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Bernard Schriever Dies; General Led Missile Development

Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, left, Maj. Gen. Thomas P. Gerrity, Lt. Gen. Archie J. Old and Lt. Gen. Howell M. Estes Jr. in 1962 at Lowry Air Force Base, Colo.
Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, left, Maj. Gen. Thomas P. Gerrity, Lt. Gen. Archie J. Old and Lt. Gen. Howell M. Estes Jr. in 1962 at Lowry Air Force Base, Colo. (Air Force Space Command)

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By Louie Estrada
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 23, 2005

Bernard A. Schriever, 94, a retired Air Force general who became a revered military figure for successfully shepherding the development of the intercontinental ballistic missile program and establishing a framework for the Air Force's space program, died June 20 of complications from pneumonia at his home in Washington.

Gen. Schriever, an aeronautical engineer by training, excelled as an administrator, supervisor and manager as he helped to restructure and streamline the Air Force's approach to research, development and production of its high-tech weaponry in the 1950s and '60s. Chief among those weapons was the intercontinental ballistic missile, which could deliver a nuclear warhead halfway around the world.

He oversaw the development of the missile beginning in 1954, when he was named the first commander of what was then the Air Force Air Research and Development Command's Western Development Division in Inglewood, Calif. Known for his ingenuity and forthrightness, he took the post only after being assured by superiors that he would be granted wide latitude in cutting through the bureaucratic regulations and archaic review and approval procedures.

At the time, the development of the missile had been given the highest priority in the United States as its Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union, was busy developing its own long-range ballistic missiles. Gen. Schriever, a firm believer in a strong defense as a deterrent, set a goal of producing such a missile by the end of the 1950s. His office also was given the responsibility of developing the powerful missiles, which could travel as much as 5,000 miles, to launch the military's communication satellites.

His first step as commander was to assemble a staff with a core group of loyal workers who embraced a management technique called "concurrency." The technique sought to consolidate the management process by encouraging civilian contractors, lab commanders, technical chiefs and their groups to each tackle a technical or engineering problem simultaneously with the best solution selected from among the teams.

What followed was the expedited production of the Thor intermediate range ballistic missile and the Atlas and Titan intercontinental ballistic missile series in the 1950s. Next came the solid propellant Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile.

Gen. Schriever, who served as the Pentagon's liaison to the scientific community earlier in his career, was "known as a man with complete integrity and sound judgment, neither rebel nor a nonconformist," wrote aerospace historian G. Harry Stine in his book "ICBM, the Making of the Weapon that Changed the World" (1991). "Furthermore, he could stimulate action and get things done. And he had a rare understanding of the intricacies and internal politics of the aerospace industry."

In 1959, Gen. Schriever was named commander of the Air Research and Development Command, and in 1961, he became commander of the Air Force Systems Command. He consolidated research and development divisions and gave division directors greater control over their technical programs and budgets.

In 1963, he directed Project Forecast, one of the most comprehensive long-range assessments of the military science and technology. The multivolume report was based on a large gathering of specialists from federal agencies, universities, corporations and nonprofit organizations.

Gen. Schriever retired in 1966 after 33 years in the military. He continued to serve in advisory roles for corporate and government clients.

During his career, he recognized the significance of the intellectual capacity of his staff and said that same mental prowess would be needed to usher the United States into the space age. He once wrote that it was "a national disgrace the term 'egghead' as synonym for intellectual excellence has become a derogatory expression."

"Let me tell you that it is the 'eggheads' who are saving us -- just as it was the 'eggheads' who wrote the Constitution of the United States. It is the 'eggheads' in the realm of science and technology, in industry, in statecraft, as well as in other fields who form the first line of freedom's defense."

Gen. Schriever was born in Bremen, Germany, where his father served in the merchant marine. In 1917, his family came to the United States and settled in New Braunfels, Tex., a German-American community, about 30 miles north of San Antonio. He became a naturalized citizen when he was about 13 years old. As a young man, he considered pursuing golf as a profession.

He joined the Army after graduating from Texas A&M University in 1931 with a degree in architectural engineering. An ROTC cadet in college, he received a commission in the Army's Field Artillery but a short time later enrolled in the Army Air Corps Flying School at Kelly Field, Tex.

He flew air-mail missions for the Army Air Corps and received a master's degree in aeronautical engineering in 1942 from Stanford University.

During World War II, he helped maintain Army Air Forces planes and flew combat missions as a B-17 pilot in the Pacific.

He received the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Award and the Air Force Institute of Technology Distinguished Graduate Award. In 1998, Falcon Air Force Base near Colorado Springs was renamed Schriever Air Force Base.

His marriage to Dora Brett Schriever ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, singer Joni James of Washington; three children from his first marriage, son Brett Schriever of Colorado Springs and daughters Dodie Moeller of Stevensville, Md., and Barbara Allan of Washington; a brother; and 11 grandchildren.


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