George S. Brown became the first Air Force chief of staff since Gen. Nathan Twining to hold the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As chairman, Brown served three presidents during an era of limited budgets and constrained force structure. His military career spanned a technological revolution in weaponry. He started his combat career by flying heavy bombers in the European theater in World War II and retired as a four-star general when the cruise missile rivaled the manned bomber.
He was born in Montclair, New Jersey, in August 1918. He was the son of a West Point graduate and career cavalry officer. He graduated from high school in Leavenworth, Kan., and, after attending the University of Missouri for a year, he received a congressional appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. He graduated from West Point in 1941 and entered flight training at Pine Bluff, Ark. He received his pilot's wings at Kelly Field, Texas, in 1942.
Following flight training, he went to Barksdale Field, La., where he became a member of the initial cadre of the 93rd Bombardment Group, flying B-24 Liberators. After a brief stint flying antisubmarine patrol at Fort Myers, Fla., he transferred in August 1942 with the 93rd Bombardment Group, the first Bâ¬?24 group to join the Eighth Air Force in England. Until April 1944 he served in various capacities with the 93rd. As group executive officer, he took part in famous low-level bombing raids against oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, on August 1, 1943. The 93rd was the second of five B-24 groups that raided Ploesti from a temporary base at Benghazi, Libya. Led by its commander, Lt. Col. Addison Baker, the 93rd flew directly into heavy defenses to hit three of the six targeted refineries. The lead plane and 10 others were shot down or crashed on the target. Brown, then a major, took over lead of the battered 93rd and led it back to Benghazi. For his actions on that mission, he received the nation's second highest military award, the Distinguished Service Cross.
He served as assistant to the chairman of the JCS in Washington, D.C., from August 1, 1966, to August 1, 1968, when he assumed command of the Seventh Air Force and became deputy commander of air operations, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. In September 1970 Brown became commander of the Air Force Systems Command at Andrews AFB, Md. It was the mission of this command to provide the weapon systems and meet the technological needs of the total Air Force mission.
On August 1, 1973, President Richard Nixon appointed Brown to be chief of staff of the Air Force. As chief, Brown worked to enhance the Air Force strategic bomber program and to replace the aging B-52s with B-1s, which could carry larger payloads and penetrate deeper into enemy territory.
As chairman of the JCS, much of his time was consumed with Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty talks that focused on finding a formula by which the U.S. lead in missile reentry vehicles would offset Soviet superiority in missile throw-weight. Brown led the Joint Chiefs in urging U.S. air and naval deployments to South Vietnam following the U.S. pullout. But public and congressional opposition to any further involvement in Vietnam precluded approval of any military action. Brown also participated in decision making over the U.S. response to two confrontations in the Far East that were widely perceived as tests of U.S. will in the aftermath of the communist takeover of South Vietnam. These were the Mayaguez incident in May 1975 and the shooting of two U.S. officers and wounding of another by North Korean guards in August 1976 in the demilitarized zone that divided the two Koreas. He also played a significant role in the success of the 1977 negotiations transferring the Panama Canal to Panama.
Brown continued as chairman until his retirement in June 1978. He had contracted cancer and was hospitalized intermittently until his death in December 1978