Herbert James Gavin – Major General, United States Air Force

Courtesy of the United States Air Force

Retired June 1, 1978.  Died June 27, 2009.


Major General Herbert J. Gavin was commander, Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan Air Force Base, California.

General Gavin was born near Winterset, Iowa, in 1921. He began active military service in May 1942 as an Aviation Cadet and received his pilot wings and commission as a Second Lieutenant in April 1943. He studied aeronautical engineering at Northrop Institute of Technology and graduated in 1949; is an Air War College graduate; has a bachelor of science degree in military science from the University of Maryland; and a master of science degree in international affairs from The George Washington University.

After receiving his commission in April 1943, General Gavin attended the Engineering Officers Course at McClellan Field, California. He then served from September 1943 until the end of World War II in the China-Burma-India theater of operations asChief Test Pilot for the Eastern India Air Depot, remaining there until November 1945. General Gavin returned to the United States and in January 1946 was released from active duty at his own request and became a member of the California Air National Guard. He returned to school and after graduation from Northrop Institute of Technology joined the North American Aviation Company of Los Angeles as an engineer and field service representative, remaining there until his recall to active duty in 1951.

As a member of the California Air National Guard, General Gavin was recalled with the 146th Fighter-Bomber Wing, Tactical Air Command, and served with the wing successively as a fighter pilot, Operations Officer, Chief of Maintenance, and Director of Materiel. In May 1952 he was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C., for duty with the National Guard Bureau as Director of Maintenance for the Air National Guard.

In January 1956 General Gavin was assigned to the Sacramento Air Materiel Area at McClellan Air Force Base, serving successively as chief of the Weapons Phasing Division and chief of the Lockheed Weapons Systems Division, while simultaneously flying with the Flight Test Division.

He was transferred to Tachikawa Air Base, Japan, in October 1958 where he formed the Air Force Logistics Command's first weapons system management group in the Far East. He remained its Director until he returned to the United States in July 1961 and was again assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force to conduct basic management research with the original Materiel Evaluation Group in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Systems and Logistics.

General Gavin attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, from August 1965 to June 1966. He then served with the 75th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas, as Deputy Commander for Operations and later as Vice Commander.

In July 1968 he became Deputy Commander for Operations of the 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Pacific Air Forces, at Tan Son Nhut Airfield, Republic of Vietnam. He served in that capacity, flying combat missions throughout Indochina, until returning to the United States in June 1969. At that time, he was assigned to Tactical Air Command Headquarters at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, as Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics.

General Gavin assumed command of the Air Force's first F-111 wing, the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing, TAC, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, in June 1970. In July 1971 he returned to Headquarters Tactical Air Command and served again as Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics; and in June 1972 became Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics.

In February 1974 General Gavin was assigned as Deputy Chief of Staff, Maintenance, Air Force Logistics Command, with headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. He was reassigned to his present position as Commander of the Sacramento Air Logistics Center in March 1975.

He is a command pilot with 6,000 flying hours, and has flown more than 70 different types of aircraft. He is credited with 170 combat missions in two wars, with a total of 364 combat hours. His military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, Presidential Unit Citation Emblem, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award Ribbon with oak leaf cluster, and the Combat Readiness Medal.

He was promoted to the grade of Major General August 1, 1973, with date of rank February 1, 1971.

2 July 2009:

Herbert J. Gavin, a retired Air Force Major General and veteran fighter pilot of two wars who served as head of McClellan Air Force Base, died Saturday at age 87.

He died of complications related to back problems, said his son, Patrick.

General Gavin retired from the Air Force in 1978 after three years as Commander of the Air Logistics Center at McClellan. Under his watch, the base was responsible for maintaining, managing and supplying about 4,300 planes worldwide, mostly fighters.

His expertise in logistics led to top assignments from bases in the United States and Asia to the Pentagon. He also held key positions in operations and commanded the Air Force's first F-111 wing, the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

General Gavin was a command pilot with more than 6,000 flying hours, including 170 combat missions. He flew more than 70 types of aircraft.

He flew in the China- Burma-India theater of operations during World War II. In 1968, he became Deputy Operations Commander for the 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing in Vietnam. He received many military decorations, including the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross and Bronze Star.

“What got him the two stars (Major General rank) was his speciality in logistics,” said his son, a retired Navy carrier pilot. “But he was probably most proud of his flying.”

Herbert James Gavin was born in 1921 near Winterset, Iowa, to a bridge builder and homemaker. He began military service as an aviation cadet in 1942 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant within a year.

He left active duty after the war and joined the California Air National Guard. He graduated from Northrop Institute of Technology in 1949 and worked for North American Aviation Company until he was recalled to active duty in 1951.

A graduate of the Air War College, he had a bachelor's degree in military science from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in international affairs from George Washington University. He was promoted to the rank of major general in 1973.

General Gavin was married for 37 years to the former Doris Brown, who died in 1983. He was predeceased by four of their six children: a son, Kenneth, who died shortly after birth; a daughter, Alison, in 1976; a son, Michael, in 1993; and a daughter, Stephanie, in 2008. He married Helene Sideras in 1995.

General Gavin was proud of serving his country, his family said. After his military retirement, he was a Vice President of California Vision Services and President of the Comstock Club. He disliked speaking to large gatherings but was gregarious in informal groups, said his daughter, Ann DeLong. He enjoyed swapping stories at regular lunches with longtime friends.

“He could tell great stories and knew minute details about any country overseas,” said Lee Greer, a retired Air Force major general who lead McClellan from 1985 to 1988. “He had the best memory of anybody I knew.”

General Gavin was laid to rest with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on 24 September 2009.

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