Some call him the “badass of the badasses.” Some called him “Sunny.” His West Point classmates known him as “Pewt” or “Benny.” His immediate subordinates and headquarters staff simply referred to him as “The Chief.” Undoubtedly, Gen. Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold was a “happy” and “sunny” “badass” “chief.”
An aviation pioneer instructed in flying by the Wright Brothers themselves in Dayton, Ohio, Arnold was one of the first three rated pilots in the history of the U.S. Air Force who, among many other things, supervised the expansion of the Air Service during World War I, according to the U.S. Air Force.
Gen. Arnold eventually climbed rank until he assumed command of the Army Air Forces just before the U.S. entered World War II, and as both the Chief of the Air Corps (1938–1941) and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he commanded a massive expansion until he created the largest and strongest force of air fighters ever seen.
Perhaps even more famously, he became the only U.S. Air Force general to hold five-star rank and held the grades of General of the U.S. Army and General of the U.S. Air Force, the only officer to hold a five-star rank in two different U.S. military services. As military careers go, it doesn’t get better than that.
Watch his legendary story below:
Arnold dedicated himself 100 percent to building America’s strength in the skies, a dedication likely influenced by the early stages of his military career.
In 1907, he graduated from WestPoint and was assigned to the Philippines. Upon his request, he was detailed to the Signal Corps in 1911, where he went to work with the Wright Brothers at their aviation school. Months of lessons later, he earned his pilot certification. He was recognized two years later as one of the first ever military aviators.
His duties included both aviation and infantry duty until 1913. Arnold commanded the Army Air Forces to victory over Germany and Japan in World War II. He was the first military aviator to use radio to report his observations. In Nov. 1912 he was assigned to the Office of the Chief Signal Officer in Washington, where he was promoted to first lieutenant in April 1913.
Arnold retired in 1946 but in 1949, he received permanent five-star rank as general of the Air Force, the first such commission ever granted by Congress. He died at his ranch home in Sonoma, Calif., on Jan. 15, 1950 at the age of 63.