If you are a student of US Naval Aviation, this 1911 photograph may be something like the holy grail.

Pictured is the Curtis A-1 aircraft with Glenn H Curtis at the wheel. Seated (L-R) are his students – young US Navy officers John Rodgers, John Henry Towers, and Theodore Ellyson – who qualified that summer as Naval Aviators #2, #3 and #1, respectively. The man standing at left is not identified, but is possibly Eugene Burton Ely (1879-1911), Curtis’ pilot and a pioneer of Naval Aviation in his own right – the first man to take off from and land on a ship.

All of these men had tremendous flying stories and family histories – well worth a look when you have the time.

Rodgers (USNA 1903) and Ellyson (USNA 1905) were killed in plane crashes, in 1926 and 1928 respectively, but Towers (USNA 1906) had a 45-year Navy career culminating in 4-star Admiral’s rank (1945) and command of the US Pacific Fleet (1946).

Here’s Vice Admiral Towers (arrow) in a famous photograph of General Douglas McArthur signing surrender documents aboard USS Missouri (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.

Bringing this back home …

Towers’ grandfather, Colonel John Reed Towers, commanded the 8th Georgia Infantry from 2nd Manassas to Appomattox, including in action with G.T. Anderson’s Brigade in the West Woods and on Piper’s Farm at Sharpsburg on 17 September 1862.

Here’s Colonel J.R. Towers, just after the Civil War.

Colonel Towers’ 2nd son and Admiral Towers’ father, William McGee Towers (1846-1912), was also a Confederate veteran. He served as an 18 year old cavalryman with General N.B. Forrest in 1864 and 1865. He lived to see his son fly.



More details of Admiral Towers’ Navy career are in a bio sketch from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

They are also the source of the Curtis photograph above.

The 1945 photograph on the USS Missouri is online from the US National Archives.

The portrait of Colonel John R Towers is thanks to family genealogists via RootsWeb.

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