John David Howe (1906–1977)

John D. Howe was a career U.S. Air Force officer who helped establish vital supply and maintenance operations during World War II and the Korean War, ending his career as commander of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

John David Howe was born on July 24, 1906, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), the son of Charles D. Howe and Lucy Rowland Howe. The family moved to Hot Springs (Garland County) by 1910 and to Conway (Faulkner County) by 1920, where John studied at Arkansas State Teachers College, now the University of Central Arkansas. Howe enlisted in the 153rd Infantry Regiment of the Arkansas National Guard when he was seventeen, leaving two years later to pursue aviation. By 1929, he was chief pilot for the fledgling Delta Airlines in Monroe, Louisiana, and with nearly 5,000 hours of commercial flying under his belt he joined the Arkansas 154th Observation Squadron, Air Corps, Arkansas National Guard. He was commissioned a second lieutenant on January 11, 1930, and called to active service on August 1, maintaining that status for the next thirty years.

Howe was a captain by 1939, and Army Air Force chief General Hap Arnold selected Howe to form the Fourth Air Depot Group in 1941 at Wright and Patterson Fields in Ohio and Wellson Air Field in Georgia. Howe led the command to Australia in January 1942 and was promoted to major in February as he developed the air depot operation that would supply the Southwest Pacific Theater during World War II. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in late 1942 and transferred to the headquarters of the Air Service Command at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, to establish a training program for maintenance and supply groups that would serve U.S. operations around the world. Promoted to colonel in August 1942, Howe remained in Ohio into 1947, ending his duties at what became Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as assistant chief for field operations and earning the Legion of Merit for his service.

Howe attended the Industrial College of the Armed Services in late 1947 and within a year was serving with the Fifth Air Force in Japan. As the Korean War broke out in June 1950, he was deployed as vice commander of the Air Force’s advance headquarters in Korea, rapidly creating a base of operations for air service operations on the peninsula before setting up a control system to aid coordination between air and ground forces. He was recognized with an Oak Leaf Cluster for his Legion of Merit and a Bronze Star for his efforts in the Korean War, in addition to the Republic of Korea Presidential Citation and the Republic of Korea Ulchi with Gold Star.

Howe became director of maintenance engineering at Headquarters U.S. Air Force in 1951 and received a brigadier general’s star on June 23, 1953. His logistical talents were rewarded with the post of deputy commander of the Sacramento Air Material Area in July 1954, where he oversaw supply distribution in the western United States and the Pacific. On July 1, 1958, he was made commander of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where he had started his career as a captain back in 1939.

Howe was married twice, first to Kathryn Bradford of Little Rock (Pulaski County), with whom he had a son and a daughter. She died on November 11, 1954, and he married Thelma O’Rear Ritchie in March 1956.

Howe retired from the Air Force in 1960 and moved to Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, dying there on January 21, 1977. He is buried near his first wife in Old Rosemont Cemetery in Benton (Saline County). He was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Historical Society Hall of Fame in 1984.

For additional information:
Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame. (accessed January 16, 2019).

“Brigadier General John D. Howe.” U.S. Air Force. (accessed January 16, 2019).

“General John D. Howe Dies at Hot Springs.” Arkansas Gazette, January 23, 1977, p. 16A.

“John D. Howe, Retired General.” Arkansas Democrat, January 23, 1977, p. 3D.

Mark K. Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas


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