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General Thomas D. White

General Thomas Dresser White was the fourth chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, serving from 1957 until his retirement in 1961. A native of Walker, Minnesota, he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in July 1920 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant of Infantry.

In September 1924 he entered Primary Flying School at Brooks Field, Texas. He subsequently graduated from the Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas in September 1925 and was assigned duty with the 99th Observation Squadron at Bolling Field, Washington, D.C.

In June 1927 General White was assigned to duty as a student of the Chinese language in Beijing, China. Four years later, he returned to the United States for duty at the Headquarters Air Corps, Washington, D.C. In the 1930s he held military attaché positions in Russia, Italy, Greece, and Brazil.

During World War II, General White was appointed Assistant Chief of Staff for operations of the Third Air Force at Tampa, Florida, and subsequently named Chief of Staff. Reassigned to Air Force Headquarters in January 1944, he became Assistant Chief of Air Staff for intelligence.

Proceeding to the Southwest Pacific in September 1944, General White assumed duty as the Deputy Commander of the 13th Air Force, taking part in the New Guinea, Southern Philippines, and Borneo campaigns. The following June, he assumed command of the Seventh Air Force in the Marianas and immediately moved with it to Okinawa. In January 1946 he returned with the Seventh Air Force to Hawaii. That October he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Pacific Air Command in Tokyo, Japan. One year later, in October 1947, General White took command of the Fifth Air Force in Japan.

General White was promoted to the rank of general on June 30, 1953, and designated Vice Chief of Staff at that time, becoming Chief of Staff for the U.S. Air Force July 1, 1957. He retired June 30, 1961.

Throughout his life General White was an avid outdoorsman and fisherman with a keen interest in many aspects of natural history. His interest in fish extended to scientific pursuits as an amateur ichthyologist. Working in collaboration with scientists at Stanford University, he discovered and described several new species of fish during his overseas assignments. And he published multiple articles on his fishing experiences in national magazines.

Upon assuming the position of USAF Vice Chief of Staff in July 1956, General White began to direct the Air Force to expand and strengthen its nascent natural resources conservation programs. During this period he directed the Provost Marshal to require the Air Force to act as a responsible custodian of Air Force installations’ natural resources. He further directed that installations draft plans for the first definitive conservation programs on Air Force lands. Toward that end he enlisted the assistance of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide technical advice to the Air Force on the development of fish and wildlife management plans. In 1957 he spoke at the North American Wildlife Conference about USAF conservation objectives, including efforts to build closer relationships between Air Force personnel and local communities and the education of Air Force personnel in environmental stewardship.

As Air Force Chief of Staff, General White continued to lead the Air Force in the conservation of its natural resources. He encouraged Air Force installations to grant access to local citizens for fishing and hunting and continued to provide top level leadership and support for many other aspects of environmental stewardship.

A 1958 quote by General White in a Saturday Evening Post article entitled “Operation Wildlife” nicely summarized his important perspective on military natural resources conservation.

Isn’t conservation really a defense in itself? The mission of the Department of Defense is more than just aircraft, guns, and missiles. Part of the defense job is protecting the lands, waters, timber, and wildlife -- the priceless natural resources that make this great nation of ours worth defending.

General White, through his remarkable insight and unprecedented leadership as Air Force Chief of Staff, was truly one of the pioneers of military conservation. His contributions laid the foundation for the extensive natural resources conservation programs that today protect our nation’s priceless military lands. In recognition of his environmental leadership, the Air Force established its environmental awards program in his name in 1962.

General Thomas D. White
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