The official military biography of Frank Alton Armstrong, Jr. states that he “led the first and last heavy bombing raids of World War II.” A native of Hamilton and graduate of Wake Forest College, Armstrong enlisted in 1928 as a flying cadet, received and conducted bombardment training, and in 1940 witnessed the Nazi blitz bombing of London. In 1942 he led the first U.S. raids over occupied France and in 1943 the first U.S. raids over Germany, the target of the B-17 “Flying Fortresses” being the Messerschmitt aircraft factory at Regensburg. In the summer of 1945 he flew some of the last bombing raids over Japan, oil depots being targeted by the B-29s under his command.
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Armstrong rose through the ranks in the Air Force, that branch of the military separated from the Army in 1947, making Lieutenant General in 1956. In 1961 he retired after arguing for the deployment of nuclear missiles in Alaska, clashing publicly with the Joint Chiefs. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery. He and his wife, Vernelle, had one child, Frank, III, who was shot down and killed in Vietnam in 1967.
In 1948 Beirne Lay, Jr., who had served alongside Armstrong in the bombardment team in Europe, and Sy Bartlett published Twelve O’Clock High!, the title taken from the military term indicating an attack from above. The authors made clear in the foreword that Colonel Frank Savage, the novel’s central character, was based on Armstrong. The 1949 film version of the book was nominated for Best Picture. Gregory Peck received a nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of Savage. The film was named to the Library of Congress Film Registry in 1998. A television series of the same name ran on ABC from 1964 to 1967.
"'So Near Heaven and Surrounded by Hell': The Character and 1942-1943 Military Career of World War II Piot Frank A. Armstrong Jr.," North Carolina Historical Review (April 2011): 164-188
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 43-44--sketch by Donald R. Lennon
W. F. Craven and J. L. Cates, eds., The Army Air Forces in World War II (1948-1958)
Chuck Dunning, “Twelve O’Clock High: Fact to Fiction,” Aviation History (September 1999): 42-48, 80
(Raleigh) News and Observer, August 22, 1969 and November 6, 1986
1910 U.S. Census, Population Schedule, Halifax County
Frank A. Armstrong Papers, East Carolina University