’s team an unprecedented amount of liberty regarding human recruitment, technological advances and testing and budgetary constrains. Because of the lifting of those restrictions, Bernard and his team of scientist were able to produce an impressive result. During a period of eight years, the Schriever’s team produced three fully operational ICBM systems, each more advance and accurate than the other. Atlas, Titan and the famous Minuteman as well as the Thor Intermediate Ballistic Missile. Aside from the military implications of his project, Bernard’s achievements were used on the exploration of space. Where his integrated navigational systems were put in lace on civilian satellites platforms.

In 1998, now General Bernard A. Schriever had the uncanny distinction of having an US Air Force facility named after him while he was still alive. He would last seven more years. On June 20th 2005, the pioneer from Bremen, Germany passed away, he was 94 years old. A true pioneer, Bennie is seldom mentioned on the mainstream media these days, but his contributions to the US military as well as to the civilian population its serves paved the way for the development of systems that we still employ today. A remainder of the greatness of General Schriever’s vision and his dedication to his country.

– Raul Colon

More Information:
wikipedia: Bernard Adolph Schriever
Astronautics Now
General Bernard A. Schriever
The Space Review
Air Force Link
Arlington National Cemetery Website

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