Russell Elliott Dougherty – General, United States Air Force

Courtesy of the United States Air Force

Retired October 1, 1977


General Russell Elliott Dougherty was commander in chief of the Strategic Air Command and director of strategic target planning (Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff), at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. SAC is the nation's major nuclear deterrent force with bombers, tankers, reconnaissance aircraft and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff coordinates United States nuclear war plans and develops the Single Integrated Operations Plan.

General Dougherty was born in Glasgow, Kentucky, in 1920. He is a graduate of Western Kentucky University, the Law School of the University of Louisville and the National War College. In addition, General Dougherty holds an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Akron, an honorary doctor of science degree from Westminster College, and is an “Old Master” of Purdue University.

After serving in the FBI, General Dougherty entered active military service as an aviation cadet at the outbreak of World War II; previously, he had been a member of the 123d Cavalry, Kentucky National Guard. He received his commission and pilot wings in March 1943.

During World War II, he was an instructor pilot in the Air Training Command and later he served in the 3d Air Force in crew and instructor pilot duties, as a B-17 pilot, and on a B-29 combat crew. His post World War II assignments encompass varied duties in operational, maintenance, administrative, political/military and command duties in Air Force, joint, and international assignments.

In 1947 he served as a unit instructor with the Air Force Reserve at Standiford Field, Louisville, Kentucky, and in 1948 was transferred to the Far East Air Forces. While flying with the 19th Bombardment Wing, he served as staff judge advocate for the wing and later as assistant staff judge advocate for the 20th Air Force. In April 1950 he became the assistant staff judge advocate for FEAF Headquarters in Japan and, at the outbreak of the Korean War, was assigned to temporary duty in intelligence with FEAF.

General Dougherty returned to the United States in 1951 and was assigned to Air Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, as chief of the Appeals and Litigation Division, and as the assistant U.S. Air Force trial attorney for litigation arising out of Air Force procurement and contractual activities.

In December 1952 General Dougherty elected to leave the Judge Advocate General's Department for assignment to the Strategic Air Command and attended both B-29 refresher and KC-97 transition training. In June 1953 he began successive assignments in SAC as operations officer for the 303d Air Refueling Squadron; commander of the 303d Armament and Electronics Squadron; deputy chief of operations, 303d Bombardment Wing; and commander, 358th Bombardment Squadron, all at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. He was assigned to Headquarters 15th Air Force, SAC, as chief, Operations Division, where he planned the B-52 round-the-world flight, Operation Power Flite, in 1957. Later he became the deputy director of operations, Headquarters 15th Air Force.

He attended the National War College during 1959-60 and, following graduation, was assigned duty in Headquarters U.S. Air Force in the Office of the Deputy Director for War Plans. In April 1961 he was appointed deputy assistant director of plans for joint matters, and in February 1963 he was made the assistant director for plans for joint and National Security Council matters.

General Dougherty has had four assignments in joint and international duties. During 1964-65, he was the deputy director for plans and operations (J-3), Headquarters U.S. European Command, in Paris, France. During this assignment in November 1964, he was the United States' planner for the successful U.S./Belgian rescue operation at Stanleyville in the Congo. In August 1965 he returned to Washington as director, European Region, Office of the Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs). In July 1967 he again returned to Europe and served until August 1969 as director, J-5 (Plans and Policy) at Headquarters U.S. European Command, Stuttgart, Germany.

In September 1969 General Dougherty was again assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force where he served as the assistant deputy chief of staff, plans and operations, and in February 1970 became deputy chief of staff, plans and operations for the U.S. Air Force. He was assigned as commander, 2d Air Force, SAC, with headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., in April 1971. In this position, General Dougherty commanded the U.S. Air Force's largest numbered Air Force, consisting of the majority of SAC's B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers.

On May 1, 1972, General Dougherty was promoted to his four-star grade and assigned as chief of staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, headquarters of NATO's Allied Command Europe. He returned to the United States on August 1, 1974, to become the eighth commander of the Strategic Air Command.

He is a command pilot and included among his military decorations and awards are the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Air Force Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal, and the Joint Service Commendation Medal for his tenure as the U.S. Air Force's operations deputy on the Joint Staff. He is a member of the Kentucky State Bar Association and the Bar Association of the U.S. Supreme Court.

10 September 2007:

General Russell E. Dougherty, commander of the Strategic Air Command from 1974 until 1977 has died, said officials at his retirement community in Virginia. He was 86.

Dougherty, who led the Offutt Air Force Base command through several years of detente with the Soviet Union, died of a heart attack Friday morning, said Dorene Sherman, a Bellevue resident who served as Dougherty's secretary at SAC.

A native of Glasgow, Kentucky, Dougherty served in World War II as an instructor pilot in the Air Training Command and later as a B-17 pilot and on the crew of a B-29.

Before taking command at SAC in 1974, he served as chief of staff at NATO's Allied Command Europe.

At SAC, Dougherty earned a reputation as among the most open, approachable leaders in the command's history, Sherman said.

“He always kept his door open and would always stand up and talk with anyone that came by,” said Sherman, who worked at SAC and its successor, U.S. Strategic Command, from 1960 until 1999. “I've never seen anyone like him, and I've worked with many, many generals.”

Dougherty's military decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Air Force Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, and the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters.

Dougherty held degrees from Western Kentucky University, the University of Louisville Law School and the National War College.

