John R. Alison

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John Richardson Alison
John Alison Eagle Litho 2004.png
John R. Alison
Gathering of Eagles 2004 Lithograph
Born(1912-11-21)November 21, 1912
Micanopy, Florida
DiedJune 6, 2011(2011-06-06) (aged 98)
Washington, D.C.
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Army Air Forces
United States Air Force Reserve
Years of service1936–1972
RankMajor General
Unit51st Fighter Group
23rd Fighter Group
Commands held75th Fighter Squadron
1st Air Commando Group
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsDistinguished Service Cross
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Legion of Merit (2)
Distinguished Flying Cross
Purple Heart
Air Medal (2)
Other workAssistant Secretary of Commerce
Senior Vice President, Northrop

John Richardson "Johnny" Alison (November 21, 1912 – June 6, 2011)[1] was a highly decorated American combat ace of World War II and is often cited as the father of Air Force Special Operations.[2]

Early years[edit]

Born in Micanopy, Florida,[3] near Gainesville in 1912, Alison graduated from the University of Florida School of Engineering and joined the United States Army Air Corps in 1936.[4] He earned his wings and was commissioned at Kelly Field in 1937.[2] Prior to America's entry into World War II, he served as Assistant Military Attache in England and helped British pilots transition into the P-40.[2] In October 1941, Alison traveled to Moscow to administer the sensitive U.S.-Soviet P-40 Lend-Lease program. He trained Russian pilots in the P-40, A-20, and B-25 Mitchell aircraft.[2] In his autobiography, Jimmy Doolittle wrote:

I might have gone to Russia, but Lieutenants Hubert Zemke and Johnny Alison, who had also been sent to England as observers, went instead. Good men, they both became aces later in the war. Johnny became a major general.[5]


After ten months and repeated requests for reassignment to combat, Alison got his wish. In June 1942, he reported to the China-Burma-India Theater (CBI) to serve as Deputy Squadron Commander under major David Lee "Tex" Hill in the 75th Fighter Squadron, part of Colonel Robert Lee Scott Jr.'s 23rd Fighter Group, the USAAF successor of the AVG's famed Flying Tigers in the China-Burma-India Theater.

Alison was called into theater by the previous commander of the AVG, Brigadier General Claire Lee Chennault, who was serving as Commander of the Fourteenth Air Force.[2] On July 30, 1942, Alison was credited with the first night kills in the theater. For his experimental night interception, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.[6][7] Alison again demonstrated his aggressiveness in early 1943, when he took off during an attack on his own airfield, engaged three Mitsubishi A6M Zeros, and scored one probable kill. He then vectored arriving reinforcements to the battle, after which he made a stern attack on another enemy fighter at close range, shooting it down. His gallantry and fighting spirit earned him the Silver Star.[2] Ending his tour as commander of the 75th Fighter Squadron, Alison left as an ace with seven confirmed victories and several probable kills.[2] His former commanding officer, David Lee "Tex" Hill, had high praise for Alison:

John Alison had the greatest pure flying skill of any pilot in the theater — a touch on the controls that knew no equal. His talents were matched only by his eagerness for combat.[8]

Air Commando[edit]

After returning home in May 1943, Alison was recalled to the CBI theater by Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold to co-command (along with Lt. Col. Philip G. Cochran) the newly formed 1st Air Commando Group, also known as Project 9. As leader of this secret and highly innovative flying unit, Alison led a composite wing of fighters, bombers, transports and gliders in the dramatic "aerial invasion of Burma," dubbed Operation THURSDAY. The 1st Air Commandos supported the British "Chindit" Special Forces' infiltration of Japanese rear supply areas. In March 1944, Alison's men flew more than 200 miles behind enemy lines, transporting, re-supplying, and providing fire support for over 9,000 Allied forces. Alison's innovative leadership and combat daring as co-commander of the 1st Air Commandos helped to turn the tide of the Allied war effort in the CBI theater.

— John Alison's Gathering of Eagles Biography[2]

Alison later commanded the 3rd Air Commando group in the Pacific serving in the Philippines and Okinawa.[3]

Later years[edit]

After the war, he served as an Assistant Secretary of Commerce, President of the Air Force Association, and as a major general in the Air Force Reserve.[2] He retired as vice president of the Northrop Corporation in 1984 and is a 1994 inductee into the Air Commando Hall of Fame.[9][2] In 2005 Alison was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.[10]

Alison died on June 6, 2011 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on October 3, 2011. Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton A. Schwartz provided the eulogy at the Old Post Chapel at Joint Base Myer–Henderson Hall. Following the chapel service, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley presented the American flag to Alison's wife, Penni, at the graveside service. Alison was survived by Penni, and their two sons, John and David.[11] Shortly before his passing, he authorized the Washington DC Chapter of the Air Commando Association to use his name and they are known as the John R. Alison Chapter of the Air Commando Association.


  1. ^ Dennis Hevesi (June 9, 2011). "John R. Alison, 98, Ace Fighter Pilot in World War II, Dies". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "John Alison Biography". Gathering of Eagles. Montgomery, Alabama: Gathering of Eagles Foundation. 2004. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Major General John Alison". The Daily Telegraph. London. June 14, 2011.
  4. ^ Boltz, Images of Apollo's Warriors, pp. 41-44
  5. ^ Doolittle, I Could Never Be So Lucky Again, p. 218
  6. ^ John Alison DSC Citation Home of Heroes (September 12, 1942); retrieved January 4, 2015
  7. ^ Alison's mission is described in detail in American Aces in Great Fighter Battles of World War II (Edward H. Sims). The book's opening chapter, titled "Night Scramble at Hengyang" emphasizes how unorthodox were his actions, since the aircraft were not equipped for night flying, nor was the base lit; in addition, the nearby city was under wartime blackout. After downing three enemy aircraft in the darkness over his base, he ditched his damaged aircraft in the Siang River, where it was later salvaged to provide replacement parts for other damaged craft.
  8. ^ Hill, "Tex" Hill: Flying Tiger, p. 174
  9. ^ Air Commando Hall of Fame retrieved January 26, 2008
  10. ^ "John Alison in the National Aviation Hall of Fame". 2005. Retrieved January 4, 2015.
  11. ^ Williams Jr, Staff Sgt. Richard A. (October 4, 2011). "Family, friends say goodbye to founding air commando". US Air Force. Archived from the original on December 12, 2012. Retrieved October 9, 2011.


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