|Mason M. Patrick, KBE|
December 13, 1863|
Lewisburg, West Virginia
|Died||January 29, 1942
|Place of burial||Arlington National Cemetery|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1886–1927|
|Commands held||1st Engineer Regiment
US Army Air Corps
|Battles/wars||World War I|
|Awards||Distinguished Service Medal
French Legion of Honor
Italian Order of St. Maurice and St. Lazarus
Order of Leopold
Order of the British Empire
Public Utilities Commissioner, District of Columbia
He was born and educated in Lewisburg, West Virginia and at age 18 entered U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he finished second in his class behind classmate John J. Pershing. Early in his career he served as Chief Engineer for the Army of Cuban Pacification and 1st US Army Engineer on the U.S.-Mexico border. He served in France during World War I and was appointed Chief of Air Service by General Pershing in 1918. Under his direction the Air Service established experimental facilities at Wright Field, Ohio and San Antonio, Texas.
In 1926 he drafted and proposed the The Air Corps Act (44 Stat. 780) to the Military Affairs Committee of the Congress. The act created the United States Army Air Corp from the existing Air Service. Patrick served as commander of the Air Corp until his retirement in 1927. He died in Washington, D.C. on January 29, 1942.
Mason Mathews Patrick was born in Lewisburg, Greenbrier County, West Virginia on December 13, 1863 to Alfred Spicer Patrick and Virginia (Mathews) Patrick. His family was prominent in Greenbrier County. His father was a surgeon who served as such in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. His paternal grandfather, Spicer Patrick, also a surgeon, served in the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia State Senate during the Civil War, on the side of the Union. His maternal grandfather, Mason Mathews, was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates during wartime, on the side of the Confederacy. In Lewisburg, Patrick attended local public and private schools and on graduation taught for two years at his former high school. At age 18 he won an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
At West Point, Patrick excelled in mathematics and engineering, and he was reported to have spoken excellent French. Biographer Robert P. White described young Patrick as "well read, almost Renaissance in nature."  Outside of the classroom, he received numerous demerits for misconduct, his infractions including tobacco use, use of profanity, lateness, two citations for "sliding down the banister," and he was cited 24 times for being improperly dressed. At the academy he would make friends with classmate John J. Pershing. Their senior year, Pershing and Patrick held the top two posts in the class, being first and second captains of the Corps of Cadets, respectively.
Patrick graduated from West Point in 1886. The following three years he attended the Engineer School of Application, Willets Point, New York, graduating in 1889. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in the United States Army shortly after graduation in July 1889. He returned to West point as an instructor 1892, spending the next three years teaching engineering.
From 1897 to 1901 he was involved in Mississippi River improvements, and after two years in the office of the Chief of Engineers he again returned to the West Point faculty in 1903. He was promoted to Major in 1904. From 1907 to 1909 he was Chief Engineer for the Army of Cuban Pacification and then worked on river and harbor projects in Virginia from (1909–1912) and Michigan (1912–1916). (From 1910-1912, he was also a member of a board directing the raising of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor.) During this period he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel (June 1910) and Colonel (March 1916) and found himself in command of the 1st US Army Engineers serving on the U.S.-Mexico border in that same year.
In 1917 he was sent to France. In September he was named Chief Engineer of Lines of Communication and Director of Construction and Forestry of the American Expeditionary Forces and was promoted to Brigadier General on August 1917.
In May 1918 he was appointed by his old classmate General John J. Pershing to command the combined Air Service, and subsequently promoted to temporary Major General the following month in June 1918. Patrick replaced general Benjamin Foulois as commander, as Pershing had felt staff planning under Foulois had been inefficient, with considerable internal friction as well as conflict between its members and those of Pershing's General Staff. Pershing also felt aircraft and unit totals lagged far behind those promised by Foulois. Considerable house-cleaning of the existing staff resulted from Patrick's appointment, bringing in experienced staff officers to administrate, and tightening up lines of communication. The situation at Air Service headquarters was described as "a tangled mess" before Patrick was brought in. Pershing acknowledged that Foulois requested relief before he was replaced, but the request came only after Foulois became aware of the severity of Pershing's displeasure and attempts in April to rein in his own staff had failed. Patrick remained with the Air Service until June 1919, returning then to the U.S. and to various engineering duties, including Assistant Chief of Engineers in 1920.
In October 1921, Patrick was again appointed Chief of the Air Service with the permanent rank of major general. Under Patrick's direction the Air Service established experimental facilities at Wright Field, Ohio, and a large training facility at San Antonio, Texas. It was here in 1922 that he learned how to fly for the very first time in his life, receiving the rating of Junior Airplane Pilot at the age of 59 years. At this time Patrick began having an increasingly difficult time managing his Assistant Chief of Air Service, Billy Mitchell. Patrick made it clear to Mitchell that although he would accept Mitchell's expertise as counsel, all decisions would be made by Patrick. Mitchell, however, known for his outspoken personality, began fervently pushing his personal agenda for air power independence by breaking chain of command and speaking directly with the press. When Mitchell soon got into a minor but embarrassing protocol rift with R/Adm. William A. Moffett at the start of the naval arms limitation conference, Patrick used the opportunity to assign him to an inspection tour of Europe with Alfred Verville and Lt. Clayton Bissell that lasted the duration of the conference over the winter of 1921–22.
