John Kenton Hester was born in Plains, Mont., in 1916. He graduated from Peoria Central High School, Peoria, Ill., in 1934 and continued his education at the University of Illinois, graduating in 1938 with a bachelor of science Degree in ceramics. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the ROTC Field Artillery Reserve.
Second Lieutenant Hester's first assignment on active military duty was with the 16th Pursuit Group, Albrook Field, Canal Zone, which followed his graduation from the Air Corps Flying Center at Kelly Field, Texas, in 1939. Lieutenant Hester's next assignment was to the Flying Training Command with duty at Craig Field, Selma, Ala., as base operations officer, air inspector and officer in charge of fighter transition.
In 1943, Lieutenant Colonel Hester was assigned, after two years at Craig Field, and three promotions, to duties in the China-Burma-India Theater. He served in the Air Force Provisional Training Command, India-Burma Sector as director of operations, acting chief of staff, and later as base commander in charge of fighter training. Eight months later, he was assigned to the Fourteenth Air Force; for a brief period he was assistant A-3 officer, Fourteenth Air Force, and later the A-3 officer of the 68th Composite Wing in the same command. He flew 50 combat missions in fighters and bombers while in China, and was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal, and Air Medal for his combat participation. He has since been awarded the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster and the Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters.
Returning to the United States in July 1945, the colonel was assigned to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Personnel, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, for service in the Personnel Planning Division. Within six months, he became assistant executive in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of War for Air. In October 1947, he was selected as the military aide to the Honorable W. Stuart Symington, then Secretary of the Air Force.
Following his duties with the Secretary of the Air Force, Colonel Hester attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, graduating in June 1949. In July 1949, he became executive of the Plans and Operations Division in the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project at Sandia Base, Albuquerque, N.M.
Colonel Hester departed his assignment at Sandia Base in July 1950 to become deputy wing commander of the 22nd Bombardment Wing, March Air Force Base, Calif. He was next assigned as commander of the 22nd Air Base Group.
In January 1951, Colonel Hester was assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. He served as commander of the 43rd Maintenance and Supply Group, as director of materiel, and finally as deputy commander of the 43rd Bombardment Wing. He assumed command of the 303d Bombardment Wing in February 1952 and remained as commander until his transfer in June 1954 to Headquarters Fifteenth Air Force, as Director of Operations.
Colonel Hester became commander of the 806th Air Division at Lake Charles Air Force Base, La., Aug. 1, 1955. He was promoted to brigadier general (temporary) Dec. 13, 1955.
He assumed duties as chief of staff, Second Air Force, Barksdale Air Force Base Aug. 1, 1957.
General Hester was assigned to the Directorate of Operations, Deputy Chief of Staff/Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Sept. 8, 1959, for duty as the deputy for operational forces. He was promoted to major general (temporary) in May 1960, and became the deputy director of operations in June 1960.
On Aug. 1, 1962, he assumed duties as assistant vice chief of staff, Headquarters U.S. Air Force.
General Hester assumed command of the Seventeenth Air Force (U.S. Air Forces in Europe) Sept. 28, 1964.
(Current as of September 1964)