General John Kenneth Cannon was a World War II Mediterranean combat commander and former chief of U.S. Air Forces in Europe for whom Cannon Air Force Base, Clovis, N.M. is named: He was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1892, and died in Arcadia, California, Jan. 12, 1955.
General Cannon graduated from Utah Agricultural College in 1914 and was appointed a second lieutenant in the Infantry Reserve on Nov. 27, 1917. He served the Infantry at Camp Fremont, California; Camp Mills, New York, the Presidio at San Francisco; and Camp Furlong, New Mexico, until taking pilot training at Kelly Field, Texas in 1921-22. In the Air Corps he became director of flying at Kelly in the fall of 1922.
General Cannon went to Hawaii in January 1925 with the 6th Pursuit Squadron at Luke Field where he became operations officer of the 5th Composite Group. Two years later he was commanding officer of the 94th Pursuit Squadron at Selfridge Field, Michigan. He returned to Kelly in 1929 as director of pursuit training, with promotion to captain, and became director of training at Randolph Field, Texas, in August 1931. He completed the courses at the Air Corps Tactical School and the Command and General Staff School, with promotion to major in March 1935 and assignment to March Field, California.
In June 1938 General Cannon went to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for three years as chief of the U.S. Military Mission. While there he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in March 1940 and to colonel in January 1941. That October he went to Mitchel Field, New York as chief of staff of the 1st Air Force, taking command of the 1st Interceptor Command. He was promoted to brigadier general in February 1942 and in World War II went overseas as commanding general of the 12th Air Support Command for the Western Task Force during the invasion of French Morocco.
He moved to Algeria as commanding general of the 12th Bomber Command. Through March and April 1943 General Cannon organized an air training command for the Mediterranean Theater and in May became deputy commanding general of the Allied Tactical Air Force for the Sicilian campaign and the invasion of Italy. He was promoted to major general in June and by December became commanding general of the 12th Air force and the Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force, being responsible for all air operations for the invasion of southern Europe In August 1944. The following March he was promoted to lieutenant general and named air commander in chief of all Allied Air Forces in the Mediterranean Theater and in May became commanding general of U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
He earned four Distinguished Service Medals, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Air Medal and decorations from Great Britain, France, Italy, Poland, Yugoslavia and Morocco. General Cannon returned to the U.S. in April 1946 as commanding general of Air Training Command at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. In October 1948 he returned to Europe as commanding general, U.S. Air Forces in Europe. In March 1950, he was designated Commander in Chief of U.S. Air Forces in Europe. He was promoted to full general in October 1951 and appointed commanding general of Tactical Air Command at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.
General Cannon retired from the service March 31, 1954. He died of a heart attack on Jan. 12, 1955, at his home in Arcadia, California. In June 1957 the air base at Clovis, New Mexico, was named for him.
(Sources: U.S. Air Force Biographical Dictionary by Flint O. DuPre, Col., U.S. Air Force Reserve; Biographical Data on U.S. Air Force General Officers, 1917-1952, U.S. Air Forces Historical Sudy No. 92, Vol. I)
The following statements were contributed by Steven Cannon Hoppe, grandson of Gen. Cannon.
My grandfather, whom we called Opa, died in January, 1955, just 10 months after he retired from the USAF. There are no longer any men or women currently in the USAF who would have been born during his time, so they might not know the type of person he was. They just know the name of the base. They might not be aware of how well-liked and well-respected he was not just by other generals and officers, but in particular by the Airmen who served under him. They affectionately knew him as "Uncle Joe" (hence "General John K. 'Uncle Joe' Estates" on base). I recall stories my mother would tell, and I remember dinner-time discussions about him and those he served with.
My mother would often state that her father especially looked out for his young officers and Airmen. One time, an officer expressed his concern about a young lieutenant whom he didn't feel had enough coordination to be the pilot. Opa replied to him, "I've seen him play golf. He's got plenty of coordination."
