On 19 August 1960, a specially converted Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar made history as it approached the Discoverer XIV reentry capsule descending by parachute over the Bernard A. "Bennie" Schriever led the development of the intercontinental ballistic missile, providing President Kennedy his "ace in the hole " during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Born in Germany in 1910, he came to the U.S. at the age of six and settled with his family in New Braunfels, Texas. He graduated from Texas A&M University in 1931 with a BS in Engineering and a reserve commission in the field artillery. Schriever entered flight training in July 1932, earning his wings and commission in the U.S. Air Corps Reserve in June 1933.
He served as a bomber pilot and engineering maintenance officer at March Field, California. In 1937 Schriever left the U.S. Air Corps to fly with Northwest Airlines, but he reentered active service in 1938 with a regular commission. He was assigned to the 7th Bombardment Group at Hamilton Field, California, as a McDonnell Douglas B-18 Bolo instrument flying instructor. Due to his flying and engineering background, Schriever was sent to Wright Field, Ohio, as an engineering officer and test pilot. He attended the Air Corps Engineering School in 1941, and graduated Stanford University in 1942 with an MS in Aeronautical Engineering. During WW II, Schriever flew 38 missions in the Solomons, New Guinea, Philippines, and the Ryukyus in the North American B-25 Mitchell, the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, and the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
After the war, he served in numerous positions in the research and development field until his selection for National War College in August 1949. After War College, Schriever remained in Washington, DC, in research and development at the Pentagon. Recognized as a " visionary enthusiast" in the developing missile field, Schriever assumed command of the Air Force Western Development Division of Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) in 1954. He directed the nation's highest priority projects; the development of a ballistic missile program and the Air Force's initial space programs. He pushed forward research and development of the Atlas, Titan, Thor, and Minuteman ballistic missiles, concurrently fielding the launch sites, tracking facilities, and ground support equipment.
He earned the title of "Missileman Schriever" appearing on the cover of TIME magazine in 1957. He became the ARDC Commander in 1959 and was promoted to general in 1961 when ARDC became Air Force Systems Command. Since his retirement in 1966, he has worked as an engineering and military strategy consultant. He was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1980, served on President Reagan's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and was honored by the USAF in 1998 when Falcon AFB in Colorado was renamed in his honor. He currently lives in Washington, DC, with his wife Joni.
October 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis is in full swing. Ten Minuteman I Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles are now on combat alert at Malmstrom AFB, Montana. President Kennedy referred to this new capability as his "ace in the hole," a capability that helped prevent escalation of the Cuban Missile Crisis. General Schriever's vision of a solid fuel ICBM was now a reality. It had gone from program go-ahead to combat alert in just four years and eight months, the hallmark of General Schriever's organizational skills and leadership.