Pilot, patriot, and popinjay: a thoroughgoing account of Billy Mitchell’s now-forgotten fall from grace.
WWI aviator and hero Billy Mitchell smarted when, instead of being given command of the Army’s air branch, he was reduced in rank and shipped off to a post in Texas. “In Washington, he had a platoon of air officers as loyal to him as disciples to a prophet,” writes Time correspondent Waller (Big Red, 2001, etc.). “His staff now consisted of two clerks and a stenographer.” Insisting, as he would for the rest of his life, that he be called General Mitchell, he went on the offensive soon after the Navy dirigible Shenandoah crashed in a storm over Ohio, releasing a scathing report to the press that criticized the military leadership’s aviation policy, “dictated by non-flying officers of the army and navy who know practically nothing about it.” For his pains, Mitchell was hauled up before the brass for insubordination, and his trial commanded headlines for weeks in 1925. Waller points to the justice of some of Mitchell’s complaints and to the correctness of many of his military theories—some developed on an eight-month tour of Asia in 1923, after which he wrote a report predicting that Kapan would one day attack the US at Pearl Harbor, and, moreover, that the attack would begin at 7:30 a.m. with a swarm of fighter planes, a “scenario . . . eerily similar to what actually happened eighteen years later.” But, working with long-buried transcripts, Waller also puts some black marks next to Mitchell’s name: he was a martinet; he stole some of his bestselling book, Winged Defense, from an army report that, to make matters worse, was still classified. In the end, convicted, Mitchell resigned his commission, though he remained a public hero, especially when WWII began and his complaints about the lack of preparation of the US armed forces were proven true.
A worthy read for aviation and military-history buffs.