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Served as secretary of the Air Force from May 1, 1957 to Dec. 10, 1959

James Henderson Douglas was the fifth Secretary of the Air Force in the Air Force's young history and the first with past experience as an Air Force officer.

He was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1899, and graduated from Princeton University in 1920, with a bachelor of arts degree. He studied at Cambridge, England, for one year and, in 1924, graduated from Harvard Law School.

A career attorney, he served three and a half years in the Air Force during World War II as a major and rising to colonel. During most of this service, he was deputy chief of staff of the Air Transport Command. He completed the period as chief of staff of Air Training Command and earned the Distinguished Service Medal.

During World War I, Douglas was on active duty as an Army second lieutenant at Camp Hancock, Ga.

Admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1925, Douglas practiced in Chicago. In 1932 and 1933, he served as Assistant Secretary of the U. S. Treasury and, in 1934, became a member of Gardner, Carton and Douglas law firm. After his World War II service, he returned to that firm, where he was practicing law when he became undersecretary of the Air Force in March 1953.

Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson had asked Douglas to become secretary of the Air Force after Harold Talbott resigned in August 1955, but Douglas declined, choosing instead to continue as undersecretary of the Air Force. He recommended Donald Quarles as replacement. 

He became air secretary in May 1957 at a time when the Air Force was facing serious personnel cuts demanded by Congress and the administration. He also stood ready to take advantage for the service on the Russian satellite Sputnik's impact on congressional attitudes toward defense funding.  

After stepping down as air secretary, he was appointed deputy secretary of defense for two additional years. He then returned to private law practice in Illinois.


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