Even when he was at the pinnacle of his military career, Hoyt Vandenberg’s boyish good looks often made him the target of attacks on his credibility and experience. But the attention that his appearance brought on wasn’t all bad. A Washington newspaper once described him as “the most impossibly handsome man on the entire Washington scene,” and Marilyn Monroe once named Vandenberg, along with Joe DiMaggio and Albert Einstein, as one of the three people with whom she would want to be stranded on a deserted island.
- Designed airpower strategies that contributed to key Allied ground victories in the North African, Sicilian and Italian campaigns during World War II.
- Was chief of staff of the 12th Air Force in 1942, supporting the North African Campaign.
- Commanded the 9th Air Force, whose air support during World War II paved the way for Allied advances across Europe and into Germany.
- Played a large role in planning and providing air support for the successful invasion of Normandy, France in 1944.
- In 1948 he was appointed chief of staff of the USAF serving at the post through the Berlin Airlift, Korean Conflict.
General Hoyt S. Vandenberg completed a distinguished career in the United States Air Force, serving as Chief of Staff from April 30th, 1948 to June 30th, 1953.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1899, Vandenberg grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1923, and received his commission in the Air service. Vandenberg took flying training at Brooks and Kelly Fields in Texas, earning his wings in 1924. Following assignment to the Third Attack Group at Kelly, he transferred to Fort Crockett in 1926 and became the commanding officer of the 90th Attack Squadron. In 1928, Vandenberg was promoted to first lieutenant while a flight instructor at March Field, California. A year later he went to Hawaii as the Commanding Officer of the Sixth Pursuit Squadron.
Vandenberg returned to Texas in 1931 where he served as a Flight Instructor and Flight Commanding Officer at Randolph Field. He completed the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Alabama in 1935 and the Command and Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas a year later. While at Fort Leavenworth, Vandenberg earned his promotion to the rank of captain. He returned to Maxwell to teach and completed work at the Army War College. The Army promoted Vandenberg to major in March 1940 and to lieutenant colonel in November 1941. When the United States entered World War II, the Army selected him to serve as Operations and Training Officer of the Air Staff.
In January 1942, Vandenberg earned a promotion to colonel and six months later received orders to England to organize the air forces for combat duty in North Africa. He received his first star in December 1942 and became Chief of Staff of the Twelfth Air Force, a unit that he helped organize. Vandenberg was named Chief of Staff of the Northwest African Strategic Air Force in 1943. He flew on missions over Tunisia, Italy, Sardinia, Sicily, and Pantelleria. While directing the air phase of the North African campaign, Brigadier General Vandenberg earned the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross and Legion of Merit. In August of that year, Vandenberg returned to Army Air Force headquarters where he became Deputy Chief of Staff. The Army promoted him to Major General in March 1944 and he returned to Europe as Deputy Air Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Expeditionary Forces.
Five months later, Major General Vandenberg commanded the Ninth Air Force and received the Distinguished Service Medal for his role in planning the Normandy invasion. He was promoted to lieutenant general in March 1945 and at the war’s end returned to Washington to serve as Assistant Chief of Staff. Lieutenant General Vandenberg next took an assignment as Director of Intelligence for the War Department General Staff. In June 1946, he became director of the Air Intelligence Agency.
Vandenberg returned to the Air Force on October 1st, 1947 and became Vice Chief of Staff with a four-star rank. He succeeded General Carl Spaatz as Chief of Staff on April 30th, 1948. Vandenberg retired as a result of illness on June 30th, 1953, and died nine months later at the age of 55.
On October 4th, 1958 the missile and aerospace base at Lompoc, California was renamed Vandenberg Air Force Base. In July 1963 the instrument ship General Hoyt S. Vandenberg was dedicated at Cape Canaveral for duty on the missile and space range in the Atlantic.
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