dark days of World War II when the bitter war was far from won, it was a Texas
tenant farmer's son who took command of the U.S. Eighth Air Force in England,
playing a key role in making the Normandy invasion possible.
Lt. Gen. Ira Eaker, a native of Llano County, was credited with building the Eighth
Air Force from scratch to launch daylight bombing raids against German factories,
eventually crippling Nazi war production. In 1944 he took over command of Mediterranean
Allied Air Forces with more than 12,000 aircraft, and he was transferred in early
1945 to Washington as deputy Air Force chief under his longtime friend, Gen. H.
H. "Hap" Arnold.
"pioneer aviator and Air Power leader," General Eaker was awarded in 1953 the
Congressional Gold Medal received by only five other airmen -- Orville and Wilbur
Wright, Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager and Billy Mitchell. The British soil from
which Eaker's aircraft flew missions was a long way from Field Creek, the six-family
community where Yancy and Dona Lee Eaker lived and where Ira, first of their five
sons, was born. In 1906, when Ira was nine, the Eakers moved to Eden, Concho County,
in a covered wagon. It took five days to travel the distance of about 100 miles.
Three years later, when drought conditions parched Texas farms, the Eaker family
moved to southeastern Oklahoma. They returned to Texas in 1922.
graduated from Southeastern Oklahoma State University at Durant, and enlisted
as an army private when the United States entered World War I. Transferred to
the Signal Corps' aviation section, he trained as a pilot at Kelly Field in San
Antonio. The war ended before he faced combat, but as a commissioned officer his
career in military aviation was under way.
the 1920s, Eaker made headlines with two innovative flights, one demonstrating
a pilot's reliance on aircraft instruments over a long distance and the other
demonstrating in-air refueling.
In 1927, piloting a P-12 fighter equipped with a baby-buggy canopy covering the
cockpit, he made the first "blind" flight coast-to-coast while a companion plane
flew nearby to verify that Eaker remained "hooded" for the full distance except
on takeoffs and landings. Two years later, he was the chief pilot of the Question
Mark, a Fokker tri-motor, which set a flight endurance mark that went unbeaten
for many years. Rigged for refueling by a hose dropped from a Douglas C-1, the
Question Mark logged 11,000 miles shuttling between San Diego and Los Angeles
in its record 150 hours, 40 minutes and 15 seconds -- about six and one-quarter
days -- of continuous flight.
General Eaker retired from active duty after World War II, he remained in the
aviation industry with senior executive posts at Hughes Aircraft and Douglas Aircraft.
From 1964 to 1982, he wrote a weekly column for the San Angelo Standard-Times
that was syndicated to seven hundred newspapers throughout the nation. In 1972,
he was the founding president of the United States Strategic Institute. An act
of Congress promoted him to four-star rank in 1985.
General Eaker died at Andrews Air Force Base in 1987 and was buried at Arlington
Cemetery with full military honors.