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Your copy of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-0-1.

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http://www.cafepress.com/content/global/img/spacer.gifThe Congress of Ghosts is an anniversary celebration for 2010.  It is an historical biography, that celebrates the 5th year online of www.dmairfield.org and the 10th year of effort on the project dedicated to analyze and exhibit the history embodied in the Register of the Davis-Monthan Airfield, Tucson, AZ. This book includes over thirty people, aircraft and events that swirled through Tucson between 1925 and 1936. It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders. Order your copy at the link, or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author.  ISBN 978-0-9843074-4-9.

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WILLIAM DONALD OLD

FIRST ACROSS THE "HUMP"

 

William D. Old landed at Tucson as a passenger with Aubrey Hornsby on March 2, 1926. They arrived in 22-223, an Aeromarine NBS-1. Please direct your browser to the link to see a left profile of a Martin NBS-1, a twin-engined bomber built on contract to Aeromarine. Based at Montgomery, AL, Hornsby and Old arrived at Tucson westbound from El Paso, TX. They did not cite a departure date, destination or a reason for their landing.

Although both Old and Hornsby identified themselves in the Register as lieutenants, they were destined for generalship later in their careers. Old held the distinction, according to an undated article in Yank magazine, of being the pilot of the first transport flight across the "Hump" from Assam, India to China. Although the date of the article is unknown, we can guess what it is. Old is identified as a Lt. Colonel when he made the flight, and as a Brigadier General as of publication of the article. He was promoted to Lt. Col. on December 24, 1941. He was appointed Brigadier General on February 6, 1943. So the article was published after this later date.

The date given in the article for his flight was April 9, 1942, a full 8-months before the formal beginning of the Air Transport Command's India-China Wing and their route over the Himalayas. The abbreviated article (I only have the first page) is below. The article was accompanined by pictures that were of such poor quality (very dark photocopy) I could not salvage them for display.

Yank Magazine Article, Date Unknown (Source: Woodling)
Yank Magazine Article, Date Unknown (Source: Woodling)

Old is cited in the second paragraph as piloting a DC-3 full of aviation gasoline for use by (Register pilot) Jimmy Doolittle's bombers after they landed in China after their attack on Japan. The article describes his mission as, "... that first aerial supply trip across the Hump...." The gasoline, of course, was never burned by Doolittle or his men, but it undoubtedly was put to good use. One online source identifies the date of Old's flight as April 8th, and the point of origin in Assam specifically as Dinjan.

William D. Old, Texas A&M, 1924 (Source: TAM)
William D. Old, Texas A&M, 1924 (Source: TAM)

 

 

Old was born in Texas November 21, 1901. He earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Texas A&M in 1924. His graduation photograph is at left from the Texas A&M (TAM) yearbook, the "Longhorn." Thanks to site visitor MSH for pointing out these photos, which are available at the link.

His classmates gave him high praise. Upon graduation, the description printed below his graduation photograph read, "Don is a man that is chuck full of that old Aggie pep, a man among men and capable of taking care of himself. His loyalty, grit, perseverence, and ability to stick with a job until it is finished makes us feel that his future life will be one grand and glorious success." And, as you will see, it was.

He was active in sports, excelling in cross-country running as team captain. Below, from the "Longhorn," is a group photograph of him and his cross-country team.

 

 

W.D. Old, Texas A&M Cross-Country Team, 1924 (Source: TAM)
W.D. Old, Texas A&M Cross-Country Team, 1924 (Source: TAM)

After graduation, he attended the Air Corps primary and advanced flying schools and observation course in 1925. He was commissioned 2nd lieutenant June 15, 1924 and 1st lieutenant May 15, 1930. He was promoted to captain on August 1, 1935 and major March 11, 1940. His grandson shared the following two photographs, and a statement authored by his grandmother regarding Old's life. The first one shows him sitting in the cockpit of a Curtiss P40N-5-U Warhawk, S/N 42-105144. According to Joe Baugher's Web site, this airplane was sent "to China," probably during the mid-1940s.

W.D. Old, Ca. 1940s (Source: Old Family)

Below, a photograph of Major General Old.

General William D. Old, Ca. 1950s (Source: Old Family)

The statement by his wife, shared by her grandson, is as follows.

"William D. Old was a graduate of Texas A & M College in 1924.  He was a Major General in the U.S.A.F.  He spent two years during the war in the China-India-Burma Theater of Operations directing and flying missions against the Japanese.  His command flew supplies over the "Hump" into China as well as providing air drops for soldiers.  During his 29 years in the service he also commanded the Alaskan Air Command and retired from the air force in 1954 as commander of Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas.  He accumulated more than 11,000 flying hours.  He was awarded the Silver Star, Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal and Legion of Merit.

"It should be noted that his first flight over the Hump was to deliver AV gas for [Jimmy] Doolittle's Raiders.  His flight was around April 8, 1942.  Of course, the Raiders did not make it to the Chinese airfields as planned.  When he was in Alaska, he supported the concept of 'Ice Islands' and was photographed by Life magazine.  Promoted as 'weather stations' they were probably early warning radar sites."

He was promoted to major on the eve of WWII. As WWII spooled up, his promotions came more quickly. He was advanced to lieutenant colonel (see above) on December 24, 1941, colonel on March 1, 1942, brigadier general February 6, 1943 and major general after the war on July 8, 1946.

From the official history of the US Army Air Forces in World War II Volume V, and Maurer Maurer’s book on Air Force Combat Units of World War II, a site visitor points out that after serving on the Tenth Air Force staff, he was placed in command of the Eastern Air Command Troop Carrier Command. After the war, he commanded the 12th Air Force, the 9th Air Force and then the Alaskan Air Command, below, in 1952.

Finally, the command structure of the U.S. Air Force in 1952 is summarized in the following table. Old appears near the bottom of the page as the major general responsible for the Alaskan Air Command.

U.S. Air Force Command Structure, Ca. 1952 (Source: Woodling)
U.S. Air Force Command Structure, Ca. 1952 (Source: Woodling)

If I may wax editorial for a moment, this table is not only a summary of the responsibilities of Air Force command in 1952. It is also a testimonial to the depth of officer talent that passed through and signed the Register at Tucson between 1925 and 1936. Indeed, the Chief of Staff and his Vice Chief were Register pilots Hoyt Vandenberg and Nathan Twining.

Other commanding generals who signed our Register were Laurence Craigie, John Cannon, Idwal Edwards, Earle Partridge, Robert Harper, Willis Hale, Otto Weyland, Emil Kiel and Joseph McNarney. Quantitatively, 12 of 35, or 1/3 of the top command talent in the U.S. Air Force in 1952 can be found signed across the pages of the Davis-Monthan Register. End editorial.

After his Alaskan Air Command responsibility, he took over as commanding general of Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, TX from 1953-54. He retired in 1954 and died June 28, 1965. He is buried at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. If you have any information or photographs of General Old you can share with us, please let me KNOW.

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THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 04/29/12 REVISED: 01/21/14, 11/01/14, 06/05/15

 
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I'm looking for information and photographs of passenger Old and his airplane to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.

Thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling for his help researching this page.

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OTHER BOOKS FOR YOU

Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register, 1925-1936 is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-2-5.

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