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2014 – Colonel Earl B. Young, USAF (Ret)

Colonel Earl B. Young, USAF (Ret)




The 2014 Airlift/Tanker Association Hall of Fame Inductee, Colonel Earl B. Young, USAF (ret), was born in Casper, Wyoming on 11 July 1913. He enlisted in the Regular Army in 1936, beginning a storied career. He flew combat missions in P-40s in Africa, and in the B-25 bomber over Italy and Corsica. He was awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star, which resulted from a mission in 1944 involving a clash with Luftwaffe aircraft.

Recalling the incident on his 100th birthday Young said, “I had shrapnel after German 88s flew up in formation and they exploded right in my face – filling me with shrapnel in the cockpit…It took off one engine and half the tail. I had to take the airplane back crippled. That was probably my worst flight.” He went on to say that it was frightening every time he went up on a mission and lined up a target.

Earl Young went on to help frame the way in which airlift and transport assets and capabilites would be used in post World War II America.

Among Young’s many other awards and decorations are the Legion of Merit, the Air Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle-Eastern Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and Air Force Service Award with 4 Oak-Leaf Clusters.

An Illustrious Career

On 19 June 1936, at the age of 23, Earl Young enlisted in the Regular Army as a “flying cadet,” at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas. Then, in February 1937, following 8 months of Basic Training, 4 months of Advanced Flight Training and bomber training at Kelly Field, Texas, Young received his Pilot rating. He was promoted to 2LT US Army Air Corps Reserves on 20 June 1937.

In June of 1937 Young was assigned to the 36th Pursuit Squadron, 8th Pursuit Group, at Langley AFB, Virginia. On 1 October 1938 he received a Regular Army commission, and was promoted to 1 LT the following day. He was then assigned, in December 1940, to the 8th Pursuit Group, Mitchell Field, Long Island, New York. A new assignment in July of 1941 took him to the 57th Pursuit Group, Windsor Locks, Connecticut.

In December of 1941 Young was moved to the Boston Information Center as part of the 1st Air Force. In March of 1942 he was promoted to Captain and assigned to Headquarters (HQ) 1st AF as Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations. On 11 June 1942 he was promoted to Major.

Next, in March of 1943, Young was assigned to HQ 4th Fighter Command, Oakland, California, as Deputy Chief of Staff. On 7 August 1943 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. He was then moved, in November 1943, to the 12th Fighter Command, Mediterranean Coastal Command as Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations. In September 1944 he was assigned to the 321st Bombardment Group (Medium) as Deputy Commander (and later Commander) Stationed in Corsica and Bimini Italy.

In August 1945, Young returned to the US as Chief, Plans Division, US Army Air Transport Command (ATC). In April 1947 he was named Special Assistant to the Commanding General, Air Transport Command. Then, in January of 1948 he moved to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Special Joint Planning Group for Continental US Defense. On 22 November 1948 Young was promoted to Colonel. In March of 1949 he was made the Executive to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force.

In June of 1951 Young became the first Commander of HQ 18th Air Force, Donaldson AFB, South Carolina, initially composed of nine Air Force Reserve C-119 “Flying Boxcar” troop carrier wings (and later two C-124 “Globemaster II” wings). The newly-formed command immediately began providing crews for the Korean War. In July Young he was named to Chief, Plans and Operations, preparing troop carrier units for deployment to Korea.

In February 1952 Young was assigned to the Joint US Military Mission, Ankara, Turkey, where he became Director of Operations and Plans, Joint Staff. In February 1954 he moved to Hunter AFB, Savannah, Georgia, as Director of Material, 38th Air Division (heavy bombardment) and subsequently base commander. In September 1956 he began a course of study at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

In September 1957 Colonel Young was assigned to Pentagon, HQ USAF, Office of the Assistant for Mutual Security, Chief Plans and Policy Division, and later as Deputy to the Assistant for Mutual Security. He retired from the Air Force on 30 June 1962.

Significant Contributions To The Advancement Of Air Mobility

With the end of World War II, there were two views of where airlift assets should be maintained and managed within the United States. Some advocated for a strong worldwide military airlift capability managed by the Air Force. While others, supported by senior airline managers, believed the arilines should have the primary responsibility for worldwide air transport activities to include military airlift.

