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Thomas DeWitt Milling

one of the very first U.S. Army pilots

Thomas Milling

Thomas Milling was born to Judge Robert E. Milling and Ida Roberts in Winnfield, Louisiana, on July 31, 1887. He attended public schools in Franklin, Louisiana, and entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on June 15, 1905.

Upon graduation from West Point (on June 11, 1909), Milling was assigned to the 15th Cavalry, stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In June of 1911, he and H.H. "Hap" Arnold were sent to receive flying instruction at the Wright Brothers' Flying School in Dayton, Ohio. The two qualified for their Aero Club of America pilot certificates on the same day, July 6, 1911, making them the U.S. Army's first two regular pilots.

A few months after receiving his pilot certificate, Milling won the Tri-State Biplane Race, flying from Boston to Nashua, New Hampshire, to Worcester, Massachusetts, to Providence, Rhode Island, and then back to Boston, a total of 175 miles. He went on to compete in several other aviation contests, including one in which he carried two passengers while also establishing a new endurance record.

In 1913, the Army's handful of planes were transferred to Texas City, near the Mexican border. While posted there, Milling set another record for an endurance flight with a passenger, Lieutenant W.C. Sherman of the Corps of Engineers. During the four hours and twenty-two minutes aloft, Sherman was able to make the first military map ever drawn from an airplane, measuring 15 feet long.

Milling's next assignment was with the Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army in Washington, D.C., where he served until being sent to Europe on duty pertaining to aeronautics in November of 1913. On July 23, 1914, Milling was promoted to First Lieutenant and assigned to Signal Corps Aviation Schools, first at Galveston, Texas, and then San Diego, California. In March of 1916 he returned to the Office of the Chief Signal Officer. He was promoted to Captain on July 31, 1916, and to Lieutenant Colonel on August 5, 1916. After the latter promotion he was placed in charge of Air Service Training in Europe. He was later promoted to Colonel and appointed Chief of Staff of the Air Service, First Army, American Expeditionary Force, in which capacity he served until the end of World War I.

After returning to the United States in January of 1919, Milling became assistant chief of the U.S. Army's Training and Operations Group, as well as president of a board which determined all aerial laws, rules, and regulations. In June of 1920 he was made officer in charge of training, and later assistant commandant, at the Air Service Field Officers' School at Langley Field, Virginia. He entered the Air Service Engineering School at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, in June of 1925, and completed the course in August of 1926. He then attended the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. After completing the latter course in June of 1927, he was assigned to the chief, War Plans Section, Training and Operations Division, Office, Chief of the Air Corps, Washington, D.C., where his duties were mainly administrative in connection with war planning and legislation. In June 1930, he was sent to the Colorado National Guard in Denver, Colorado, to serve as an Air Corps instructor. Upon completion of this assignment in September 1931, he was assigned to Rockwell Air Depot, California.

Ill health forced Milling to retire from active duty on July 31, 1933, and he remained in this status until shortly after the start of World War II. Recalled to active duty with the rank of Major on March 16, 1942, he served as a member of the War Department Decorations Board in Washington, D.C. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on April 27, 1942, and to Colonel on September 24, 1942. In December of 1942, Milling was designated as air member of the Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee, and later was a member of the Joint Intelligence Staff, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence. He served in the latter capacity until December of 1943, when he was again appointed as a member of the War Department Decorations Board, serving until March 1946. He reverted to retired status on July 24, 1946. Although Milling never actively served in a general officer rank, he was advanced on the retired list to the rank of Brigadier General, as approved by Congress on June 13, 1940, with same date of rank.

Brigadier General Thomas DeWitt Milling died at Walter Reed General Hospital on November 26, 1960, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery
National Air and Space
The Early Birds of Aviation
U.S. Air Force

U.S. Military Academy at West Point
World War I
World War II

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This page was last updated on 11/26/2017.