Most Americans today don’t recognize the name Billy Mitchell, but he is considered the father of the United States Air Force. Mitchell was a very early proponent of airpower and was the commander of all American air forces in France during World War I. 

Mitchell was a forward thinker who predicted decades before World War II that war with Japan was inevitable. He even predicted how the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor. And he was an officer who put his career on the line to see that American flyers got the equipment that they needed. He even ended up being court-martialed to ensure that American leaders would see the light in terms of the importance of aviation.

Mitchell was born on December 29, 1879, in Nice, France. His father fought in the American Civil War and served with the father of future Army General Douglas MacArthur. His father later became a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin and the family lived on an estate in the suburbs of Milwaukee.

After graduating from college, Mitchell joined the United States Army and fought in the Spanish-American War in the Philippines. He remained in the military after the war and was posted to Alaska where he worked on establishing a telegraph line that would link the far-flung army outposts and gold mining towns with the Continental U.S. It was during this time, as early as 1906, that Mitchell predicted that future conflicts would be fought and won in the air, not just the ground or the sea.