In 1924, Patrick hand-picked Henry "Hap" Arnold, despite a mutual dislike, to head the Air Service's Information Division, working closely with Billy Mitchell, Assistant Chief of Air Service. Mitchell began using the Harnold's Information Division as an outlet to promote his personal opinions on the need for air power independence. When Mitchell was later court-martialed for accusing Army and Navy leaders of an "almost treasonable administration of the national defense" for investing in battleships instead of aircraft carriers as he so wished, Arnold and other high-ranking officers on Patrick's staff, including Carl Spaatz, and Ira Eaker were warned that they would jeopardize their careers should they vocally support Mitchell, but they testified on his behalf anyway. After Mitchell was convicted on December 17, 1925, Arnold and other officers continued to use the Information Division to mail pro-Mitchell information to airpower-friendly congressmen and Air Service reservists. In February, Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis ordered Patrick to find and discipline the culprits. Patrick was already aware of the activity and chose Arnold to set an example. He gave Arnold the choice of resignation or a general court-martial, but when Arnold chose the latter, Patrick decided to avoid another public fiasco and instead transferred him to Ft. Riley, far from the aviation mainstream, where he eventually took command of the 16th Observation Squadron.
Creation of the Air Corps
In early 1926 the Military Affairs Committee of the Congress reviewed bills set forth before it to create a more autonomous air power. Patrick, in his 'Air Corps Act,' proposed that the Air Service be made a semi-independent service within the War Department along the lines of the Marine Corps within the Navy Department, requesting a"five-year plan" for expansion and development. His proposal was met with criticism and the service created, though retaining the name of Air Corps, would not achieve the independence he envisioned until the creation of the United States Air Force in 1947.
The Air Corps Act (44 Stat. 780) became law on 2 July 1926. In accordance with the Morrow Board's recommendations, the act created an additional Assistant Secretary of War to "help foster military aeronautics", and established an air section in each division of the General Staff for a period of three years. Previous provisions of the National Defense Act of 1920 that all flying units be commanded only by rated personnel and that flight pay be awarded were continued. The Air Corps also retained the "Prop and Wings" as its branch insignia through its disestablishment in 1947. Patrick became Chief of the Air Corps and Brig. Gen. James E. Fechet continued as his first assistant chief.
He retired from the Army in December 1927, remaining in Washington as an adviser to Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The following year he published "The U.S. In the Air". From 1929 to 1933 he was Public Utilities Commissioner for the District of Columbia. He died in Washington, D.C. on January 29, 1942 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on January 31, 1942.
Summary of service
Dates of rank
|No Insignia in 1886||Second Lieutenant, United States Army: July 1886|
|First Lieutenant, United States Army: July 1889|
|Major, United States Army: 1904|
|Lieutenant Colonel, United States Army: June 1910|
|Brigadier General, United States Army: August 1917|
|Major General, United States Army: 1921|
Honors and Awards
United States decorations and medals
- Commander of the Order of Leopold (Belgium)
- Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
- Legion of Honor (France)
- Order of St. Maurice and St. Lazarus (Italy)
Other honors and miscellany
- White, Robert (2001). Mason Patrick. Smithsonian, 2001
- Atkinson, George and Gibbens, W. (1890). Prominent Men of West Virginia. Callin Publishing, Wheeling, WV, 1890.
- Combs, James Thurl (1987). "Greenbrier, C.S.A. Wartime Letters of Mason Mathews to his son Captain Joseph William Mathews, C.S.A." The Journal of the Greenbrier Historical Society (Parsons, West Virginia: Greenbrier Historical Society) V (1): 5-44.
- Tate, Dr. James P. (1998). The Army and its Air Corps: Army Policy Toward Aviation 1919-1941, Air University Press, p. 19
- Smith, Alfred Emanuel (October 12 1921). "The New Head of The Air Service". The Outlook 129: 206, 208. Retrieved 2009-07-30.
- Tate 1998, p. 18
- Futrell (1985), p. 39.
- Huston 2002, pp. 13–14
- Coffey 1982, pp. 112–115
- This comment is quoted as "incompetency, criminal negligence, and almost treasonable administration by the War and Navy departments" from an interview given by Gen Mitchell in San Antonio, Texas and published in the New York Times according to "The Courtmartial of Billy Mitchell (1925)" in Footnotes to American History by Harold S. Sharp, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., Metuchen, N.J., 1977, pp. 430–433.
- Coffey 1982, pp. 122–124
- Clay 2010, p. 1384
- Tate (1998), pp. 45–47
- Maurer (1987)Aviation in the U.S. Army, 1919–1939 (Appendix 5) p. 74
- Head, William Pace (1995). Every Inch a Soldier: Augustine Warner Robins and the Building of U.S. Airpower Volume 37 of Texas A & M University military history series. Texas A&M University Press, 1995: Issue 37, p. 75 ISBN 0890965900, 9780890965900 http://books.google.com/books?id=5utyzXwyh1MC&pg=PA75&lpg=PA75&dq=order+of+the+british+empire+%22mason+patrick%22&source=bl&ots=6RgBAOhadj&sig=wjDtkEXYencJ2plWHiNmvnYCx7k&hl=en&sa=X&ei=_VuUUIiKIezW0gHelIGABA&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false Retrieved November 2, 2012.
- West Virginia Daily News(1967, June 7). Two distinguished soldiers native sons of Greenbrier county: World War Heroes of Greenbrier to be Honored in Special Exercises of 160th Anniversary Celebration. West Virginia Daily News.
- Mason Mathews Patrick: Major General, United States Army(2010). Retrieved November 2, 2012 from http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/mpatrick.htm
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|Awards and achievements|
|Cover of Time Magazine
9 July 1923