During the war many of the senior positions in Air Transport Command (ATC) were held by airline executives, and with the end of WWII, they were eager to return to their civilian positions. In addition, they strongly advocated the retention of all airlift assets in the civilian airlines.

Realizing the need for a replacement staff, Air Transport Command leadership sent representatives throughout Europe looking for volunteers to man the ATC staff positions. A volunteer, Lt Col Earl Young was assigned to ATC in August 1945 and soon became Chief of ATC Plans Division at Gravelly Point in temporary buildings in the area that is now Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

As it developed, one of the first functions of their office was to allocate scarce resources in the face of drastic cuts imposed by the Secretary of War Stimson. At the same time, they had to defend the very existence of a transport capability within the military, in the face of opposition from within the Air Corps itself, as well as from some of the same airline executives who had served within ATC during the war.

Working with the commanding general of Army Air Forces, General Henry H. (Hap) Arnold, and air mobily giants General Spaatz, General Smith, General George, and General Kuter, all previous inductees into the Airlift/Tanker Association Hall of Fame, Earl Young found himself in the middle of the debate on where airlift resources should be managed and maintained – in the Air Force or the commercial airlines.

“The technique, knowledge of procedure and experience that has been acquired by the Air Transport Command must never be lost to the AAF. Accordingly, we should have in peace time an Air Transport Command flying routine services between the United States and our bases (overseas)… I think we should also establish a model airlines independent of the commercial airlines…I am, therefore, anxious to get out a directive in the near future that will stabilize our planning and thinking with respect to the Air Transport Command, and will insure its continued existence as an effective and expansible independent organization. With this in mind, I wish you would draw up a proposed directive to the ATC for my signature.”
—H. H. Arnold letter to Lt Gen George, 5 December 1945

Based on the Chief’s guidance, Lt Col Young had the responsibility for the directive as well as advocating and defending the existence of a transportation capability within the military. Essentially all of the Commands in the AAF were dealing with the same problems of identification, so the staffs were on their own to identify their mission and to corral enough resources to perform their mission.

“I believe that a strong Air Transport Command is an essential instrument to the Commanding General, Army Air Forces in the accomplishment of his mission in executing National aviation policy. I believe that it offers a means of insuring our capacity to support the immediate world-wide deployment of our Armed Forces and of serving as a connecting link between our deployed Air Forces.”
—H. H. Arnold in a memo to Gen Spaatz, 7 Jan 1946

Fortunately, General Arnold and others who understood the need for dedicated air transport support to military missions quieted the Air Corps opposition, and in briefings to the staff of the Secretary of War, they learned that that office favored the retention of a military transport capability. While these activities were in progress, the Plans staff was besieged by the airlines, particularly TWA, to keep open an air route from Saudi Arabia to Manila to give US carriers a leg up in this developing part of the world.

At the same time, it was understood that most, if not all, of the manpower required would come from Airways and Air Communications Service (AACS) and the Air Weather Service (AWS), both of which were attached as a part of the Air Transport Command during and right after the WWII. Col Young’s staff, working with management of those two organizations, developed a “Four hundred man plan” by which they could man the beacons and towers necessary to keep the desired route open.

Before presenting this plan to the War Secretary, Robert P. Patterson (who had personally adopted ATC as his project), it was necessary to secure the approval and support of each country ATC would be operating in. Fortunately, the AACS and the AWS had operated that route for most of the war years, and they were able to secure total cooperation. The arrangement included a commitment to train indigenous personnel to enable them to handle air traffic control on their own, some of whom were already well on the way to such a capability.

An important factor in continuing air service, particularly in underdeveloped parts of the world, was the fact that English was accepted as the worldwide air traffic control language. This had been agreed by ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, at its first meeting in Montreal in 1947, at which Col Young was one of two Air Force members.

With these arrangements in hand, they were able to secure approval, to include the 400 additional personnel added to ATC’s manpower allotment.

After much additional debate and many worldwide meetings, the decision was made to retain airlift capability within the Air Transport lines who at the time had more aircraft (200 in ATC vs. 800 in the airlines).

Shortly after the Department of Defense replaced the Secretary of War in 1947, the new Defense Secretary James Forrestal issued a decree to each of the Service Secretaries to eliminate where possible the duplications that had developed among them. One such duplication that was targeted was the Naval Air Transport Service, “NATS” which, while supplying Naval stations, particularly in the Pacific, was duplicating many of the ATC routes. Even though the Secretary had a Naval background, the directive specified that the consolidated service should operate under the jurisdiction of the soon to be established USAF.

