General William "Billy" Mitchell

1879 - 1936

Gen. "Billy" Mitchell, namesake of our airport, was a great military leader.  A man of absolute integrity, he fought for his beliefs at the risk of his own career.  He is widely regarded as the Father of the U.S. Air Force, and largely responsible for the development of airpower, both military and commercial.

Born in France in 1879, the son of a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, his Grandfather Alexander was one of the richest men in the state.  Billy grew up in Milwaukee.  Upon the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, he left college at age eighteen to enlist in the U. S. Army as a private.  He quickly rose through the ranks of the Signal Corps, serving in the Philippines, Cuba and Alaska.  Mitchell became the youngest Captain in the Army, and was appointed to the General Staff in 1912.

On the verge of World War 1, he recognized the importance of aviation.  In 1916, he learned to fly at his own expense.  Promoted to Major, he was appointed Chief of the Air Service of the First Army.  In Europe, Mitchell was promoted to Colonel.  He commanded more than 1,500 British, French and American aircraft in the war - the largest "air force" ever assembled.  His heroic leadership resulted in promotion to Brigadier General and Chief of the Air Service, the top command in aviation.

Returning to the United States in 1919, he began vigorously promoting aviation.  He planned the building of a strong air force.  His claims of air superiority led to a confrontation with the Navy.  In 1921, Mitchell proved his point when the captured battleship Ostfriesland was sunk with aerial bombs.  Eventually, the forceful promotion of his ideas led to a clash with high ranking officers.  As opposition grew, he became more outspoken.  In 1925, he charged the administration with neglecting the national defense and almost treasonable conduct.  He was court-martialed and found guilty of insubordination.  He resigned from the Army in 1926, but continued his influence and leadership until his untimely death in 1936 at the age of 56 years. Although broken and defeated in his later years, he was a gallant man.  He could have enjoyed a life of luxury, wealth and power.  Instead, he served his country with loyalty and honor.  His perseverance, intelligence and courage will never be forgotten.

In the history of aviation, the name of General William "Billy" Mitchell will be forever identified as the pioneer advocate of airpower.  Mitchell exemplified the dedicated patriot whose single-minded devotion to a cause would lead him to a degree of recklessness resulting in his downfall.  In spite of the controversial methods he used to advance his ideas, Mitchell's influence on our military policy today is very much evident.  In 1946, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Gen. Mitchell is buried at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee.