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John Paul McConnell (1908–1986)

John Paul McConnell, a native of Booneville (Logan County), was a West Point graduate and four-star general in the United States Air Force. He ended his career as the Air Force Chief of Staff.

John McConnell was born in Booneville on February 7, 1908, to Samuel Paul McConnell, a local physician, and Desseau (Dorsey) McConnell. He had two younger brothers. He attended local schools, where he was not an exemplary student. He did, however, gain admission to Henderson-Brown College in Arkadelphia (Clark County) and graduated in 1927 with a degree in biology.

McConnell attended Henderson-Brown after he lost an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point due to his young age. Over the next few years, McConnell lost two more appointments, and, before finally gaining a spot in 1928, worked as a teacher in Stephens (Ouachita County). He graduated as the First Captain of the class of 1932.

Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the field artillery, McConnell became a pilot in the Army Air Corps in 1933. Trained as a pursuit pilot, McConnell soon moved into administrative and operational command positions. He served as the assistant executive in the Office of the Chief of Air Forces in Washington DC and then served in posts in both Asia and Europe. Promoted to captain in 1940, McConnell received his major’s leaves the next year and was promoted to the rank of colonel in 1942.

McConnell became the chief of staff of the China-Burma-India Air Force Training Command in Karachi, India, in 1943. McConnell participated in combat during the war, flying as the senior air staff officer, Air Command Southeast Asia, and as the deputy commander of the Third Tactical Air Force. He also received his first star as he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in 1944. McConnell’s brother died during the war, following the death of his other brother in 1938.

After the war, McConnell remained in Asia as the air advisor to the Chinese government and served as the commander of the Air Division, Nanking Headquarters Command. In 1947, he was chosen to become the commander of the Reserve and National Guard Division of the newly separate U.S. Air Force. After serving as the commander of the Civilian Components Group, McConnell was sent to England to serve as the deputy commander and then the commander of the Third Air Force. He undertook additional duties as the head of the Seventh Air Division of the Strategic Air Command.

In 1946, McConnell married a fellow officer, Lieutenant Colonel Sally Dean of the Women’s Air Corps, who had served on the staff of Lord Louis Mountbatten during World War II. The couple had two sons.

McConnell continued his service as the director of plans at Headquarters Strategic Air Command. In 1957, he received command of the Second Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. In 1961, he became the vice commander in chief of the Strategic Air Command.

The next year, McConnell received his fourth star. He also became the deputy commander in chief of the United States European Command. In 1964, McConnell was appointed as the vice chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force. This was followed the next year by his appointment as the chief of staff, replacing Curtis LeMay. He served as both a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as the leader of the entire U.S. Air Force.

Receiving an extension, McConnell served more than four years as the chief of staff. During his tenure, the air force was involved with the rest of the United States military in the Vietnam War, and McConnell spent much of his time focused on that conflict. He visited Vietnam and came under fire in 1968. During this time, he was also awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Akron and the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County).

In 1969, McConnell retired as chief of staff of the Air Force. He served a total of forty-one years in uniform, with the last twenty-two in the Air Force. He received numerous awards and medals, including the Bronze Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Distinguished Service Medal from both the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army. He also received awards from eleven foreign countries for his service.

McConnell retired to the Washington DC area, where he died on November 21, 1986. His funeral services were held at the National Cathedral, and he is buried at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

For additional information:
“General John Paul McConnell.” United States Air Force. http://www.af.mil/information/bios/bio.asp?bioID=6361 (accessed December 21, 2009).

“General John Paul McConnell Exhibit.” Booneville Public Library, Booneville, Arkansas. http://www.booneville.com/C-McConnell.htm (accessed December 21, 2009).

Saxon, Wolfgang. “ J. P. McConnell, Ex-Air Force Chief of Staff, Dies.” New York Times. November 24, 1986, p. 14D.

David Sesser
Henderson State University

Last Updated 5/19/2010

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