Hoyt Vandenberg

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Hoyt Vandenberg
Hoyt S Vandenberg.jpg
Chief of Staff of the Air Force
In office
April 30, 1948 – June 29, 1953
PresidentHarry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
DeputyMuir S. Fairchild
Nathan F. Twining
Preceded byCarl Spaatz
Succeeded byNathan Twining
Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force
In office
October 1, 1947 – April 30, 1948
PresidentHarry Truman
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byMuir S. Fairchild
2nd Director of Central Intelligence
In office
June 10, 1946 – May 1, 1947
PresidentHarry Truman
DeputyKingman Douglass
Edwin K. Wright
Preceded bySidney Souers
Succeeded byRoscoe H. Hillenkoetter
Personal details
Hoyt Sanford Vandenberg

(1899-01-24)January 24, 1899
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
DiedApril 2, 1954(1954-04-02) (aged 55)
Washington D.C., U.S.
EducationUnited States Military Academy (BA)
Military service
AllegianceUnited States
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
United States Air Force
Years of service1923–1953
CommandsChief of Staff of the United States Air Force
Twelfth Air Force
Ninth Air Force
Battles/warsWorld War II
Korean War
AwardsArmy Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross
Bronze Star Medal
Air Medal (5)

Hoyt Sanford Vandenberg (January 24, 1899 – April 2, 1954) was a United States Air Force general.[1] He served as the second Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and the second Director of Central Intelligence.

During World War II, Vandenberg was the commanding general of the Ninth Air Force, a tactical air force in England and in France, supporting the Army, from August 1944 until V-E Day. Vandenberg Space Force Base on the central coast of California is named after him. In 1946, he was briefly the U.S. Chief of Military Intelligence. He was the nephew of Arthur H. Vandenberg, a former U.S. Senator from Michigan.[2]

Early life[edit]

Vandenberg was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son of Pearl Kane and William Collins Vandenbergh, both from Dutch ancestry.[3][4] He grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts, spending his teenage years there. While there he was one of the first Eagle Scouts in the Boy Scouts of America's Lowell Council. He graduated from the United States Military Academy on June 12, 1923, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Army Air Service.

Military career[edit]

At West Point in 1923

Vandenberg graduated from the Air Service Flying School at Brooks Field, Texas, in February 1924, and from the Air Service Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas, in September 1924.

Vandenberg's first assignment was with the 90th Attack Squadron, part of the 3d Attack Group at Kelly Field. (In 1926 Lt. Van was also a stunt pilot for the silent film "Wings" which was filming in San Antonio. "Wings" won the first Academy Award for a motion picture.) Vandenberg was appointed commander of the 90th AS on January 1, 1926. In 1927, he became an instructor at the Air Corps Primary Flying School at March Field, Calif. In 1928 he was promoted to first lieutenant. In May 1929 he went to Wheeler Field, Hawaii, to join the 6th Pursuit Squadron, and assumed command of it the following November.

Returning in September 1931, Vandenberg was appointed a flying instructor at Randolph Field, Texas, and became a flight commander and deputy stage commander there in March 1933. He entered the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Alabama, in August 1934, and graduated the following June. Two months later he enrolled in the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; he completed the course in June 1936 and was promoted to the rank of captain. He then became an instructor in the Pursuit Section of the Air Corps Tactical School, where he taught until September 1936, when he entered the Army War College, where he specialized in air defense planning for the Philippines.

Major General Hoyt Vandenberg with General Henry H. Arnold and Carl A. Spaatz at decoration ceremonies in Luxembourg City on April 7, 1945

After graduating from the War College in June 1939, Vandenberg was assigned to the Plans Division in the Office of the Chief of Air Corps, selected personally by its head, Brigadier General Carl Spaatz, whom he had met at the Command and General Staff College. In September 1939 and the autumn of 1940, Vandenberg developed two air plans for the Philippine Department, the second based on Royal Air Force interceptor operations in the Battle of Britain, but neither was adopted by the War Department when the Roosevelt Administration reaffirmed its long-standing opposition to any plan that called for extensive reinforcement of the defenses in the Philippines.[5] In 1940 Vandenberg was promoted to major and in 1941 to lieutenant colonel.

A few months after the United States entered World War II, Vandenberg was promoted to colonel and became operations and training officer of the Air Staff. For his services in these two positions he received the Distinguished Service Medal.

In June 1942, Vandenberg was assigned to the United Kingdom and assisted in the organization of the Air Forces in North Africa. While in Great Britain he was appointed the chief of staff of the Twelfth Air Force, which he helped organize. In December 1942 Vandenberg earned the promotion to brigadier general. On February 18, 1943, Vandenberg became the chief of staff of the Northwest African Strategic Air Force (NASAF), which was under the command of Major General James Doolittle. NASAF was the strategic arm of the new Northwest African Air Forces (NAAF) under Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz. With NASAF, Vandenberg flew on numerous missions over Tunisia, Pantelleria, Sardinia, Sicily, and Italy. He was awarded both the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his services during this time. For his organizational ability with the Twelfth Air Force and his work as chief of staff of the NASAF, he was awarded the Legion of Merit.

