The son of a Civil War colonel, William Howard Stovall was raised on his family's cotton plantation. A graduate of Yale University, he enlisted in the United States Signal Corps in 1917 and was assigned to the 13th Aero Squadron in July 1918. Flying the SPAD XIII, he scored six confirmed victories while assigned to the 13th Aero Squadron.
Additional notes by William Jeanes:
During World War II, Stovall served with the United States Army Air Corps. After 42 months of service, 36 of them overseas, Hank Stovall left the Army as a Colonel and returned home on July 21, 1945. His military decorations by then included the Distinguished Service Cross, French Croix de Guerre with Palm (WWII), and Victory Medal with three battle clasps from World War I, plus the Legion of Merit medal with Oak Leaf Custer, Bronze Star medal, French Legion d'Honneur, and European Theater of Operations ribbon with five battle stars (Europe, Tunisia, Normandy, Central France, Germany) from his second war. On May 24, 1946, he was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire. The Order does not release specifics, but accounts at the time cited Stovall's work on General Spaatz's staff with the USSAF.
On December 12, 1941, five days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hank Stovall reenlisted in the Air Service, now known as the U.S. Army Air Corps, with the rank of major. After a brief stint at an air base in Greenland, Major Hank Stovall was assigned to the Eighth Air Force Fighter Command in England as deputy chief of staff for personnel under Brigadier General Frank "Monk" Hunter-who in turn now reported to Major General Carl"Toohey" Spaatz, (who had changed the spelling of his name, feeling that the earlier version had been "too German"). Stovall was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in late 1942 or early 1943.
Among the personnel who crossed paths with Hank Stovall was his son, First Lieutenant William Howard Stovall, who, by 1944, had finished his training as a fighter pilot. The younger Stovall was assigned-whether with or without his father's help is unknown-to the 62nd Fighter Squadron of the elite 56th Fighter Group. The 56th was the famed "Hub Zemke's Wolfpack," one of the most distinguished aviation units of the war.
At Christmas in 1944, Stovalls father and son met for dinner in London. Though details are sketchy, the Colonel later told family members that the pair wound up the evening sitting on the front steps of a London hotel singing "Silent Night" and "Onward Christian Soldiers."
On New Year's Eve, 1944, First Lieutenant William Howard Stovall was killed. In an action over Germany, his patrol engaged seven German FW190s in an action during which Stovall's plane was hit by fire from one of his fellow pilots, a not uncommon occurrence in a dogfight. Stovall bailed out but was too close to the ground to allow his parachute to open.
Lieutenant Colonel Stovall was visiting the 62nd at its base in Boxted, Surrey, on the day his son was killed. An officer of the 56th, in an interview, recalls telling "Uncle Hank," as the group's pilots called him, of the younger Stovall's death. "He cried some, and then he asked to have the lieutenant who'd shot him down sent to see him. He told him, 'Son, whatever you do, don't blame yourself for what happened, and don't accept any blame.'" Only a father who had experienced the murderous chaos of a dogfight could have said those words.
First Lieutenant Stovall's decorations, presented posthumously to his mother in Memphis on December 15, 1945, included the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Silver Star, and the Purple Heart. Official government records credit Stovall with downing two of the FW190s his last patrol had encountered. He was 21 years old and had flown 21 missions. Hank Stovall finished the war as chief of staff to General Spaatz, now commanding the U.S. Strategic Air Force, forerunner to the Strategic Air Command of Cold War fame. Soon after hostilities in Europe ceased in May of 1945, he managed to locate his son's body in a graveyard near Burgsteinfurt. The younger Stovall now lies in the U.S. Netherlands Military Cemetery.
Distinguished Service Cross (DSC)
The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to William Howard Stovall, First Lieutenant (Air Service), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action in the region of Etain, France, September 26, 1918. While leading a protection patrol over a day bombing formation First Lieutenant Stovallís patrol became reduced through motor trouble to himself and one other pilot. When the bombing patrol was attacked by seven enemy planes he in turn attacked the enemy and destroyed one plane.