He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, said Peggy Beyer, an executive assistant at the Falcons Landing retirement community in Potomac Falls, Virginia. A date has not been finalized, she said.

September 15, 2007:
Courtesy of the Glasgow Daily Times

“An Officer and a Gentleman” was a box office hit several years ago. That was Hollywood.

In reality, a man who truly fit the description of an Officer and a Gentleman had retired just a few years earlier from a military career that was at the least described as outstanding.

Russell E. Dougherty was the epitome of an officer and a gentleman. But unlike Hollywood he fit the description with integrity and humility.

Dougherty, a Barren County native, died September 7, 2007.

His accomplishments and accolades could fill page after page. While accomplished in so many arenas of life, he never forgot his Kentucky roots and his beloved Glasgow.

Dougherty was born in 1920 and at the age of 12 decided he wanted to become a lawyer.

A young Russell Dougherty played trumpet in the Glasgow High School band. In 1935, the 123rd Cavalry of the Kentucky National Guard was in need of a bugler. That year he went to summer camp at Fort Knox, played his bugle and took care of his Captain’s horse. His Captain, Sam Sears, was a cashier at a Glasgow bank and a distant relative.

Dougherty stayed in the Cavalry through high school and college. He once said the one thing that gave him the greatest satisfaction in life was that he paid his way through school as a trumpet player, never costing his parents a penny.

He graduated from Western in 1941 and then set out for the nation’s capitol to study law and to take a job with the FBI.

Then came World War II.

When the B-29, the most advanced bomber of World War II, came along, Dougherty qualified for it.

His bombardier was a First Lieutenant from Sullivan County, Tennessee, who later made a name for himself in show business as Tennessee Ernie Ford.

At the end of the war, Dougherty returned to Kentucky, entered the University of Louisville School of Law and went into the inactive reserve.

The next three decades of his life was spent in the thick of the Cold War.

In the 1970’s he was Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations, Commander of Strategic Air Command and Chief of Staff for NATO’s Allied Command Central Europe. From 1974 until his retirement in 1977, he was Commander in Chief of Strategic Air Command (SAC). In 1974 SAC had about 150,000 people, 1,200 airplanes and more than 1,000 land-based ballistic missiles.

A 2005 article in the Air Force Magazine said along the way “Dougherty gained a reputation as one of the Air Force’s best thinkers and planners. He was a leader who was held in exceptionally high regard by those he led.”

An aide to Dougherty described him as someone that was always accessible, especially to troops in the field. The aide said Dougherty made his people proud to be involved, telling his office staff, “Good night good people, I couldn’t do it without you” at the end of each day.

Dougherty’s son, Mark, said of his dad, “His family was his only hobby.” Most of the Dougherty family is in the Air Force, including Glasgow native Joe Dougherty, a cousin to Gen. Dougherty. “Our family truly bled Air Force blue,” said Mark Dougherty.

I give you this brief outline of a man who spent his life serving his country, his family and his hometown. While I hold him in the highest of regard for his professional achievements, I treasure the memories I have from his personal life.

With several family members still in the Glasgow area, the “General” always loved to return home when the opportunity was given him.

My youngest daughter entered the Air Force following graduation from college. He was a mentor, an advisor and most of all a dear friend to her and our entire family.

Already in retirement, he took this young Captain from Glasgow under his wing. Her relationship with General Dougherty began when she was at Glasgow High School, the same school he had attended years before. That relationship grew and they became closer through her college years.

During her college summer sessions she spent time working in Washington, D.C. He often took her to dinner at the Army/Navy Club, a private members-only club that frequently showcased Washington’s elite. He enjoyed introducing her to many of his friends and counterparts.

During their visits he would recall stories from his military career and pass on advice to the new recruit.

During one of their outings he told her about a time he was having dinner at the club with several General officers and other dignitaries. He recalled that an advisor came in to tell them that the decision had been made to let women into the Marine Corps. He claims that at that exact moment the portrait of Archibald Henderson, a former Commandant of the Marine Crops, fell to the ground.

Soon after he had spent time with our daughter or talked with her on the phone without fail there was always a note or phone call to our home telling us how well she was doing and that he was keeping an eye on his Air Force girl from Glasgow.

When my daughter, who now works in Washington, learned of his death she wrote me this in an email: “It was an honor to have known him — he was truly one of the ‘fathers’ of today’s Air Force. His legacy and contributions to that community will be felt for many years to come.”

A few years before my retirement from this newspaper, we were doing a special section and I decided that I would interview General Dougherty for that edition. I spent several days pondering over the questions I wanted to ask. He had spent such an exciting and meaningful life where would I ever start?

On the day of the interview I called his Arlington, Va., home around mid-morning and started the interview, which I expected would take 15-20 minutes.

Think again.

Halfway through the interview I began to wonder, “Was I interviewing him or was he interviewing me?” With each question I asked, he would return with another, asking about someone in Glasgow or telling about something that happened during his younger years in Glasgow. Three hours later we said our goodbyes for the day. I always wondered why my publisher did not ask about the three-hour phone call I made to D.C.

The General once told me that he had been all over the world, but there was no place better than Glasgow. Despite his many achievements, he always remained a “hometown boy.”

General Russell E. Dougherty, retired — A True Officer and A Gentleman.

Funeral services for General Russell E. Dougherty will be held September 27, 2007. in Arlington National Cemetery.


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 11/15/1920
  • DATE OF DEATH: 09/07/2007

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