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Twining Street -- General Nathan F. Twining

  • Published
  • By Jim O'Connell
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Historian
For those who drive up to the Red Morgan Event Center, you might have noticed a street called "Twining Street." That street is named for General Nathan F. Twining. Twining had a long and distinguished career that spanned the eras of sputtering biplanes, roaring four-engine Flying Fortress bombers and screaming supersonic jets. When he retired in 1960 after 44 years of service, he was the first Air Force Airman to serve as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ultimately played a key role in shaping our strategic forces in the 1950s.

Nathan Farragut Twining was born in Monroe, Wis., on Oct. 11, 1887, to a family with a long history of military service. After settling in America, his ancestors served in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Later, his grandfather, Nathan Crook Twining, recruited his own volunteer infantry company and served as its captain in the Civil War. General Twining's uncle rose to the rank of rear admiral and participated in the Spanish-American War. His older brother served in the Marine Corps in World War I and his younger brother served in the Air Corp and with intelligence in WWII. Two other brothers were also career military. One retired as a Navy captain and the other retired as a Marine lieutenant general.

General Twining enlisted in 1916 with the Oregon National Guard. His unit participated in General Pershing's expedition into Mexico against Francisco "Poncho" Villa. This experience introduced Twining to military aviation when he encountered the U.S. Army's First Aero Squadron commanded by Capt. Benjamin Foulois. During the expedition, Twining earned the rank of corporal. A short time later, he earned a spot at West Point Military Academy where he literally graduated twice. World War I accelerated his classes graduation but the Armistice of 1918 denied them the chance to see combat. After a tour of the European battlefields, his class was put back on its original schedule and graduated again in June 1919.

Upon graduation, Twining was assigned to Fort Benning, Ga., and commanded a group of officers who were returned from Europe due to disciplinary problems. It was during this assignment where Twining further developed a hard-nosed style of no-nonsense leadership admired by his peers.

His desire for career in the Air Service began after a football game against an Air Service Team, when he was treated to a ride a JN-4 Jenny. Twining was hooked on flying. He fought for and eventually secured his transfer to the Air Service. In 1923, he attended Primary Flight School at Brooks Field, Texas. Despite being a newcomer in the small flying community, Twining overcame biases against "outsiders" and earned the respect of his fellow aviators. After earning a spot at the Air Service Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas, he performed well enough to be selected to return to Brooks Field and then at March Field as an instructor. In 1929, Twining joined the 18th Pursuit Group at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

Additional assignments included a tour as a squadron commander in the Third Attach Group at Fort Crockett, Texas. In 1932, Twining served in a variety of staff positions until August 1940 when he was named to the Office of the Chief of Air Corp as the Assistant Chief of the Inspection Division. He supervised the technical inspections of Air Corp equipment.

In December 1941, Twining left the Inspection Division to join the Operations Division of Headquarters, Army Air Forces in Washington. This exposure to the planning process would benefit him in his upcoming roles.

In January 1943, Twining was appointed to be the Thirteenth Air Force Commander. In addition, he was named Commander, Aircraft, Solomon Islands (COMAIRSOLS) which was one of the first Joint Air Commands of its kind in United States history. In this command, he had tactical control of all Army, Navy, Marine and Allied aircraft in the Southern Pacific Theater. This small, but hard-hitting Thirteenth Air Force played a vital role in the capture and occupation of key bases in the Solomon Islands and helped to seal off bypassed Japanese bases.

In December 1943, Twining learned that General Hap Arnold directed him to take over the Fifteenth Air Force in Italy. In this role, Twining was also the commander of Mediterranean Allied Strategic Air Forces. By the end of the war in Europe, Twining commanded 1,900 airplanes and 89,000 men. His command of the Fifteenth Air Force gave him the biggest, longest and most challenging experience of the war. Twining was known for his blend of professional competence, personal affability and a common-sense approach to problems. This command would be the foundation for the reputation that would eventually help him earn an appointment to the nation's highest military post during the Cold War.

On Aug. 2, 1945, Twining returned to the Pacific as the commander of the Twentieth Air Force in the Pacific. He directed the final air strikes against Japan and the use of the first atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing to a quick conclusion the war against Japan. At the end of World War II, General Twining was the only USAAF leader in World War II who commanded three separate Air Forces - the Thirteenth and Twentieth in the Pacific, and the Fifteenth Air Force in Europe.

He returned to the United States in October 1945 to command Air Material Command, moved to head up Alaskan Command two years later and eventually returned to Washington, D.C., as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. Twining understood the value of the Airmen to the Air Force and, in this position, pushed to make a career in the Air Force competitive with the civilian world with better pay and housing.

Due to his popularity in the Air Force and having never been identified too closely with either the big bomber men or the tactical fighter boosters, on June 30, 1953, Twining was selected as the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. He thought of air power as a useful tool using all available means and sought to gain for the Air Force a guarantee of its position in national defense. Twining was instrumental in developing nuclear air weapons, supersonic missiles and the aircraft designed to deliver them.

The general was an unwavering advocate of air power and military preparedness. He insisted that war machines were only an extension of man's powers. Readiness could only be reached with adequate training. Under his leadership, the Air Force conducted considerable research and development with the first jet-to-jet air refueling between a KB-47 tanker and B-47 bomber. In 1955, Air Force and Boeing jointly earned the coveted Robert J. Collier Trophy for the development of the B-52H Stratofortress bomber. Twining also oversaw the development of the ATLAS ICBM among other instrumental cold war programs. Finally, he helped expand the nation's worldwide network of bases for strategic bombers, mobilized the Air Force after war broke out in Korea and played a major role in forming U.S. policy in Indochina.

On March 26, 1957, coincidentally, the same day the first B-52 arrived at Fairchild AFB, President Dwight Eisenhower nominated General Twining to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Twining became the first Air Force officer to serve in this capacity. His ability to work well with all members of the services, his integrity and straightforward style all contributed to making him the right choice for the job. His experiences, especially those commanding Fifteenth Air Force, taught him that all services could and should use their capabilities to fit a given situation. He served in this position for three years and oversaw the implementation and development of many strategic policies of the Cold War before he retired on Sept. 30, 1960. He was largely responsible for the creation of a strategic air force that was second to none.

General Twining was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1976 and passed away on March 29, 1982.