In the early 1920s, Opa was involved in a midair collision while practicing for a dogfight demonstration. The other plan clipped Opa's wing. Claire Chenault (later famous due to the Flying Tigers), was observing from another plane and said that Opa's plane spun down like a top. Parachutes had been heard of but were not yet in use. Opa said he pulled wires as he spun down, hoping the plane would not catch fire. Opa's face was smashed in, and he had a steel plate put into forehead area of his skull. It changed his looks forever and left him looking older at a young age. My grandmother said that Opa heard the doctors talking and saying he would not live through the night. Opa sat up from the hospital bed and said, "The hell I won't!"
His flight students in the 1920s included a "who's who" of future Army Air Forces and United States Air Force leaders from the "early days": Hoyt Vandenberg, Nathan Twining, Curtis LeMay, Benjamin Chidlaw and Lauris Norstad.
Charles Lindbergh had been one of Opa's students at Kelly Field in the mid-1920s, when Opa was the Training and Operations Officer at Kelly. This is prior to Lindbergh's historic 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Lindbergh was accused of doing something that was an automatic washout offense. Though automatic, Opa listened to Lindbergh and allowed him to keep his wings. In his autobiography "We", Lindbergh wrote, "I had come very close to the 'Benzine Board' for an offense of which I knew nothing, but it was probably only the open-mindedness and sense of fair play of the operations officer that kept me from being washed out as a result." The two remained good friends the remainder of my grandfather's life.
His friends and counterparts that were often part of our family dinner conversations included Carl "Tooey" Spaatz, Ira Eaker, Jimmy Doolittle, Nathan Twining, and Hoyt Vandenberg. I'm told the PIO (Public Information Office, now Public Affairs) officer responsible for Opa and his role were continually challenged because he felt public relations was a waste of his time. Hence there is much less published about him then for some other generals. He particularly did not like talking to others about himself and his accomplishments. And my mother does not remember him talking negatively about others.
You probably already know that during WWII the 27th (though not SOW, obviously) fell under Opa's command. So the 27th and the name Cannon have a long relationship that goes well before Cannon AFB. During WWII, Opa's assignments included command of the Twelfth Air Force and the Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force; commander-in-chief of all Allied Air Forces in the Mediterranean Theater; then, in May 1945, commanding general of USAFE, a position he held a second time 1948-1951, which included the period of The Berlin Airlift.
He was the head of the Air Training Command, at Barksdale AFB, 1946-1948. And in 1951 he was promoted to general and became commanding general of Tactical Air Command, at Langley AFB. When Opa retired, he was the senior airman in point of service and held the serial number 3A. (Generals McNarney and Kenney were numbers 1A and 2A.)
Something that has surprised me is that in recent years his command of Tactical Air Command seems to be disappearing from some of the biographical information about him. I realize TAC and SAC were merged about a dozen years ago to form ACC, but TAC was important part of his career. At least to me, it seems odd to include USAFE but not TAC. At the time, TAC was not a major command and was on its way to being dissolved. Opa became TAC's first commander as a major command, equal to SAC. He worked hard with Congress to get funding and to grow TACs breadth and importance.
One of my favorite photos is the one from the 1950s, in Suwon, Korea. The old fighter pilot and the young fighter pilot talking about his last flight. I was born after my grandfather had died, so I never knew him, other than through photos, stories and documents.
192X Oma and Opa's wedding photo.
1917-18 Opa in WWI training.
1920s Opa, standing, next to
Auby Strickland, seated, at Kelly field.
North Africa, 1943. Capt. Charles B. Hall,
first Tuskegee Airman to shoot down an
enemy plane is congratulated
by Maj. Gen. John K. Cannon.
1948-51 Queen Marguerite, Lindbergh,
Oma, Mrs Kirk, King Paul of Greece
at Haus Henkel.
1950s Gen Cannon at Suwon, Korea
with Lt. John Russell on the flightline.
1955 Air Force Magazine Opa Obituary