Architect of Air Force space and missile programs dies
U.S. AIR FORCE NEWS RELEASE
Posted: June 21, 2005
Retired Gen. Bernard Adolph Schriever, widely regarded as the father and architect of the Air Force space and ballistic missile programs, died of natural causes at home in Washington on June 20.
General Schriever was born in 1910 in Bremen, Germany, and immigrated to the United States in 1917 with his parents. He began his military career in the Army field artillery, but later earned his wings and a commission in the Army Air Corps in 1933 at Kelly Field, Texas.
During World War II, then-Major Schriever served in the Pacific with the 19th Bomb Group, taking part in the Bismarck Archipelago, Leyte, Luzon, Papua, North Solomon, South Philippine and Ryukyu campaigns. By the end of the war he was commanding officer of advanced headquarters for Far East Air Service Command which supported theater operations from bases in Hollandia, New Guinea, the Philippines and Okinawa.
After the war, General Schriever was assigned to the Pentagon where he later recounted the interest by military and civilian leaders concerning the feasibility of reconnaissance satellites, especially as the nuclear age began.
"Pearl Harbor had really given us a shock, especially because of the amount of damage inflicted by that surprise attack," General Schriever said during a 1998 interview. "President Eisenhower wanted us to determine how we could best get strategic intelligence to avoid a nuclear Pearl Harbor. That was the deciding issue in putting the Air Force into the space business."
Space took center stage Oct. 4, 1957, when the former Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite. The Air Force responded by sending Discovery One into orbit Feb. 28, 1959.
The race to space included many successes and failures for both the ICBM and satellite programs. But General Schriever said he and his group accepted that they were taking risks because they knew if they did not develop an ICBM long-range capability and satellite reconnaissance system, there would be a major instability in the strategic balance between the U.S. and Soviet Union.
"We never lost confidence, even when we had failures, which we had plenty of in the early days," General Schriever said. "Not a single program missed its target date of reaching operational capability. Of course there were concerns, but we met them every time."
In 1959, General Schriever assumed command of Air Research and Development Command, which later became Air Force Systems Command on April 1, 1961, under a reorganization initiated by him. He was promoted to full general in 1961 and retired in 1966.
We Walked With a Legend
"For 94 years, we were privileged to share the world with a visionary leader whose achievements will stand the test of time with those of Giulio Douhet, Alfred Mahan, Sylvanus Thayer, Hap Arnold, and Billy Mitchell. A true American story, General Schriever immigrated, with his family, to our shores as a young boy in 1917. He went on to earn degrees from Texas A&M and Stanford before joining the Army Air Corps. He would realize his true calling though as Commander of the Air Force Western Development Division during the 1950s.
"On numerous occasions, General Schriever was the lone voice advocating for the space and missile capabilities that many now take for granted. Like Billy Mitchell and so many other pioneers, he was chastised for his outspokenness. He talked openly of Space Supremacy and Space Superiority well before the launch of Sputnik. Following one notable speech, the Secretary of Defense admonished him, "do not use 'Space' in any of your speeches in the future." After the first Soviet space launch in October 1957, everything changed.
"When the Nation needed him he delivered in the clutch. Future historians will look back upon the Cold War and point to General Bennie Schriever as a decisive factor in our victory. General Schriever was there when this Nation needed a measured response to Sputnik. Later on, President Kennedy was able to stand toe-to-toe with Premier Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis because of General Schriever's leadership. His determination spearheaded the development of the Minuteman missile system in less than five years and he had the system deployed in its silos by 1962. President Kennedy would later say the ICBM was his, "ace in the hole."
"Today, many of the technologies once championed by General Schriever are still the bedrock of our Nation's space capabilities. Where would we be without General Schriever? Technologically, it's accurate to say we would be decades behind where we are now.
"Just a couple of weeks ago, I had the honor of presenting General Schriever with the first new "Space Badge," that will soon be worn by space and missile warriors around the world. The General's strength was leaving him as was his voice. However, the spark in his eyes could not be diminished by his failing health. The look on his face as his eyes lit up with pride reassured me that he fully appreciated the moment and its significance. This was indeed a fitting tribute to the father of our nation's space and missile forces. General Schriever will continue to be a role model for me and for so many others.
"In 1962, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur delivered his now famous "Duty, Honor, Country" address, to the Corps of Cadets at West Point. General MacArthur stated, "You now face a new world, a world of change. The thrust into outer space of the satellite, spheres and missiles marked the beginning of another epoch in the long story of mankind; the chapter of the space age. In the five or more billions of years the scientists tell us it has taken to form the earth, in the three or more billion years of development of the human race, there has never been a greater, a more abrupt or staggering evolution. We deal now not with things of this world alone, but with the illimitable distances and as yet unfathomed mysteries of the universe." Standing on the fulcrum of mankind's greatest era of discovery stood General Bennie Schriever. Generations from now, those who wear the uniform of our armed services will regard us with envy, for we had the opportunity to walk with and stand watch with a legend.
"Beccy and I join the nearly 40,000 men and women of Air Force Space Command in sending our condolences to General Schriever's wife Joni and their family. We cherish their friendship and will forever consider them a part of our Air Force Space Command family."