Military Bios

Major General William Henry Powell Jr.:

Military Branch:United States Airforce
Retired Jan. 31, 1960.   Died June 21, 1987.
William Henry Powell Jr., was born in Fayetteville, N.C., in 1904. He graduated from Fayetteville High School in 1921 and entered Wake Forrest College that fall. He received his bachelor of arts degree from Wake Forrest College, N.C., in 1925, and in 1927, received the degree of doctor of medicine from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. After serving an internship at the James Walker Memorial Hospital, Wilmington, N.C., and the Babies Hospital at Wrightsville Beach, N.C., he was on the staff of the Highsmith Hospital.
In May 1929 he was appointed a first lieutenant in the Army Medical Corps Reserve and the following November received his regular commission as a first lieutenant in the Regular Army Medical Corps. He entered active duty at Fort Bragg, N.C., Dec 13, 1929 and was then transferred to Fort Humphreys, Va. (now Fort Belvoir). Later, he attended the Army Medical Graduate School in Washington, D.C., and the Medical Field Service School at Carlisle, Pa. He served at many installations throughout the United States and the Panama Canal Zone including three large general hospitals; being assistant chief of the radiological services at the Army and Navy General Hospital, Hot Springs, Ark., and Gorgas Hospital in the Panama Canal Zone. He also served at Walter Reed Army Hospital.
Dr. Powell graduated from the School of the Aviation Medicine at Randolph Air Force Base and was assigned to Maxwell Air Force Base at Montgomery, Ala., where he served for four years (1934-38). Here he got to know the then Major Claire Chenault; the late lieutenant general. At Maxwell, Chenault had developed, in connection with his fighter tactics, the Men on the Flying Trapeze, one of the early precision flying teams. General Powell was chosen as flight surgeon to the team and accompanied them to the National Air Races where the team was one of the main attractions. The team consisted of Chenault, Hansell (now major general retired), Williamson and MacDonald. When Chenault left the Air Force and went to China he asked Powell if he would be interested in going also but Powell had no difficulty in making a quick decision to remain in his chosen U.S. Military career.
Powell recalls that during the days of the Men of the Flying Trapeze he was always worrying about the possibility of Chenault blacking out because of his low blood pressure. It was never over a hundred. He said that he even considered giving him before his acrobatics a shot of ephedrine which was being used in those days to combat the low blood pressure being experienced during spinal anaesthesis but Chenault would say, "don't worry about me, doc. I have always had low blood pressure and it has never bothered me. If I should black out for a brief interval it would not hurt anything because my wingmen could follow through regardless of what maneuver my plane goes into."
In 1942, Dr. Powell was appointed surgeon of the Air Force Basic Training Center at Atlantic City, N.J. At this resort center where the Air Force had at one time as many as 34,000 recruits in training and housed in former luxury hotels, he had the job of planning and supervising the conversion of one of the largest hotels (Haddon Hall) into a modern hospital. The conversion had to be practical in order not to hamper reconversion at a later date and rapid in order to accommodate the sick from the thousands of recruits that were beginning to be sent in almost daily. This involved the obtaining of high priority materiel such as large transformers and cables in order to convert from direct to alternating current; devising of raised temporary false floors on the mezzanine and convention floors in order to place plumbing and other facilities underneath for the clinics, operating rooms and dental clinics which had to be located in these areas. For his services at this basic training center, General Powell (then colonel) was recommended for the Legion of Merit.
In August 1943, Powell became assistant surgeon of the Air Force Training Command at Fort Worth, Texas. At this time the command was at a strength of nearly a million and consisted of six major sub-commands: Eastern, Central and Western Flying Training commands and Eastern, Central and Western Technical Training commands. Every effort was made to train sufficient numbers of pilots, navigators, gunners, engineers and mechanics to meet the wartime requirements. Besides caring for the sick, one of the biggest medical problems was examining and finding sufficient numbers of young men who had the proper aptitude and also met the rigid physical standards for flying. Powell recalls that during the last month before flying training was cut back in 1945, pilots were being turned out at a rate of 20,000 per year. For his work in the Training Command, Dr. Powell received the Commendation Medal.
In January 1945 Dr. Powell was appointed a member of the inspector general team to look into certain matters in the South and Southwest Pacific. In May 1945 he became chief of Professional Services and Medical Research in the Office of the Air Surgeon, Washington, D.C. In 1949, Colonel Powell was transferred from the Army to the Air Force, promoted to brigadier general and designated director of Professional Services in the newly created Office of the Surgeon General, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C. In 1951, General Powell was appointed Air Surgeon for U.S. Air Forces, Europe with station in Wiesbaden, Germany. This was at a time when the U.S. Air Force was in a period of rapid buildup in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, following the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. At some of the early bases, known as tent camps, medical facilities actually had to be established in tents or improvised in some way in temporary buildings not designed or suitable for hospital-type care until suitable medical facilities could be designed and provided.
In April 1953, General Powell was selected to be deputy surgeon general of the Air Force and reassigned to Washington, D.C. General Powell was promoted to major general and served in the capacity of deputy surgeon general until June 1957 when he was assigned to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe as chief medical officer. For his services as deputy surgeon general from 1953 to 1957, General Powell was recommended by the surgeon general for the Distinguished Service Medal.
On Oct. 8, 1959, General Powell will become assistant to the surgeon general, U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.
General Powell is a member of the Baptist Church, the American Medical Association, the Radiological Society of North America and the Aeromedical Association. He is listed in Who's Who in American Medicine and Who's Who in America.


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