Though aircraft had proved their military use beyond a doubt in the World Wars (and far earlier), the pilots and others who made that war effort work had been part of a series of different organizations, largely under the supervision of the Army. It was not until President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 that the U.S. military got a separate Air Force for the first time in its history. That innovation was effective Sept. 18, 1947 — 70 years ago this Monday.
And, from the beginning, it was no secret that the Air Force was a desirable assignment for those in the military.
The appeal of the air was on full display in 1951, as documented by LIFE Magazine, when the possibility of being drafted for the Korean War sent young American men scrambling to volunteer for the military gigs they wanted before the choice was taken out of their hands. Rather than serve as Army infantrymen, they figured, they could take to the skies. (Or, even more appealing in some recruits' eyes, they could stay safely on the ground taking care of the planes.) The result was a "recruit stampede," as LIFE put it, that the still-young Air Force wasn't quite prepared to handle.
At Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, thousands more recruits than expected — three times more, in a 12-day period, than volunteered for the Army in a whole month — jammed the processing centers, leading to a shortage of everything from uniforms to space. It was clear to see how that rush to join up could cause problems for the military effort, as preference for the Air Force, followed by the Navy, could leave the Army wanting.
But it was also obvious that there was something about the Air Force that left these young men more eager to serve there than anywhere else. Today, with more than 300,000 active-duty personnel in an all-volunteer Air Force, it's clear that the allure remains.