Retired Dec. 1, 1961. Died April 3, 1993.
Robert Edward Lee Eaton was born in Hattiesburg, Miss., in 1909, the son of Malcolm Jasper Eaton and Sallie Lucinda Huff Eaton. A 1926 graduate of Pettit High School at Pettit, Miss., he entered the University of Mississippi the same year and, after completing his freshman year, received a Congressional appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Young Eaton graduated from the academy in June 1931, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U. S. Army infantry.
In September of 1931, Second Lieutenant Eaton went to Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas, as a student officer in pilot training. Fourteen months later, he won both pilot and observer wings. He is rated a command pilot, current in both twin-engine propeller craft and tactical jets.
After flight school, Second Lieutenant Eaton was assigned squadron duties with the Fourth Observation Squadron in Hawaii. His nearly three years in Hawaii were followed by an assignment as operations officer for the Fifth Bomb Squadron at Mitchel Field, N.Y.; a year as a meteorology student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, and an assignment as base weather officer at Scott Field, Belleville, Ill. In October 1941, as a major, he became commander of the Seventh Air Base Group at Scott and he was serving in this post when the Japanese opened the American phase of World War II with the attack at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.
He pinned on lieutenant colonel's oak leaves in January and from Scott that month he moved over to Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio, where he served as regional control officer for the Second Weather Region. He remained at Dayton until November of 1942 when he moved to Washington and served as chief of the Weather Central Division at Headquarters Army Air Forces. He left the latter position in June 1943, to become leader of the 451st Bomb Group and begin an illustrious combat career.
Starting with the original cadre virtually from scratch, Colonel Eaton, who in January of the same year had exchanged his oak leaves for the spread eagles of a full colonel, worked the group into combat form. This was done at Dyersburg, Tenn., Orlando, Fla., Wendover and Fairmont, Neb., before he led the B-24 heavy-bomber group to North Africa in November 1943.
In strikes over Italy, France, the Balkans and Germany, Colonel Eaton and the 451st distinguished themselves. The group, under Colonel Eaton's command, three times won the Distinguished Unit Badge. The colonel himself, flying 302 combat hours in 40 combat missions - during which he flew five air force leads, seven group leads and 30 wing leads - was decorated with the Silver Star (twice) the Distinguished Flying Cross (twice), and the Air Medal (five times).
In October 1944, the combat-wise veteran was designated deputy director of operations for the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe under General Carl Spaatz. Here, helping to direct the final assaults upon Hitlerite Germany, he was awarded the Bronze Star, and for further recognition of his organizational work while leading the 451st, the Legion of Merit. Also the French Croix de Guerre was awarded him for personally participating in the invasion of Southern France.
In May 1945, as Hiroshima was preparing for a fate not yet known to her and as the world, also not knowing, was on the verge of peace, Colonel Eaton returned to the United States and an assignment at the Pentagon. Here he was to serve for eight years, winning his first star, brigadier general's rank, Jan. 27, 1950, before he was 40 years old, and his second star, major general's rank, Oct. 17, 1952.
His Pentagon jobs were as assistant deputy for personnel policy and management to the assistant chief of Air Staff at Headquarters Army Air Forces, acting deputy assistant chief of staff for personnel, chief of the Civil Liaison Division (later re-designated the Office of Civil Liaison and transferred to the Office of the Director of Information at Headquarters Army Air Forces), deputy director of the Legislative and Liaison Division of the Office of Public Relations, Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, deputy director of the Office of Legislative Liaison in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and as director of Legislation and Liaison in the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force.
Going to Izmir, Turkey, in October 1953, the general activated, organized and assumed command of the Sixth Allied Tactical Air Force, Allied Air Forces in Southern Europe, Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers in Europe. He joined the Continental Air Command in September 1955 as commander of Tenth Air Force at Selfridge Air Force Base, Mich.
In August 1959, General Eaton returned to the Pentagon and took over his present duties as assistant chief of staff for reserve forces at Headquarters, U.S. Air Force.