Selfridge Streets Honor Aviation Heroes

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
George. Luke. Mitchell. More than just names on street signs. Taken together, they represent a who's who of early aviation pioneers and heroes.

Like most military bases, the streets at Selfridge Air National Guard Base are named after a couple dozen people who helped usher in the age of military air power. Along with a variety of streets named after trees, letters and obvious locations - Supply Street and Ammo Road, for example - a drive around Selfridge is like a trip through the history books.

Here is a look at the people behind the names:

George Street
Home of "headquarters row" at Selfridge, George is named in honor of Brig. Gen. Harold Huston George (1892-1942). An ace (five aerial victories or more) in World War I, George was directing air operations on Bataan at the beginning of World War II when he died in an aircraft accident near Darwin, Australia. George AFB in California was named in his honor. George AFB closed in 1992. He was known as "Pursuit" George, to distinguish him from his contemporary, Lt. Gen. Harold L. George, who was known as "Bomber George."

Luke Street
Army pilot Lt. Frank Luke Jr. was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in World War I. He was the second-ranking American ace of that war, behind only Eddie Rickenbacker. Luke was shot down on Sept. 29, 1918, after destroying three enemy balloons, which were considered much more dangerous than dogfighting against another fixed-wing aircraft. Luke survived the crash and then engaged German ground forces with his pistol. He was killed while in combat with the enemy. Luke AFB near Phoenix is named in his honor.

Wilbur Wright Boulevard
It is appropriate that Wilbur Wright passes in front of the original hangars and current home of the 127th Wing's flying operations at Selfridge. Wright was the younger of the two Wright brothers (Orville was the older) who made the world's first controlled, powered, sustained flight in a heavier-than-air aircraft. The brothers would go on to develop and sell several aircraft for use by the U.S. Army.

Jefferson Avenue
Jefferson is an extension of the area roadway and is one of the original five major roads that extend out from downtown Detroit. Jefferson was named in honor of the nation's third president, Thomas Jefferson.

Doolittle Drive
Running along the west side of the air ramp, Doolittle Drive is named for another Medal of Honor winner. Gen. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle is best known for leading a daring raid of 16 B-25 bombers against Tokyo in 1942. The raid, which took off from an aircraft carrier, was a much-needed shot in the arm for American forces in the early days of World War II. Doolittle would go on to command 8th Air Force in Europe during the war and held a number of senior positions after the war. After retirement, he served as the first president of the Air Force Association. Doolittle died in 1993, age 96.

Mitchell Street
Few men engendered as much controversy in the aviation world as Brig. Gen. William L. "Billy" Mitchell (1879-1936). Considered by many to be the father of the U.S. Air Force, Mitchell's outspoken advocacy for air power brought about his court-martial in 1925. Mitchell's views would eventually be proven correct during World War II. Mitchell had first risen to prominence when he commanded all American air assets in France during World War I. He was promoted to major general and awarded the Congressional Gold Medal after his death, but a petition to set aside his court-martial conviction for insubordination was denied.

Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Street
This street could just as easily be named for Gen. Davis' father, as it was for him. The senior Davis, was a member of the Buffalo Soldiers in the Army Cavalry in the late 1800s and was the first African American general officer in the U.S. Army. He retired as a brigadier general at the conclusion of World War II. His son was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, an all-African American unit that overcame tremendous racial discrimination to serve with great distinction in World War II. Davis Jr. was in the first group of five Tuskegee Airmen to earn his wings as a pilot. After the war he held a number of senior positions, and was the first general officer in the U.S. Air Force. He retired as a lieutenant general in 1970. After his retirement, he led the federal sky marshal program for the U.S. Dept. of Transportation. In 1998, he was advanced in rank to four-star general. He died in 2002.

Plattsburgh Avenue
The home address for much of the U.S. Navy's presence on Selfridge, Plattsburgh is named for a location, rather than a person - but there is a local connection. Located on Lake Champlain in eastern New York state, Plattsburgh was the site of an American military base from 1814 until the closure of Plattsburgh AFB in 1995. During the War of 1812, Brig. Gen. Alexander Macomb - for whom Macomb County is named - leading a force of 1,500 regulars and 700 militiaman, was able to hold back an army of 14,000 British soldiers.

Selfridge Avenue
Named for Lt. Thomas Selfridge, the namesake of the base itself. Selfridge was the son and grandson of admirals in the U.S. Navy. As a young officer, Selfridge was an early proponent of using the aircraft as a tool for the military. Flying as a passenger with Orville Wright in 1908, Selfridge would become the first American member of the military to die in an aircraft crash. Wright was injured in the crash, but recovered and went on to sell his aircraft to the Army.

