Appreciation: We Walked With a Legend

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In a world where it is so easy to marvel at the achievements of athletes or movie stars we sometimes miss the more monumental events of our time. These colossal events and people will go down in history because they fundamentally changed our world and the way we live. The life and accomplishments of Air Force Gen. Bennie Schriever fits into this category.

For 94 years, we were privileged to share the world with a visionary leader whose achievements will stand the test of time with those of Giulio Douhet, Alfred Mahan, Sylvanus Thayer, Hap Arnold and Billy Mitchell.

A true American story, Gen. Schriever immigrated, with his family, to our shores as a young boy in 1917. He went on to earn degrees from Texas A&M and Stanford before joining the Army Air Corps. He would realize his true calling though as commander of the Air Force Western Development Division during the 1950s.

On numerous occasions, Gen. Schriever was the lone voice advocating for the space and missile capabilities that many now take for granted. Like Billy Mitchell and so many other pioneers, he was chastised for his outspokenness. He talked openly of space supremacy and space superiority well before the launch of Sputnik. Following one notable speech, the Secretary of Defense admonished him, “do not use ‘space’ in any of your speeches in the future.” After the first Soviet space launch in October 1957, everything changed.

When the nation needed him he delivered in the clutch. Future historians will look back upon the Cold War and point to Gen. Schriever as a decisive factor in our victory. Gen. Schriever was there when this nation needed a measured response to Sputnik.

Later on, President Kennedy was able to stand toe-to-toe with Premier Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis because of Gen. Schriever’s leadership. His determination spearheaded the development of the Minuteman missile system in less than five years and he had the system deployed in its silos by 1962. President Kennedy would later say the ICBM was his “ace in the hole.”

Today many of the technologies once championed by Gen. Schriever are still the bedrock of our nation’s space capabilities. Where would we be without Gen. Schriever? Technologically, it’s accurate to say we would be decades behind where we are now.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I had the honor of presenting Gen. Schriever with the first new “Space Badge,” that will soon be worn by space and missile warriors around the world. The general’s strength was leaving him as was his voice. However, the spark in his eyes could not be diminished by his failing health. The look on his face as his eyes lit up with pride reassured me that he fully appreciated the moment and its significance.

This was indeed a fitting tribute to the father of our nation’s space and missile forces. Gen. Schriever will continue to be a role model for me and for so many others.

In 1962, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur delivered his now famous “Duty, Honor, Country” address to the Corps of Cadets at West Point. MacArthur stated:

“You now face a new world, a world of change. The thrust into outer space of the satellite, spheres and missiles marked the beginning of another epoch in the long story of mankind; the chapter of the space age. In the five or more billions of years the scientists tell us it has taken to form the earth, in the three or more billion years of development of the human race, there has never been a greater, a more abrupt or staggering evolution. We deal now not with things of this world alone, but with the illimitable distances and as yet unfathomed mysteries of the universe.”

Standing on the fulcrum of mankind’s greatest era of discovery stood Gen. Schriever. Generations from now, those who wear the uniform of our armed services will regard us with envy, for we had the opportunity to walk and stand watch with a legend.

[My wife] Beccy and I join the nearly 40,000 men and women of Air Force Space Command in sending our condolences to Gen. Schriever’s wife, Joni, and their family. We cherish their friendship and will forever consider them a part of our Air Space Command family.

Gen. Lance W. Lord is commander of Air Force Space Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. General Schriever died June 20 at his home in Washington.