R.O. Brownfield, S/N O-17383, was born September 5, 1907. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps (Regular) in February 1929. According to his biological file, written in his own hand, at the Smithsonian (cited, left sidebar), he first started flying as a barnstormer at an unidentified age. He did not list the date of joining the Army, but he listed his flight school graduation date as 1928, so he must have joined in his teens.
He served at March Field under then commander Major Hap Arnold. He specifically mentions flying the Douglas O-2H. 2nd Lt. Ralph Brownfield landed solo at Tucson Sunday, July 14, 1929 at 8:10AM. He flew the Douglas O-2H, 29-387. Based at Riverside, CA March Field, he was southeast bound from Phoenix, AZ to El Paso, TX. His handwritten document has him flying the PT1 and Douglas C1C (6-passenger transport) during this same time period.
According to a couple of Web sources, before he came to Tucson, Brownfield was involved in two accidents/incidents during his early career. The first, a take off accident, was at Marshall Field, KS, on August 7, 1928 while flying 25-369, a Douglas O-2. The second was at Offutt Field, NE on July 7, 1929 while flying The Douglas O-1C, 26-425. This latter event was termed a, "Taxiing Accident due to Mechanical Failure."
He moved on to Langley Field and flew the Curtiss P6E and Martin aircraft (type not identified) during 1930-31. Later in the 1930s he flew the Martin B-10 and the Boeing P26. At some point he was assigned to the Philippine Islands he was involved in another accident on June 14, 1939. This time he was flying a Boeing P-26A, 33-118, out of Nichols Field, Rizal. This time it was a landing accident.
From October 1942 to May 1943 his document cites that he was commanding officer at Wright Field, Dayton, OH. He was transferred to the southwest Pacific in May, 1943 and was Theater Service Commander for a time. From April-August, 1944 he served as commanding officer of the 91st Reconnaissance Wing, which moved to the southwest Pacific, February-March 1944. He was involved in the air offensive on Japan.
Ralph Brownfield has a modest Web presence, most of which describes unpleasant things like lawsuits and accidents like the ones cited above. In another example, then Col. Brownfield was an officer at Tinker Air Force Base (named after Register pilot Clarence Tinker) when the fire of Jan. 28, 1946 devastated the center of Bldg. 230. Ten maintenance workers lost their lives while another 38 were injured. Brownfield was cited in the Tinker Take Off of January 13, 2006 (near the 60th anniversary of the fire). "Many of the workers who required treatment in the base hospital received their injuries while rushing to save Army Air Corps resources. Thirteen B-29s, being modified in the hangars, were pulled to safety."
He was quoted in the Take Off, "Without the unselfish assistance of many employees who returned to the blazing hangars to haul B-29s out, we would have suffered a holocaust beyond our wildest imagination," said Col. Ralph O. Brownfield, deputy installation commander at the time. "These workers performed their heroic deeds without being asked and without a thought for their personal safety. Their contribution cannot be underestimated, and I commend each of those who helped." I would hope that privately he thought that 13 B-29s were not worth the lives of ten men.
Five years after the fire he was appointed a brigadier general (temporary) on April 11, 1951. On June 20, 1952, in the midst of the Cold War, he commanded the Iceland Defense Force. It is not clear if he was based in Iceland, or at Norfolk, VA where the umbrella Atlantic Command was based.
In the early 1960s, Brownfield lost a slander suit against the Inspector General of the Air Force. His difficulties began in 1955 when, as Deputy Commander of the Middletown (MA) Air Material Area, he sold a patent he owned to a contractor who did business with Middletown. The contractor soon became plaintiff's friend, and this friendship continued despite the contractor's performance of, and continued bidding upon, various government contracts at Middletown.
When two anonymous informants alleged that this contractor had given gratuities and bribes to Middletown personnel in connection with a contract (for construction of a radar tower) he received in February 1955, the Air Force initiated an investigation which covered the contractor's relationship with Brownfield. It seems the tower structure failed and toppled on January 15, 1961 killing 28 Air Force and civilian personnel.
The Inspector General termed the tower unsafe and Brownfield countered, calling the words of the Inspector General "irresponsible" and "distortions of the fact," which led to the slander suit for, "publicly, falsely, and maliciously" defaming him "willfully and knowingly, and not in the performance or furtherance of any fiduciary or professional obligation or status, but for the fulfillment of his own personal design and intent." The investigation reports accused Brownfield of various improprieties and he was given an "Administrative Reprimand" on September 26, 1955. Two days later his permanent grade was reduced to colonel, effective September 30th. He was reassigned 4 days later and then requested retirement as a brigadier general.
Long story short, he was retired as a colonel and was later found not guilty in his criminal trial.
A later suit by Brownfield, in 1978, made long after he retired, and on the merit of his not guilty verdict, he petitioned the government to restore his retirement as a brigadier. His petition was dismissed. Interestingly, his name appears on the Charter Sponsor Registry for the Air Force Memorial as Brigadier General.
Shortly after his retirement, the Emporia (KS) Gazette of August 6, 1962 cites Brownfield as a G.O.P. candidate for U.S. Representative from the Fifth Congressional District, Independence, KS. One letter of support published in an earlier issue of the newspaper state, "He has extensive experience serving the government in the United States and overseas. His experience at the Washington level started in 1949 and since then he has worked with all branches of government.
"Business, too, is not foreign to Mr. Brownfield as he has operated oil properties in Kansas for many years. He has worked with industry in the U.S. and has become well acquainted with its many facets.
"Mr. Brownfield has also owned and operated farm properties in Kansas for the past 31 years and is familiar with the many problems of farmers." No mention was made of his contracting activities with a certain radar tower builder.
Brownfield died April 11, 1990. He was buried April 16th in plot 16 0 2216 in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio, TX.
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