Collection inventory

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Lewis H. Brereton Papers

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Brereton, Lewis H. (Lewis Hyde), 1890-1967.
Title: Lewis H. Brereton Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1913-1941
Quantity: 1.25 linear ft.
Abstract: General, United States Army Air Forces, World War I and II. Collection contains correspondence, clippings, printed material and photographs.
Language: Majority in English, one or two items in French
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

Lewis Hyde Brereton (1890-1967) was a military aviator and United States Army Air Forces officer. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1911, served with distinction in World War I and World War II, and retired in 1948 with the rank of General.

Brereton was one of the first military pilots of the United States Army, assigned to the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps in September 1912. He remained on active duty in the air services branch continuously until it eventually became the United States Air Force in 1947, the only service member to do so. During World War I he served in France on the staff of General Benjamin D. Foulois, commander of the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Force. In 1918 he was given command of the 12th Aero Squadron and at the close of the war he held the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Between the wars he was assistant military attaché for air at the U.S. Embassy in Paris from 1920-1922. He served as commanding officer of the 10th School Group in at Kelly Field, Texas where he oversaw the training of American pilots and was also an instructor at the Air Service Tactical School at Langley Air Force Base. In 1925 he served as co-counsel for the defense at the court-martial of Billy Mitchell. During the late 1920s he suffered personal setbacks, including excessive drinking and the dissolution of his marriage of 14 years, but by 1931 he had recovered his focus and his career was back on track.

During World War II he served in combat theaters continuously from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the German surrender. He was chosen personally by General Douglas MacArthur in 1941 to command the Far East Air Force and was later appointed commander of United States Army Middle East Air Forces and then of the First Allied Airborne Army. Forces under his command took place in Operations Overlord, Cobra, Market Garden and Varsity.

Brereton's post-war career included positions as commander of the Third Air Force at MacDill in Florida, Chairman of the Military Liaison Committee to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, and secretary general of the Air Board. In 1946 he published his memoirs, The Brereton Diaries, about his wartime experiences.

Lt. General Brereton received numerous citations and awards during his career. These include the Distinguished Service Cross ("for extraordinary heroism in action"), Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, and Distinguished Flying Cross, as well as awards from France (Commander and Officer of the Legion of Honor; Croix de Guerre with Palm), England (Companion, Order of the Bath) and the Netherlands (Grand Officer, Order of Orange-Nassau). He was described by a former subordinate, Major General Cecil F. Combs, as "a cocky, aggressive, intelligent, experienced, pretty damn able commander."

See also his full biography at

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Lewis H. Brereton Papers consists of correspondence, memorabilia, and miscellaneous.

The bulk of the Correspondence consists of letters from Brereton to his first wife, Helen. They are written from various locations where Brereton was posted, including San Francisco (1913), Fort Rosecrans in San Diego (1913-1914), Paris and Bordeaux (1917), Tours, Issoudun and Amanty (1918), Coblenz (1919), Paris (1919-1921), and Kelly Field, Texas (1923-1924). The letters are intimate and loving but occasionally frustrated, and highlight the difficulties in maintaining a military marriage. A number of the envelopes bear later annotations, presumably by Helen, expressing regret over the end of their marriage. One from 12 Jan 1914 reads, "I think I was afraid to have him know how much I cared," and another from 29 Sep 1919, "My darling, I have hurt you again! Can God ever forgive?" The last letter, postmarked 20 Jul 1924, is annotated on the envelope "My last love letter," and in it Brereton says he is going to a sanatarium "in the Pennsylvania mountains...I sort of checked out last night and feel pretty rocky...I'm not going to write so don't worry -- I realize that I love you and couldn't do anything else than love you. But I want rest, rest, rest." There are also some later letters from Brereton to his son Jimmy, and some correspondence with his bank in Paris.

Memorabilia contains additional scraps (envelopes, slips of paper) with Helen's later notes, including a faded red ribbon which was originally tied around a bundle of the letters; clippings about Brereton's achievements in the military; insignia from the U.S. Third Army; Brerton's personal file with military orders, letters of citation, etc.; Brereton's diplomatic passport; and an undated photograph of him.

Miscellaneous consists of writings; one is not by Brereton and the other three have no author given. Two items are papers or essays on the activities of the American air forces during World War I, one is a typescript of an article in French with a byline of "Whyte Williams," and one is a typescript poem entitled "Hunka Tin." This last, dated June 2, 1918, is in praise of Ford automobiles and is a parody of Kipling's well-known poem "Gunga Din." The last line reads, "You tin, tin, tin, hunka-tin / You exasperating puzzle, hunka-tin / I've abused you and I've flayed you / But by Henry Ford who made you / You're better than a Packard, hunka-tin!"

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Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondence and within that chronologically.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Subject Headings


Brereton, Lewis H. (Lewis Hyde), 1890-1967.

Corporate Bodies

United States. -- Army Air Forces -- History.
United States. -- Army Air Forces. -- Aero Squadron, 12th.


Military history, Modern -- 20th century.
Military spouses.
Soldiers -- Caricatures and cartoons.
World War, 1914-1918 -- Aerial operations, American.
World War, 1914-1918 -- Personal narratives.

Genres and Forms

Cartoons (humorous images)
Clippings (information artifacts)


Armed forces -- Officers.

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Lewis H. Brereton Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Lewis H. Brereton, Jr., 1970.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: MRC
Date: 4 Aug 2010
Revision history: 14 Mar 2011 - processed (MRC)

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Box 1 Christmas notes 1917, 1918, undated
Box 1 Helen Brereton (wife) 1913 Sep-1914 Apr, 1917 May-1918 Jul - some envelopes annotated by Helen later, apparently after their divorce (5 folders)
Box 2 Helen Brereton (wife) 1918 Aug-1924 Jul, undated - some envelopes annotated by Helen later, apparently after their divorce (8 folders)
Box 2 Jimmy Brereton (son) 1935-1939, undated
Box 2 Miscellaneous 1917-1919
Box 3 Clippings 1913, 1923, 1924, 1933, 1935, 1941, undated - most about Brereton, one about Billy Mitchell (2 folders)
Box 2 Helen - miscellaneous scraps, annotated by Helen
Box 2 Insignia, American Expeditionary Force, 3rd Army
Box 2 "My personal file" 1917-1919, 1923 - military orders, papers, communications, photograph of cartoon
Box 3 Original envelopes
Box 2 Passport, diplomatic 1920-1921 - during Brereton's tenure at U.S. Embassy in Paris
Box 2 Photograph, of Brereton undated
Box 3 12th Aero Squadron: A Historical Sketch undated - World War I activities of the squadron
Box 3 La Bataille de 1917 undated - byline of Whyte Williams, New York Times; in French
Box 3 Hunka Tin 2 Jun 1918 - poem about Ford automobiles, parody of Kipling's Gunga Din
Box 3 Notes on the Activities of the American Air Service on the Western Front undated - with annotations by Brereton, marked as his personal copy

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