Wagner Street
Next to the base dining facility, this street is named for Lt. Col. Boyd D. "Buzz" Wagner. The first American ace in World War II, Wagner was already a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Service prior to the start of the war. He shot down two attacking aircraft in the first Japanese attack on the Philippines, one day after the Dec. 7, 1941, attacks against Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Re-assigned to the U.S. to train new pilots, his aircraft mysteriously disappeared on a flight between Eglin Field, Florida, and Maxwell Field, Alabama. His remains would not be found until 2008.

Altus Street
This small street on the west side of the base is named for Altus AFB near Altus, Oklahoma. The base is a pilot training center for Air Mobility Command.

Joy Boulevard
An extension of a local street outside the base, Joy is named for Henry B. Joy, former president of the Packard Motor Car Co. He developed the early airfield that was eventually sold to the government in 1917 and became Selfridge Field. Joy served as an enlisted sailor in the Navy during the Spanish-American War and as an officer in the Army during World War I.

Andersen Street
A very short connector on the west side of the base, Andersen Street is named for the same man for whom Andersen AFB, Guam, is named. Brig. Gen. James R. Andersen was serving in the War Department's General Staff during World War II when his aircraft was lost over the Pacific Ocean in 1945.

Castle Street
Medal of Honor recipient Brig. Gen. Frederick W. Castle was commander of a B-17 bomber group in England during World War II. The general flying as the co-pilot in the lead aircraft on his 30th combat mission on Christmas Eve 1944. After their aircraft caught fire during aerial combat, Castle remained at the controls, allowing seven of the B-17's nine crewmen to parachute from the damaged aircraft. The aircraft exploded before Castle and the pilot could bail out. The former Castle Air Force Base in California was named in his honor.

Arnold Circle
The only man ever to wear five-star general rank in the Air Force, H.H. "Hap" Arnold was first taught to fly by the Wright Brothers and served under Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell in World War I. He would go on to command the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II. The small street named after Arnold was part of the former 900 Housing Area, which was demolished a couple of years ago. The road no longer exists, but remains on many base maps.

Schilling Street
Col. David C. Schilling was promoted to the rank of colonel at age 24, do in part to his high degree of success as a combat ace in the European Theater during World War II. Schilling also was a leader in the development of aerial refueling technology. Two days before Christmas 1944 he shot down five enemy aircraft in a single day. He was killed in a car accident in England in 1956, while on active duty. The former Schilling AFB, Kansas, is named in his honor.

Carswell Street
Another west side of the base street, Carswell is named in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Horace S. Carswell Jr. Carswell was a B-24 pilot who made an heroic attempt to save a fellow crewmember whose parachute had been destroyed prior to being able to bail out of their combat-damaged aircraft. The former Carswell AFB in Texas was also named in his honor.

Ellsworth Street
Brig. Gen. Richard E. Ellsworth flew more than 400 cargo missions "over the hump" in the China-Burma-India Theater of World War II. He was killed when his RB-36 Peacemaker aircraft crashed in Newfoundland, Canada, during a 1953 training mission. Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota is also named in his honor.

Falcon Street
The former Falcon Air Force Station and later Falcon AFB in Colorado was renamed Schriever AFB in 1998. The base is a key asset of Air Force Space Command.

Wurtsmith Street
Sharing a name with the former Air Force base near Oscoda, Mich., this street is named for Maj. Gen. Paul Wurtsmith. Prior to World War II, he was the commander of the 41st Pursuit Group at Selfridge. During the war, his units played key roles in the defense of Australia and the air battle over New Guinea in the Pacific. He was killed in a B-25 crash shortly after World War II.

Johnson Street
This street is one of the few Air Force landmarks named for a Navy pilot. Seymour Johnson was a North Carolina native who was killed while working as a Navy test pilot, just prior to World War II. Seymour Johnson AFB in his home state is also named in his honor.

Wooten Street
Maj. Gen. Ralph H. Wooten (1893-1969) held a number of positions in the Army Air Service. Most notably, he worked in a variety of capacities as an advisor or liaison to a number of South American nations. He was the first commander of the Pacific Air Command.

Roulott Street
A short street between Mitchell and George, it was named after Army 1st Lt. JT Roulott, who participated in a number of early flying endurance tests with the Army, including a 1918 flight from New York to San Francisco.

Kelly Street
In the 400 Housing area, Kelly Street was named in honor of 2nd Lt. George E.M. Kelly, who is also remembered by the Kelly Field Annex, which is now part of Lackland AFB, Texas. Kelly was the first military member to be killed in a plane crash of an aircraft he was piloting. He died in 1911. Lt. Thomas Selfridge, who died in a 1908 plane crash, was a passenger when he was fatally wounded in a plane crash.

Skeel Street
Also part of the 400 Housing area, Skeel Street is named in honor of Burt E. Skeel. After serving for a time in the Army, during which time he commanded the 27th Pursuit Squadron, part of the 1st Pursuit Group, at Selfridge, Skeel was working as a civilian pilot when he died in a 1924 plane crash.

