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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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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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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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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....