Former ambassador grandson digs through first secretary of the Air Force’s memorabilia

  • Published
  • By Billy Blankenship
  • Air University Public Affairs

Former U.S. Ambassador Stuart Symington visited the Air Force Historical Research Agency to take a look at some of his grandfather’s old documents and memorabilia while here as a guest of the Air Force chief of staff.

His grandfather, W. Stuart Symington, served as the first secretary of the Air Force from September 1947 to April 1950. He had previously served as the assistant secretary of war for air when the Army Air Force was a part of the War Department.

Amongst all of the letters, orders, photos and other official documents from his grandfather’s time, Symington sat and recorded an oral history with the agency, detailing his memories of getting the same signature on letters from his grandfather, though noting he’s confident his secretary typed the letters.

“It was fantastic,” he said of seeing the documents and memorabilia. “And it was a remarkable pleasure to be back.”

The former ambassador to Nigeria, Rwanda and Djibouti was here last with former Congressman Ike Skelton.

“Then, I learned how the military trains Airmen so that I could keep that in mind as I thought about my own diplomatic version of training.”

Symington was here with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. The general was a keynote speaker at the National Security Forum.

“To be here with General Brown, was a real treat,” he said. “First, because of the anniversary, and the second is just him. His service and message seem to be very consistent with not only what my grandfather hoped for the Air Force, but also his own notion, which was we are infinitely stronger when we work together and recognize the professional merit of our peers and colleagues and don’t let anything else interfere with that.”

During the elder Symington’s time as the service secretary, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which called for equal treatment within the military services regardless of race. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the signing of the executive order.

“It was an absolute honor to host Ambassador Symington,” said Timothy Brown, director of the Air Force Historical Research Agency. “His visit provided a great look into our past at the grass roots level--the Air Force in its infancy. As the Air Force's institutional memory, the HRA gained keen insights into his grandfather that we would never have been able to obtain from anywhere else. These insights foster a greater understanding of the decisions that were made that set the Air Force on the path to where we are today, and where we go in the future. As we look to the past to help inform today's decisions, we do so standing on the shoulders of giants. Ambassador Symington's visit helped us better understand one of those giants today.”

The Air Force Historical Research Agency is the repository for Air Force historical documents. The agency's collection, began in Washington, D.C., during World War II, the moved in 1949 to Maxwell Air Force Base to provide research facilities for professional military education students, the faculty, visiting scholars and the general public. It consists today of over 100,000,000 pages devoted to the history of the service and represents the world's largest and most valuable organized collection of documents on U.S. military aviation