Eisenhower (seated, middle) with other US Army officers, 1945. From left to right, the front row includes Simpson, Patton, Spaatz, Eisenhower, Bradley, Hodges, and Gerow. Vandenberg is second from the left in the second row.

In August 1943, Vandenberg was assigned to Air Force headquarters as Deputy Chief of Air Staff. In September 1943, he became head of an air mission to Russia, under Ambassador Harriman, and returned to the United States in January 1944. In March 1944, he earned the promotion to major general and then he was transferred to the European theater; in April 1944, he was designated the Deputy Air Commander in Chief of the Allied Expeditionary Forces and the Commander of its American Air Component. In August 1944, Vandenberg assumed command of the Ninth Air Force. On November 28, 1944, he received an oak leaf cluster to his Distinguished Service Medal for his part in planning the Normandy invasion. He was promoted to lieutenant general in March 1945.

Watercolor portrait of Major General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, 9th Air Force, United States Army Air Force 1945

Vandenberg was appointed the Assistant Chief of Air Staff at the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) headquarters in July 1945. In January 1946, he became Director of Intelligence on the War Department general staff where he served until his appointment in June 1946, as Director of Central Intelligence, a position he held until May 1947.[6]

General Hoyt S. Vandenberg

Vandenberg returned to duty with the Air Force in April 1947, and on June 15 became the Deputy Commander in Chief of the Air Staff. Following the division of the United States Department of War into the Departments of the Army and the Air Force, Vandenberg was designated the Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force on October 1, 1947, and promoted to the rank of general.

Even when Vandenberg was at the pinnacle of his military career, his boyish good looks and outgoing personality often made him the target of attacks on his credibility and experience. However, the attention that his appearance brought on was not all bad. He appeared on the covers of Time and Life magazines. The Washington Post once described him as "the most impossibly handsome man on the entire Washington scene," and Marilyn Monroe once named Vandenberg, along with Joe DiMaggio and Albert Einstein, as one of the three people with whom she would want to be stranded on a deserted island.

On April 30, 1948, Vandenberg became the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, succeeding General Carl Spaatz. He was renominated by President Harry S. Truman for a second term as Air Force Chief of Staff on March 6, 1952. The nomination was confirmed on April 28, with Vandenberg serving until June 30, 1953.

A controversy arose while Vandenberg was the Air Force Chief of Staff, when he opposed the United States Secretary of Defense Charles Erwin Wilson on a proposed $5 billion budget reduction for the Air Force. Vandenberg maintained that the cut backed by Wilson would reduce military aviation to a "one-shot Air Force," inferior to that of the Soviet Union. He said it was another instance of "start-stop" planning of a kind that had impeded Air Force development in previous years. The cut in appropriations went into effect in July 1953, immediately after his retirement from the Air Force.

Later life[edit]

On the January 15, 1945, cover of Time magazine

A scratch golfer,[7] he spent much time on golf courses. He was also a lover of movies, Westerns, and scotch. Vandenberg retired from active duty on June 30, 1953, and he died nine months later, at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center of prostate cancer at the age of 55.[8] He is interred in Section 30 of Arlington National Cemetery.[9]

His wife, Gladys Merritt (Rose) Vandenberg (1898–1978), started the concept of the Arlington Ladies while he was Air Force Chief of Staff. The program provides that a military lady of the appropriate service represents the service chief at all military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.[10] She was buried, alongside her husband, in Arlington National Cemetery upon her death on January 9, 1978.[11] They are survived by their children, Gloria Vandenberg Miller and Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Jr.


On October 4, 1958, the missile and space base at Camp Cooke in Lompoc, California, was renamed Vandenberg Air Force Base (which was redesignated Vandenberg Space Force Base in 2021). In July 1963, the instrument ship USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg (T-AGM-10) was renamed at Cape Canaveral, Florida, for duty on the Eastern Space and Missile Range in the Atlantic. One of the two cadets' dormitories at the United States Air Force Academy, Vandenberg Hall, is also named in his honor. In addition, a popular enlisted "hangout" for technical school Airmen at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, is named in his honor, as was the Vandenberg Esplanade, along the Merrimack River in Lowell, Massachusetts and part of the Lowell Heritage State Park.

