Home  |  Airlift History  |  President Truman  General Clay  General LeMay  |  Colonel Halvorsen  |  Wolf Stories  Wolf Archives  Airlift Stories The Navy's Role  |  Picture Galleries  |  Here's Jake  |  Contact Bava  The Dark Side  | The Tunner Gallery  |  Airlift Poetry  |  Join BAVA  |  Webmaster  BAHF  |  Chief Master Sergeants Comments |   Links  |    Old Glory Speaks Memorials |    Other Fun Stuff  |

 

LIEUTENANT GENERAL WILLIAM H. TUNNER
A SHORT BIOGRAPHY

 




    In the seventy-seven years of his life, Lieutenant General William H. Tunner was the most outstanding authority on airlift operations of the United States Air Force.
     He was born on July 14, 1906 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and died on April 6, 1983 in Ware Neck, Virginia.  Tunner was buried with high honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
 
     He was married twice, first to Sarah Margaret Sams of Meridian, Mississippi.  They had two sons, William S. And Joseph C. Tunner.  After his first wife died, he married Ann Hamilton of Enid, Oklahoma, who gave birth to his daughter, Suzanne.

     After completing High School, he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, from which he graduated in June 1928 with a commission as a second lieutenant.  In 1929 he graduated from the Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field in Texas.  Between 1929 and 1960, when he retired, he not only earned several medals, but was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General.

     In the 1930's and early 1940's he served various tactical and training units, and in 1941 he was assigned to help General Robert Olds organize the Ferrying Command.  By now, war was raging in Europe and the Pacific.  As a result, the Air Corps began reorganizing the Ferrying Command to reflect the ever increasing role it would play.  In July 1942, the name "Ferrying Command" was changed to Air Transport Command.  General Tunner, by now a Colonel, was made Commanding Officer of the Ferrying Division.  At that time, this division was ferrying 10,000 aircraft monthly to the Allied Forces, which was of vital importance in the early days of World War II.

     In September 1944 he was called to the China-Burma-India Theater to command the India-China division of the Air Transport Command.  There he supervised the airlift of supplies and people to China, and it was in China that he showed his exceptional organizational ability to direct a successful airlift with efficiency and safety.  This was the legendary "Hump" airlift, so named because the airplanes had to clear the 16,000 foot high Himalaya Mountains.  And even though all air traffic had to be channeled over this enormously high range, Tunner and his crews delivered 71,000 tons of material to China, far beyond what had ever been carried by air before.  In OVER THE HUMP, published in 1964, he told of his experiences in this operation.

     The Hump airlift was the first large strategic airlift, it would be the foundation for future airlifts, like the immensely successful, almost unbelievable, Berlin Airlift.

     On June 21, 1948, the Soviet Union blockaded all approaches by land and sea to Berlin.  The Russians had tried to call the shots in Berlin, but the Americans fought back with a miracle, the supplying of the world's fifth largest city, 2.5 million people (plus 6000 occupation troops), by air alone.  General Tunner became the obvious choice to direct such a large scale operation.  Sheer insanity on the face of it, one would think.  From all over the world, veteran Air Force personnel had been jerked from their peacetime homes and were now flying endlessly through three 20-mile-wide air corridors, which were the only means of access.  The immensity and the danger of the mission should never be forgotten.  In the heavy-laden and slow cargo planes, the pilots would have been clay pigeons for Russian fighter aircraft if Moscow had chosen to block the air lanes, too.  Day after day the planes kept coming.  The runways were repaired.  A third airport (Tegel) was built.  The crews were rotated.  The planes refurbished and augmented.  And the tonnage crept upward and upward, reaching the 4,000 daily minimum, then exceeding it, and eventually, in the spring of 1949, reaching the old pre-blockade level.  There were bad weather periods, and hard weeks, and frightening moments, but the personnel and General Tunner continued to perform and enlarge upon the miracle, which was lovingly known as "Operation Vittles".  Because of the masterful direction by General Tunner and his crews, the airlift was succeeding far beyond all calculations.  By May 1949 the battle was finally over and won.  Once again General Tunner had set new records for tons of food, material and coal into Berlin, and flying a total of 124.5 million miles.  He had also proven that great bodies of troops, or great numbers of civilians, could be sustained by air transport alone.

     General Tunner repeated this performance during the Korean War as wll.  For that airlift operation, he recieved on the spot Distinguished Service Cross from General Douglas MacArthur.

     On July 27, 1953, by now Major General Tunner returned to Wiesbaden, Germany, as commander in chief of United States Air Forces in Europe, and received a promotion to Lieutenant General.

     When Lieutenant General Tunner retired from the Service May 31, 1960, he had successfully organized and commanded the three largest airlift operations up to that time.

 In his distinguished career he recieved the following medals and awards:
Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal, four times
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal
Grand Knight
Order of Merit of Italian Republic
Military Merit Taekuk Medal with Silver Star ( Korea )
Honorary Companion of Military division of Order of the Bath (Britain)
Chinese Order of Pao Ting (Tripod) (Special Cravat),
Young Fui and Honorary wings of Chinese Air Force
 Honorary Doctor of Military Sciences Degree, University of Maryland


In addition he received:


Knight-Commander's Cross with Star of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic
of Germany Signed by the president of the Federal Republic of German: Karl Carstens,
above medal and award was presented to him in Washington D.C. at the German Embassy by the
German Ambassador to the United States on January 5, 1982.
He also recieved the Americanism Award from the China-Burma-India Veterans Association
on January 22, 1982.
 Lieutenant General William H. Tunner - indeed an illustrious life!




General Tunner with German Ambassador Peter Hermes June, 1982


   This short biography of a truly distinguished man was written by a grateful recipient of the goods brought to Berlin by the airlift.  As a small girl I was thrilled as the "Candy Bomber" flew low over my neighborhood and dropped their treats.  It is but a small "thank you" for all the hardships suffered by everyone involved in that great task.  The biography was compiled from notes sent to me by Chester "Jim" "Bud" Vaughn, and comments made by Gail Halvorsen (Col. Ret.) in his book The Berlin Candy Bomber.


Additional Sources:
"Contmporary Authors" Vol. 109, pg. 481 & 635 - Permanent Series.  Publ. by Gale Research Co.

"American Airpower", Biography by Phillip S. Meilinger, Col., USAF, July 1995