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Boyd, John R. (23 January 1927–09 March 1997), air force officer, was born John Richard Boyd in Erie, Pennsylvania, the son of Hubert Boyd, a paper mill official, and Elsie Mae Beyer. When Boyd was three, his father died and his mother became a telephone-advertising salesperson. At Strong Vincent High School in Erie, Boyd was an honor student and a member of the swimming team. He received his diploma in absentia in 1945 because he was serving in the U.S. Army Air Forces. During his tour of duty in Japan (1945–1946), Boyd criticized the bivouacking of enlisted men in freezing tents and giving them cold K rations while officers enjoyed warm quarters and hot food. When Boyd and others dismantled and burned a wooden hangar for warmth, he was threatened with court-martial; but he ultimately helped to implement reform measures. His stubborn maverick personality was forming....

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Claire Lee Chennault Right, with Major General Gilbert Cheves, at the start of a softball game in China, each serving as captain of a team drawn from the men under their command, 1945. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-111-SC-203553).

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Chennault, Claire Lee (06 September 1893–27 July 1958), military officer and airline executive, was born in Commerce, Texas, the son of John Stonewall Jackson Chennault, a small-scale cotton grower, and Jessie Lee. Chennault grew up on a small farm in Franklin Parish in northeastern Louisiana. His mother died when he was eight years old. Two years later, his father married Lottie Barnes, a local schoolteacher. Educated in the nearby town of Gilbert, he entered Louisiana State University in 1909. Shortly thereafter, his stepmother, who had persuaded him to continue his education, died. “I was alone again,” he later wrote, “and really never found another companion whom I could so completely admire, respect, and love.”...

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Jacqueline Cochran Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105221).

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Cochran, Jacqueline (1910?–09 August 1980), pioneer aviator and business executive, was born in Muscogee, Florida, near Pensacola. Her parents both died during her infancy, and she was raised by foster families with whom she worked in the lumber mills of the Florida panhandle. By the age of fifteen she had also worked in a Columbus, Georgia, cotton mill and learned how to cut hair in a beauty shop. Cochran took nursing training at a hospital in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1925 to 1928, but by 1930 she had returned to Pensacola to work in a beauty salon. In 1932 she traveled to Philadelphia to work in a beauty shop and then moved in the same year to New York City, where her skill earned her a job at Antoine’s, a well-known Saks Fifth Avenue beauty shop. For the next four years she worked for this business, spending every winter working in Antoine’s branch in Miami Beach, Florida. She met ...

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James Doolittle. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103547).

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James Doolittle Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90021).

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Doolittle, James Harold (14 December 1896–27 September 1993), aviator and air force commander, was born in Alameda, California, the son of Frank Henry Doolittle, a carpenter and gold prospector, and Rosa Shepard. Doolittle grew up in California and Alaska, where his parents moved in the gold rush of the period. He was educated in Nome, Alaska; at Los Angeles Junior College; and, for three years, at the University of California. He left the university at the beginning of his senior year when the United States entered World War I....

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Donald D. Engen. Photograph by Carolyn Russo. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution (#99-15320).

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Engen, Donald Davenport (28 May 1924–13 July 1999), naval officer, test pilot, public servant, was born in Pomona, California, the son of Sydney M. Engen, a stockbroker and later an Internal Revenue Service employee, and Dorothy Davenport Engen. Engen spent his childhood years in southern California, principally in Pasadena. When he was in fourth grade, he decided that he wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and become a naval officer....

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Gorrell, Edgar Staley (03 February 1891–05 March 1945), aviator and industrialist, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Charles Edgar Gorrell, a carpenter, and Pamelia Smith. He entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1908, graduating in 1912 with a commission as a second lieutenant of infantry. In 1915 he attended the army’s Signal Corps Aviation School in Coronado, California, where he became a pilot. While serving with the First Aero Squadron during the Mexican Punitive Operation in 1916, he came to the attention of Brigadier General ...

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Love, Nancy (14 February 1914–22 October 1976), aviator and government official, was born Hannah Lincoln Harkness in Houghton, Michigan, to Robert Bruce Harkness, a successful medical doctor, and Alice Graham Chadbourne Harkness. Nicknamed Nancy by her family, she graduated from Milton Academy in Massachusetts and then enrolled in Vassar College in 1931. She withdrew from Vassar in 1934, however, as her parents could no longer afford the tuition because of the Great Depression....

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Parsons, Edwin Charles (24 September 1892–02 May 1968), World War I combat pilot and U.S. naval officer, was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, the son of Franklin D. Parsons, an insurance executive in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Grace Steele. Edwin, called “Ted” throughout his life, graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1910 and, at his father’s urging, attended the University of Pennsylvania briefly. After declining his father’s invitation to learn the insurance business, Parsons traveled to southern California in about 1911....

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Powers, Francis Gary (17 August 1929–01 August 1977), pilot and espionage agent, was born in Burdine, Kentucky, the son of Oliver Powers, a coal miner, and Ida Ford. Powers wanted to be a pilot from his first plane ride at age fourteen, yet his father, who possessed a fifth-grade education, favored medicine to ensure financial security. Sent to Milligan College in Johnson City, Tennessee, Powers dropped his premedical studies in his junior year and, after graduating in 1950, enlisted in the air force....

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Eddie Rickenbacker Standing on the steps of an Eastern Air Lines airplane, c. 1930. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-100555).

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Rickenbacker, Edward Vernon (08 October 1890–23 July 1973), aviator and airline executive, was born in Columbus, Ohio, the son of William Rickenbacher, a construction worker and bridge builder, and Elizabeth Baseler. The son of Swiss immigrants, “Eddie” Rickenbacker’s formal education ended when he was thirteen and in seventh grade, after his father was fatally injured in a construction accident. He dropped out of school and began working twelve-hour night shifts in a factory to help support his family. His only academic preparations after that came from correspondence courses in mechanical and automotive engineering. He worked in a machine shop, an automobile garage, and for the Frayer-Miller Company, which manufactured automobiles....

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Rosendahl, Charles Emery (15 May 1892–14 May 1977), aviator, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Charles Oscar Rosendahl and Hannah Johnson. Rosendahl attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, graduating with a B.S. in engineering in 1914. He followed a fairly routine career in the navy for the next nine years, serving as a line officer on destroyers and cruisers and seeing duty in the European theater during World War I. During 1921–1923 Rosendahl served as an instructor in engineering at the Naval Academy....

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Schroeder, Rudolph William (14 August 1886–29 December 1952), aviation and flight safety pioneer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of John August Schroeder and Nora Ann Reidy. Little is known of his early life beyond the facts that he attended Crane Technical High School in Chicago and that his father died before Schroeder completed school. He then went to work in a garage as an automobile mechanic. One of the other mechanics, Otto Brodie, learned to fly an airplane, and Schroeder became his mechanic about 1910. For several years, Schroeder toured the country, working with a number of early aviators....