Dates of rank[edit]

Insignia Rank Component Date
None Cadet United States Military Academy June 13, 1919
US-O1 insignia.svg Second lieutenant Regular Army (United States Army Air Service) June 12, 1923
US-O2 insignia.svg First lieutenant Regular Army (United States Army Air Corps) August 19, 1928
US-O3 insignia.svg Captain Regular Army (United States Army Air Corps) August 1, 1935
US-O4 insignia.svg Temporary Major Regular Army (United States Army Air Corps) March 11, 1940
US-O4 insignia.svg Major Regular Army (United States Army Air Corps) July 1, 1940
US-O5 insignia.svg Temporary Lieutenant colonel Regular Army (United States Army Air Corps) November 15 (accepted December 5) 1941
US-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant colonel Army of the United States December 24, 1941
US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel Army of the United States January 27, 1942
US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier general Army of the United States December 3, 1942
US-O8 insignia.svg Major general Army of the United States March 13, 1944
US-O9 insignia.svg Lieutenant general Army of the United States March 17, 1945
US-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant colonel Regular Army (United States Army Air Forces) June 12, 1946
US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier general Regular Army (United States Army Air Forces) June 22 (rank from April 30) 1946
US-O8 insignia.svg Major general Regular Army (United States Army Air Forces) August 1, 1947
US-O10 insignia.svg General Army of the United States October 1, 1947
US-O10 insignia.svg General United States Air Force April 30, 1948


Awards and decorations[edit]

COMMAND PILOT WINGS.png  Command Pilot

Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters[13]
Silver Star[13]
Legion of Merit[13]
Distinguished Flying Cross[13]
Bronze Star Medal
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters
World War I Victory Medal
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle East Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Foreign awards
Noribbon.svg Unidentified Order, Officer (Italy)
Order of Orange-Nassau ribbon - Grand Officer.svg Grand Officer (with swords) of the Order of Orange Nassau (Netherlands)
BRA - Order of the Southern Cross - Grand Officer BAR.svg Grand Officer of the National Order of the Southern Cross (Brazil)
BRA War Medal.png Medal of War (Brazil)
LUX Order of Adolphe Nassau Grand Cross BAR.png Grand Cross of the Order of Adolphe of Nassau (Luxembourg)
LUX Croix de Guerre ribbon.svg Croix de Guerre (Luxembourg)
Ordre de Léopold O ribbon.svgUK MID 1920-94.svg Officer with Palm of the Order of Leopold (Belgium)
Legion Honneur GO ribbon.svg Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor (France)
Croix de guerre 1939–1945 stripe bronsepalme.svg Croix de Guerre with bronze Palm (France)
Order of the Bath UK ribbon.svg Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (Britain)
POL Polonia Restituta Komandorski ZG BAR.svg Commander's Cross (with Star) of the Order of Polonia Restituta (Poland)
PRT Military Order of Aviz - Grand Cross BAR.svg Grand Cross of the Order of Aviz (Portugal)
EGY Order of the Nile - Grand Cordon BAR.png Grand Cordon of the Order of the Nile (Egypt)
Order of Precious Tripod with Grand Cordon ribbon.png Grand Cordon Order of Pao Ting (Republic of China)
Noribbon.svg Medalla Militar de Primera Clase (Chile)
Noribbon.svg General Staff Emblem (Argentina)
Cavaliere di gran Croce BAR.svg Knight Grand Cross of the Military Order of Italy

The Manuscript Collection of Hoyt S. Vandenberg at the Library of Congress as of November 2005 is Classified information.


  1. ^ a b "Biographical file of Hoyt S. Vandenberg" (PDF). Air Force Historical Research Agency. May 6, 1952. pp. 27–28. Retrieved October 24, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ Jay Nordlinger. “Michigan Men” (Review of Arthur Vandenberg: The Man in the Middle of the American Century, by Hendrik Meijer.) National Review. November 27, 2017. (Retrieved 2018-06-22.)
  3. ^ David, James E. (February 2000). Vandenberg, Hoyt Sanford: American National Biography Online - oi. American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0700310.
  4. ^ "Birth Record Details". Wisconsin Historical Society. Archived from the original on June 11, 2011. Retrieved July 23, 2009.
  5. ^ Bartsch, William H. (2003). December 8, 1941: MacArthur's Pearl Harbor. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 1-58544-246-1. pp. 50–54.
  6. ^ Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets (NY: W.W. Norton, 1991), 391
  7. ^ Hale, Clint. "What is the Meaning of a Scratch Golfer". Golfweek.com. Retrieved October 19, 2017.
  8. ^ "Vandenberg Funeral Monday, Eisenhower Praises Service". The Evening Star. April 3, 1954. p. 2. Retrieved December 23, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ Burial Detail: Vandenberg, Hoyt S (Section 30, Grave 719) – ANC Explorer
  10. ^ O'Neill, Helen. "Special lady for each Arlington soldier – Volunteers honor troops and make sure none is buried alone". NBC News.com. Retrieved May 30, 2010.
  11. ^ Burial Detail: Vandenberg, Gladys R – ANC Explorer
  12. ^ Official Army and Air Force Register, 1948, p. 1863.
  13. ^ a b c d "Hoyt Sanford Vandenberg". Hall of Valor. Military Times. Retrieved August 16, 2018.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by Director of Central Intelligence
Succeeded by
Military offices
New office Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief of Staff of the Air Force
Succeeded by