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Brigadier General Chuck Yeager's Beretta Model 1935 Semi Automatic Pistol
This engraved gold-washed semi-automatic handgun was presented in 1950 to Brigadier General Chuck Yeager, U.S.A.F., by the Cuban Minister of Defense. SN 823309
Brigadier General Charles Elwood "Chuck" Yeager, U.S.A.F., is best known as the first pilot to fly faster than the speed of sound. He is also a combat ace, having downed 13 German aircraft during the Second World War fighter ace, five of these in the same day, and a noted test pilot. The son of a natural gas driller, he was born on February 13, 1923 in rural Myra, West Virginia. He spent his youth in nearby Hamlin, developing an love of both hunting and mechanics. He was also blessed with extraordinary eyesight, and he learned the skills of concentration and self-discipline from his father at an early age. All of these would later serve him well.
After graduating from high school in 1941, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and trained as an aircraft mechanic. While serving as a crew chief in November 1941, he applied for flight training and was accepted several months later. After extensive training in the United States, Yeager was assigned to the 357th Fighter Group of the Eighth Air Force in England, where he served as squadron maintenance officer in addition to flying a P-51 fighter, nicknamed "Glamorous Glen", in combat.
On March 4, 1944, he made his first combat "kill" while flying his seventh mission, but he was shot down during a dogfight on the following day. Forced to bail out over Occupied France, Yeager evaded capture and, with the help of French partisans, escaped to neutral Spain. Interned by the Spanish government, he was later released, thanks to a program in which the United States supplied badly-needed gasoline to Spain in exchange for U.S. pilots. He returned to his squadron in England in May 1944, but was prohibited by regulations from returning to combat duty due to his contact with the French resistance movement and the reluctance of Allied military and government officials to compromise these freedom fighters should a pilot be downed behind enemy lines on a second occasion. Yeager successfully bucked the system and, rather than being shipped home, he was permitted to return to his duties.
On October 12, 1944, while escorting bombers on a mission to Berlin, he racked up five kills in a single day. He flew the last of his 64 combat missions on January 15, 1945, then returned home. In addition to his 13 victories, he had also earned the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross during his tour. Less than one month after his return to the United States, Captain Yeager married Glennis Dickhouse, a U.S.O. volunteer whom he had met while in flight training in California. He then reported to his next duty station as a flight instructor at Perrin Field, Texas. He was soon transferred to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. His experience as both a fighter pilot and a mechanic resulted in his assignment to the Air Force's fighter flight test section as maintenance officer, where he gained additional experience with captured German and Japanese aircraft as well as with new and experimental designs including early jet fighters.
He was eventually selected as a test pilot, and was assigned to Muroc Field, later re-named Edwards Air Force Base, in California's Mojave Desert. Among the aircraft that Captain Yeager flew at Muroc was the experimental Bell Aircraft X-1, in which he would become the first pilot to fly faster than the speed of sound on October 14, 1947. In recognition of this accomplishment, Yeager was awarded the prestigious Collier Trophy.
In December 1953, he established a new speed record when he flew the Bell X-1A at 1,650 miles per hour, or two and one-half times the speed of sound. Yeager's duties also included test flights of other experimental and prototype aircraft, including the X-3, X-4, and X-5 research aircraft, the Boeing B-47 Stratojet bomber, the Convair XF-92 delta-wing fighter, the North American F-100 Super Sabre, and the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, the first operational jet capable of reaching Mach 2 and the first capable of supersonic flight while climbing. He also was assigned to Kadena Air Base on the island of Okinawa in 1954 to flight test a captured Soviet MiG 15 flown by North Korean defector Kim Sok Ho. Major Yeager's next assignment came later that same year, when he was given command of an F-86 fighter squadron in Germany. Within a year of his arrival in Europe, he had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
In 1957, he took command of an F-100 squadron at George Air Force Base, California. After serving with the unit in Spain, he attended the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. While enrolled, he was promoted to Colonel. After completing the course, he became the first commander of the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilots School, which was intended to train military astronauts. Although he never flew in space, Yeager's leadership would have significant impact on the U.S. space program, as nearly half of the astronauts who flew missions in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs were graduates of the school. The school's curriculum included a space flight simulator, the first of its kind, as well as a heavy diet of precision flying, engineering, and flight mechanics.
In 1966, astronaut training was taken over by NASA, and the school was closed. While still assigned to the school, Yeager set an altitude record of 108,000 feet in a special rocket-powered F-104, but he was nearly killed that same afternoon when, during a second flight, the aircraft's controls locked, forcing him to eject from the crippled fighter. Prior to the closing of the school, Colonel Yeager was assigned to command the 405th Fighter Wing, which was tasked with flying combat missions from U.S. bases in the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and South Vietnam.
After a two-year tour, he took command of an F-4 Phantom fighter wing based at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. In 1968, while assigned to this command, he was promoted to Brigadier General, thus becoming one of very few men to rise from enlisted to general officer rank. He returned to Germany as Vice Commander of the Seventeenth Air Force before being assigned to Pakistan as U.S. Defense Representative, a job which required him to supervise training of the Pakistani Air Force during that country's war with India.
In 1973, after serving an eighteen month tour in Pakistan, he became Safety Director of the Air Force. General Yeager retired in 1975 after logging over 10,000 flight hours in 180 different aircraft. Among his many awards and decorations are the Medal of Honor, bestowed in 1970 for bravery and the only Medal of Honor to be awarded during peacetime. He also received two Oak Leaf Clusters for his Distinguished Flying Cross and one for his Silver Star, as well as the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Medal with ten clusters, Purple Heart, and Bronze Star with "V" device.
In addition to the Collier and Mackay Trophies, which he won in 1948, he was awarded the Harmon International Trophy in 1954, and he was also inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio in 1973, becoming both the youngest pilot and the first military aviator to be so honored. Although his uniformed service ended in 1975, his extensive knowledge and experience enabled him to continue to work as a consultant, both for the Air Force and for NASA's High Speed Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
His final flight as a consultant came on October 14, 1997, when he observed the 50th anniversary of the first supersonic flight by repeating this feat in an Air Force F-15 fighter. His many contributions to flying and to research have made him one of the foremost American pioneers in aviation and space flight. In addition to his work in the field of aviation, he has also endowed the Marshall University Society of Yeager Scholars in his home state of West Virginia, an organization that provides college scholarships to deserving young men and women at the school.