Brigadier General Tarleton Harvin Watkins
December 12, 2009
Brigadier General Tarleton Harvin Watkins who died at age 95, served in Hawaii and with the British in North Africa during World War II, flying more than 120 combat missions. His combat record, which accounted for three enemy aircraft destroyed in the air, merited the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters, and the Presidential Citation. Tarleton Harvin Watkins was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1914 to Ruth Woodruff and John Tarleton Harvin. He and his four brothers were later adopted by Colonel Dudley Warren Watkins, growing up in San Antonio, the Philippines and later Wright-Patterson Field in Ohio. General Watkins attended the University of Maryland, Texas A & M University and graduated from Army Air Corps flight training at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas in 1939. General Watkins served as an officer in the Army Air Corps in Hawaii and North Africa during World War II, flying more than 120 combat missions as a pilot of A-20 and P-40 aircraft. During the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, then Lt. Watkins, stationed at Hickham Field, was one of a handful of pilots to become airborne and pursue the Japanese attackers. His flight jacket, helmet and goggles are on display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. He lost three brothers in World War II; William and Robert in action in Italy and at sea respectively, and the youngest, Woodruff in a flight training accident. General Watkins's post-war service began with a tour in Bermuda where he served first as deputy commander and executive officer for Kindley Air Force Base. In July 1951 he was assigned to Wiesbaden, Germany as Deputy Commander of the 1602nd Air Transport Wing. In August 1952, he was appointed Commander of the 1708th Ferrying Wing at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas, flying every type of aircraft in the Air Force inventory to installations around the world. Following a year at the National War College, Fort McNair, Washington, D.C., and receiving his Masters Degree, General Watkins was named deputy for operations for the 322nd Air Division at Evreux-Fauville Air Base, France, in July 1957, and became deputy commander of that unit in January 1958. He assumed command of the 322nd in June 1959 and held that post until his assignment to Headquarters Ninth Air Force as Deputy for Operations in June 1961. Under his leadership, the 322nd, the Air Force's tactical airlift force for Europe, conducted both the Beirut, Lebanon airlift and the Congo airlift, at that time, the largest air transport of personnel and materiel since Berlin, in the history of the U.S. military. His promotion to Brigadier General became effective April 1, 1961. In 1963, General Watkins was named Director of Airlift at Tactical Air Command headquarters at Langley Air Force Base, Hampton, Virginia. A tour of duty as Commandant at the Air Force Air-Ground Operations School, Hurlburt AFB, Fort Walton Beach, Florida followed. General Watkins completed his Air Force career as Chief of Staff of the Taiwan Defense Command and as the U.S. Representative to Nationalist China to negotiate the Status of Forces Agreement between the two nations. He retired from the Air Force in 1967. Brigadier General Watkins was married to the late Sarah Lee Daniels of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a graduate of Syracuse University. They retired to Naples, Florida and San Diego, California. General Watkins is survived by his daughter Sarah Woodruff Watkins of San Diego, California; his son, Tarleton Harvin Watkins II, his daughter in law, Janet Patricia Atkins and his grandson, Tarleton Harvin Watkins III, all of Boston, Massachusetts and his brother, Dudley Warren Watkins Jr. of Bristow, Virginia. General Watkins will be interred in the family plot at Arlington National Cemetery, with a full military honors funeral, in the spring of 2010.
Published in Express-News on Dec. 29, 2009