Wold Street
A Minnesota native, Ernest Groves Wold volunteered to go to France as a volunteer to fly with the French Lafayette Flying Corps in World War I. Flying primarily as an observation pilot, he was shot down in aerial combat and killed in 1918. The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was originally named in his honor.

Boyle Street
This short street in the 400 Housing area honors the first Selfridge-based pilot to die in an aircraft mishap. Lt. John P. Boyle died June 26, 1918 after the plane he was piloting crashed at the base. A plaque honoring him was at the original base gym and is now located at the Selfridge Military Air Museum. Incidentally, there was another pilot named Boyle whose name was also in the news in 1918. Lt. George L. Boyle was one of four Army pilots named to the initial cadre of Air Mail Service officers. In 1918, in the inaugural series of flights of the Air Mail Service, Boyle was initially stymied in his attempts to take off - no one had fueled his aircraft. Boyle eventually took off, carrying about 3,300 letters - a load which barely allowed him to clear the treetops in his severely taxed Curtiss JN-4D Jenny. Departing from Washington, D.C., with a final destination of Philadelphia, Boyle was instead handed directions guiding him from Philly to the nation's capital city. Confused, Boyle flew in the wrong direction - eventually crash landing at a farm in Maryland. Though his aircraft overturned, Boyle was unhurt. Eventually the mail was loaded by rail car and delivered on its way. His misguided flight briefly made him a national celebrity.

Strauble Street
Maj. Austin Straubel was commander of the 7th Bombardment Group in the Pacific Theater during World War II when his B-18 Bolo crashed in 1942 in Java.

Lufberry Street
Gervais Raoul Lufberry helped to form the famed Escadrille Lafayette, a unit he later commanded, in the early days of World War I, which allowed American pilots to fight on the side of the French and British while the U.S. was still officially neutral. Since he was technically flying under French colors for most of the war, Lufberry is often considered to have been a French ace of the war. The exact details of his death in 1918 is a matter of some speculation. Lufberry either jumped or was thrown from the cockpit of his aircraft while it was in combat, some 200 to 600 feet in the air. He was killed on impact with the ground, a casualty of an era when parachutes were not issued to pilots for fear that they would lead to acts of cowardice when faced with aerial combat.

Gen Andrews Street
Lt. Gen. Frank M. Andrews was the commander of the 1st Pursuit Squadron at Selfridge in the years between World Wars I and II. Today the street named in his honor runs along part of the golf course. He later was the first commander of "General Headquarters, Air Force," which brought all Army aviation units under one command for the first time. He held various senior commands during World War II, eventually being named head of all air operations in the European Command. He was serving in that capacity when he died in the crash of a B-24 in 1943. Andrews AFB, home of Air Force One, near Washington D.C., is named in his honor.

Spaatz Court
A tiny street in the former 900 Housing Area which now only exists on old Selfridge maps, Spaatz Court was named for an Air Force giant. After serving in both World War I and World War II, Gen. Carl A. "Tooey" Spaatz was the first chief of staff of the newly-created U.S. Air Force in 1947. As a pilot, he participated in the famed Question Mark flight, which proved the viability of in-flight refueling in 1929. During World War II, he served as the supreme commander for all air operations in Europe during and following D-Day and then in the Pacific following victory in Europe. He was the only general officer present at each of the three ceremonies when the Germans surrendered to the Americans and to the Russians and when the Japanese surrendered to end World War II. After his retirement from the military, he was a member of a special panel of advisors that helped create the U.S. Air Force Academy.

In addition to the street names, there are a couple of buildings and a landmark rock on the base that honor individuals.

Vandenberg Center
This multi-use facility along the Lake St. Clair shoreline is named for a man who served as two key "seconds." Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg was the second chief of staff of the independent U.S. Air Force. He also served as the second director of the Central Intelligence Agency, after previously having served as the director of intelligence for the War Department. His son, Hoyt S. Vandenberg Jr., retired as a major general in the Air Force. The 900 Housing Area at Selfridge, which has since been demolished, was known as "Vandenberg Village."

Vandenberg Rock
This rock, formerly in the 900 Housing Area, is now located by the Main Gate at Selfridge and honors former U.S. Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg, the uncle of Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg. He served in the Senate 1928-1951. A key figure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his was noted for his quote that "politics stops at the water's edge." He also served as the U.S. delegate on the international committee that created the United Nations.

McMath Building
The Lt. Douglas A. McMath building houses the flight simulator for the 107th Fighter Squadron. McMath was an undergraduate pilot training candidate who died in 1981 while on a T-33 Shooting Star orientation flight. McMath was the son of Michigan ANG Brig. Gen. Robert McMath, who retired in 1970.