In early 1947, Lt Col Earl Young was reassigned to plan the transition as the Special Assistant to Gen Webster, Commander of the Air Transport Command (ATC), and based on it importance, he was given a desk in the command suite. An integral part of the Air Force leadership team, Earl Young proved to be a highly effective, visionary, and trusted officer. It can be no better stated than in the memo form Gen Kuter:
“Please talk to Earl Young.”

“Please talk to Earl Young. He may know of safe hands into which this letter could be placed that would behelpful on the current discussions of the relationship between MATS and the Troop Carrier agencies.”
— Gen Kuter memo to Col Rust, 18 Oct 1948

Col Young brought together divergent views and generated consensus on many difficult issues. This was very evident during his work with the Commander of NATS, who provided information on all the routes served, as well as equipment and personnel involved in Naval air transport activities. With input from the other offices in ATC as well as the Navy, Col Young’s team set out to outline the functions of the new organization. Since there was active opposition to the idea of military transport being defined as a “Command,” Col Young came up with the name “Military Air Transport Service” (MATS) which was readily accepted – the legacy organization known to the air mobility community as the foundation upon which Air Mobility Command (AMC) evolved.

In the resulting moves, the Navy gave up the airplanes involved in duplicative routes, while retaining those employed exclusively in support of Naval installations. It was further agreed that they would continue to operate under the jurisdiction of MATS. Some of the planes surrendered were assigned to the USAF for use by MATS, while others, including luxurious amphibious planes, were returned to Pan American Airlines, from whom they had been requisitioned under an edict issued by President Roosevelt in the months leading up to Pearl Harbor.

While developing the mission of MATS, Col Young’s staff concentrated on the need for transport support for military installations and organizations that could not readily be supported by civil airlines with their set routes and schedules. They used the phrase ‘movement and support of troops’, as distinguished from ‘Troop Carriers’, which, within the Air Force, remained the purview of the Tactical Air Command. The goal was to make it clear that if MATS moved a soldier he wouldn’t have to walk back home.

As a result of their efforts, on 1 June 1948, ATC was deactivated and MATS was activated. Within a month, the Berlin Airlift began, and MATS was called upon to support an undertaking that was identified as a European Theatre operation, not a MATS operation (though all of the resources employed during the fifteen months of the siege were from MATS, including two Naval Squadrons sent from the Pacific). Although operated under the jurisdiction of the USAF, MATS was technically a Department of Defense Unified Command, employing as it did a number of Naval units.

During the years between 1951 and 1958, as the 18th AF was stood up at Donaldson AFB, South Carolina, with Col Young as the first, although interim Commander. As 18th AF began to acquire airlift capabilities beyond those needed to support the effort in Korea, it was called upon more and more frequently to augment MATS in the movement of military units, particularly in Antarctic and in Alaska.

In 1957, in one of a series of re-organizations, all the C-124 Globemaster squadrons in the 18th AF were transferred to MATS, though the troop carrier missions remained the responsibility of TAC. A few months later, in 1958, the 18th AF was deactivated and all its equipment was taken over by the reactivated 12th AF, a WWII tactical Air Force that served in North Africa and Italy.

Colonel Young continued his career with assignments in Turkey, the Joint Staff, as a Base Commander, and finally in the Pentagon.

On 1 January 1966, MATS became the Military Airlift Command (MAC) that in turn became Air Mobility Command on 1 April 1992.

On 1 October 2003, 18th Air Force was re-activated and became the Air Mobility Command’s sole Numbered Air Force Headquarters. Shortly thereafter, the 18AF conference room was named the “Col Earl B. Young Conference Room” in his honor. Since that time, he has attended several 18AF functions including a Commanders’ and Chiefs’ Conference and an 18AF Change of Command.

Col Young’s wife of 75 years, Virginia, passed away in 2011, and he now lives in Rome, Georgia, with his son Bob Young and Bob’s wife, Lora Young.

Colonel Earl B. Young had an exceptional career with an incredible airlift and mobility legacy that has spanned several decades. A living treasure, he is the perfect choice for recognition by induction into the Airlift/Tanker Hall of Fame!