Retired Aug. 1, 1965. Died June 23, 1998.
Lieutenant General Ralph Powell Swofford Jr. is commander of the U.S. Air Force's Air University. The Air University is the professional educational center of the Air Force. It seeks to produce air commanders and staff officers in much the same way as civilian universities produce doctors, lawyers and other professionals. To meet this objective, the command operates a series of postgraduate professional schools and related educational and research activities.
General Swofford was born in Kansas City, Mo., in 1905. In 1924 he entered the Engineering School at the University of Missouri and after completing two years there he received a Congressional appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. He graduated and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in June 1930.
After graduation he attended the Air Corps Primary Flying School at March Field, Calif., and later the Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas. Upon receiving his wings, in 1931, he was transferred to the Air Corps and assigned to the Flying Cadet Detachment at Randolph where he served as adjutant and officer-in-charge of a cadet company.
In December 1932 General Swofford was ordered to Panama and assigned to the 24th Pursuit Squadron at Albrook Field. In August 1935 he was sent to the Air Corps Engineering School at Wright Field, Ohio, and after graduating in 1936 he remained there as assistant commandant of the school.
In late 1938 the general was assigned to the newly formed Experimental Engineering Section of the Materiel Division at Wright Field as fighter project officer. He continued in this capacity and later as chief, Experimental Fighter Projects, at Wright Field until December 1943. During this period he attended the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Ala., in 1940.
In April 1944 after attending the Army-Navy Staff College in Washington, D.C., General Swofford joined the Ninth Air Force in England, later becoming assistant chief of staff, operations, First Allied Airborne Army, and finally deputy commander, IX Tactical Air Command.
Returning home in August 1945, General Swofford became chief of staff of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In July 1947 he was transferred to Washington where he served as special assistant to the U.S. Air Force chief of staff.
In December 1948, he returned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as assistant chief and later chief of the Engineering Division, Air Materiel Command. Two years later he became deputy commander of the newly formed Air Research and Development Command.
General Swofford was named commandant of the USAF Institute of Technology, one of the schools of Air University at Wright-Patterson, in October 1951.
After serving four years in this post he returned to Washington as director of research and development, Headquarters U.S. Air Force. In July 1968 he became assistant deputy chief of staff, development, a post he held until August 1959 when he became vice commander of Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.
In May 1960 the general was assigned as commander, Allied Air Forces Southern Europe, in Naples, Italy. He became commander of Air University in January 1964.
General Swofford, a command pilot, has earned the Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters; Bronze Star Medal with oak leaf cluster; American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; Occupation Medal (Germany); National Defense Service Medal; and three foreign awards -- the Croix de Guerre with Palm (Belgium), the Grand Cross of the Royal Order of the Phoenix (Greece) and Knight Commander, Order of Merit, Republic of Italy.
Although General Swofford does not profess any marked interest in unusual or exotic pursuits, he distinguishes himself by an inordinate enthusiasm for those activities which do capture his attention.
Away from home he avidly engages in fly fishing, hunting and golfing. Around the quarters he relaxes with a trowel. His current focus is on roses and the development of a carpet smooth lawn.
General Swofford's reserved, dignified bearing and decorum result from a lifetime of simple habits and tastes.
He has a flair for understatement and possesses an incredible faculty for remembering details. Insists on facts and forms his own opinion based upon them.
The general is not addicted to cliches or slogans but if a motto was fabricated from his discussions, it would read something like this, "Be sure you're right, then go ahead."
He is exceedingly kind and courteous. His associates agree that he treats people as equals regardless of rank or station and is infinitely fair in his judgements which affect his men and their families.
He has gained a great respect for his integrity, both personal and professional, and for the limitless energy he expends to examine the facts underlying important decisions.
Those who know him characterize him as the mature, intellectual, efficient manager and administrator of space-age activities.