William O. Eareckson

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William Olmstead Eareckson
Nickname(s) "Eric"
Born May 30, 1900
Baltimore, Maryland
Died October 25, 1966(1966-10-25) (aged 66)
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army / United States Army Air Forces
Years of service 1917-1924 / 1924-1954
Rank Colonel
Battles/wars Battle of the Aleutian Islands
Battle of Makin
Battle of Tarawa
Awards Distinguished Service Cross
Navy Cross
Silver Star
Purple Heart

Colonel William "Eric" Olmstead Eareckson (May 30, 1900 – October 26, 1966) was an U.S. Army Air Force combat commander during the World War II Battle of the Aleutian Islands.

William O. Eareckson was the son of Thomas B Eareckson and Sarah Caroline Eareckson (née Tucker). He was born in Baltimore, Maryland.

Eareckson enlisted in the Army at age 17 and fought in France during World War I, where he was wounded. After the war he remained in the Army and received a presidential appointment to West Point. While at West Point he composed a fight song for the football team titled "Gridiron Grenadiers".[1] After graduation in 1924, he attended pilot training, but washed out. He then applied to the become a balloon pilot and was successful.[2]

In 1928, then-Lieutenant Eareckson, together with Captain William E. Kepner, won the National Balloon Elimination Race and the accompanying Paul W. Litchfield Trophy. It was only two years later, at the relatively advanced age of 30, that Eareckson finally won his airplane pilot rating. In 1939 he was given command of the 36th Bombardment Squadron.

During the Aleutians fighting, Eareckson was famed for his innovative tactics. For example, on August 17, 1942, he used radar-equipped B-17s to guide P-38s to a position from where they shot down two of three raiding Japanese Kawanishi H6K bombers. He also pioneered low-level bombing raids against the enemy to counteract the effects of the consistently poor and unpredictable Aleutian weather.

During the battle of Attu, Eareckson joined frontline infantrymen, borrowed a rifle, and entered the fray --- but was quickly wounded by a Japanese sniper. He was awarded a Purple Heart, but was castigated by General Buckner, Commander of the Alaska Defense Command, for "being where you had no business being".

In early 1943, midway through the Aleutians campaign, Eareckson was transferred to General Buckner's staff as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Eleventh Air Force. He continued to lead combat missions in that capacity. Later he became a member of Admiral Chester Nimitz's staff. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Area, had earlier presented Eareckson with a Navy Cross to complement the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and other combat decorations he had earned in the Aleutians.

He served as the Support Aircraft Commander, Fifth Amphibious Force, South Pacific where he took part in the planning for the Hollandia-Atape landings[3] and served as Support Aircraft Commander aboard the amphibious command ship at the Makin and Tarawa landings.[4]

Although widely respected for his bravery and leadership skills, Eareckson was viewed by some of his Army Air Forces superiors as caustic, outspoken, and difficult to control. These liabilities prevented him from being considered for promotion. When he retired as a colonel in 1954, he had held that rank for 13 years.


Eareckson Air Station, a military airbase located on the island of Shemya in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands, is named after Eareckson.


  1. ^ Westpoint.org
  2. ^ Air Force Magazine
  3. ^ Joe G. Taylor, Close Air Support in the War Against Japan, US Air Force Historical Studies No. 86, 1955, p. 100.
  4. ^ Philip A. Crowl and Edmund G. Love, Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls, US Govt. Printing Office, 1955, p. 37.

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