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Major General Paul B. Wurtsmith

1906-1946

Maj. Gen. Paul B. WurtsmithMaj. Gen. Paul B. Wurtsmith was born on August 9, 1906 and grew up in Detroit. He earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Detroit.

Wurtsmith enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1927, was commissioned second lieutenant in the Air Reserve and awarded his wings in 1928.

He was assigned to the famous World War I Hat-in-the-Ring 94th Pursuit Squadron at Selfridge Field in Michigan. In 1929, he won the Mitchell Trophy Air Race for topping out at 152.17 mph over Cleveland, Ohio. Wurtsmith graduated from the Air Corps Tactical School in 1939 and was promoted to major. He then took command of the 17th Pursuit Squadron, 50th Pursuit Group.

In early 1942, Wurtsmith, in command of the 49th Fighter Group, led the group to Darwin, Australia to join the desperate defense against Japanese attack. He developed tactics using the strengths of the P-40 Warhawk which resulted in success in Australia.

As a colonel, Wurtsmith took command of the 5th Fighter Command in New Guinea. He was promoted to brigadier general in 1943 for his outstanding leadership. In 1945, he was promoted to major general and given command of the 13th Air Force which supported the 8th Army in the southern Philippines and the Royal Australian Air Force in Borneo. The Army awarded Wurtsmith the Distinguished Service Medal and Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster for his actions in World War II.

Wurtsmith returned to the U.S. in 1946 and was assigned to Headquarters, Strategic Air Command, and was an observer at the nuclear weapons test at Bikini Atoll. He then became commander of the 8th Air Force.

On September 13, 1946, Wurtsmith was killed instantly when his B-25 Mitchell crashed near Asheville, North Carolina. In 1953, Oscoda Army Air Field in Michigan was renamed Wurtsmith Air Force Base in his honor. At the dedication, Gen. Thomas White said that Wurtsmith was "probably the best fighter pilot and fighter tactician in all of World War II."

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program