Hoyt S. Vandenberg was the second chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force and the first leader of the Air Force during the Cold War, the "builder" of an independent Air Force. His career spanned pre-World War II through the turbulent postwar years to the Korean War. He was a proponent of the strategy of nuclear deterrence, and inaugurated the buildup of strategic forces in the Air Force. He pushed for rocket development, computer proliferation, thermonuclear experimentation and the transition to an all-jet inventory.
Vandenberg was born at Milwaukee, Wis., in 1899. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy June 12, 1923, and commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Service.
His first assignment was with the Third Attack Group at Kelly Field, where he assumed command of the 90th Attack Squadron. In 1927, he became an instructor at the Air Corps Primary Flying School at March Field, Calif. He went to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, in May 1929, to join the Sixth Pursuit Squadron, and assumed command of it the following November.
Returning in September 1931, he was appointed a flying instructor at Randolph Field, Texas, and became a flight commander and deputy stage commander there in March 1933. He entered the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Ala., in August 1934, and graduated the following June.
After graduating from the War College in June 1939, Vandenberg was assigned to the Plans Division in the Office of the Chief of Air Corps. A few months after the United States entered World War II, he became operations and training officer of the Air Staff.
In June 1943, Vandenberg was assigned to the United Kingdom and assisted in the organization of the Air Forces in North Africa. While in Great Britain he was appointed chief of staff of the 12th Air Force, which he helped organize. On Feb. 18, 1943, Vandenberg became chief of staff of the Northwest African Strategic Air Force and with this air force he flew on numerous missions over Tunisia, Italy, Sardinia, Sicily and Pantelleria during the North African campaign. He was awarded both the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his services during this time. For his organizational ability with the 12th Air Force and his work as chief of staff of the Northwest African Strategic Air Force, he was awarded the Legion of Merit.
Vandenberg was assigned to Air Corps headquarters as deputy chief of air staff, and only a month later he became head of an air mission to Russia, under Ambassador Harriman, and returned to the United States in January 1944. Two months later he was transferred to the European theater, and in April 1944, was designated deputy air commander in chief of the Allied Expeditionary Forces and commander of its American Air Component. In August 1944, Vandenberg assumed command of the Ninth Air Force.
He had various staff positions, and held the director of Intelligence on the War Department general staff until his appointment as director of Central Intelligence. He returned to duty with the Air Corps in April 1947, and was designated vice chief of staff on Oct. 1, 1947, and promoted to the rank of general. On April 30, 1948, Vandenberg succeeded Gen. Carl Spaatz as chief of staff. He was renominated by President Harry S. Truman for a second term.
He led the Air Force during the Korean War when its budget increased greatly, but not sufficiently. The requirements of the war, and the need for maintaining a strategic posture against the Soviet threat were challenges Vandenberg faced. Even though some criticized the Air Force's deficiencies for the Korean War, Vandenberg was insistent that the defense of American soil came first when his budget couldn't be stretched to accommodate both.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star, Victory Medal, American Campaign Ribbon, American Defense Ribbon and the European-African-Middle East Campaign Ribbon.
He also received decorations from Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, Egypt, England, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal.
General Vandenberg retired from active duty June 30, 1953, and died 10 months later on April 2, 1954. Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., is named in his honor.
Sources compiled from the Air Force History Support Office.