Thomas W. Steed

Last updated
Thomas Webster Steed
Born(1904-10-18)October 18, 1904
Mineral Bluff, Georgia, U.S.
DiedOctober 21, 1973(1973-10-21) (aged 69)
Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S.
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch Seal of the US Air Force.svg United States Air Force
Years of service1930-1954
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Commands held 456th Bomb Group
91st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing
301st Bomb Wing
4th Air Division, SAC
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross (2)
Army Commendation Medal (3)
Air Medal (7)

Thomas Webster Steed (October 18, 1904 – October 21, 1973) was a professional U.S. military officer in the United States Army Air Corps, Army Air Forces, and Air Force. During World War II he commanded the 456th Bomb Group (Heavy) throughout its combat service, one of only three bomb group commanders to train a group, command it overseas, and return it to the United States. [1]



Steed was born October 18, 1904, at Mineral Bluff, Fannin County, Georgia. His family later moved to nearby Etowah, Tennessee. Steed was educated in the public schools, and attended both Tennessee Military Academy and the University of Tennessee before entering the United States Military Academy in 1923 on a senatorial appointment. His initial efforts were unsuccessful and he was dropped from the Academy for academic deficiencies, particularly in required English, during the second half of his plebe year. Steed moved to New York City and worked as a digger in the building of the 14th Street Tunnel under the East River. Steed was reinstated in the autumn of 1924 as a plebe and successfully completed the four-year course as a member of the Class of 1928. Nicknamed "Sadie" and "Red", he was a popular cadet though older than most of his peers.

Military service

2nd Lt. Steed underwent flight training at the primary school, Brooks Field, and advanced flying school, Kelly Field, Texas, receiving his wings in March, 1930. His first unit assignment was with the 99th Observation Squadron (9th Observation Group) at Mitchel Field, New York, from April, 1930 to December, 1932. In addition to the limited flying, he performed collateral duties as mess officer, armament officer, and squadron adjutant, and attended Cooks and Bakers Training School at Fort Slocum, New York.

From January 1933 to April, 1936, Lt. Steed was based at Clark Field, Philippine Islands, with the 3rd Pursuit Squadron. In 1934 he flew escort for the first non-stop flight from Tokyo to Manila. Steed was promoted to first lieutenant in October, 1934.

In May, 1936, Steed transferred to the 32nd Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group, March Field, California. He remained with the group to February 1941, also serving in the 93rd Bombardment and 38th Reconnaissance Squadrons. He also had temporary duty as a student at the Air Corps Tactical School, Maxwell Field, Alabama, in the second of its "short courses" held in 1939-40.

While assigned to the 19th Bomb Group he received promotions to captain (June 1938) and major (February 1941). On February 10, 1941, he was named commander of the 30th Heavy Bomb Group, one of a dozen new groups created in January 1941 in preparation for World War II. While commanding the 30th Group, Steed was promoted to lieutenant colonel (January 1942), and to colonel (March 1942). Major Steed received the Distinguished Flying Cross in May 1941, as a member of the first flight of B-17s from Hamilton Field, California, to Hickam Field, Hawaii.

World War II service

From August 1942 to July 1943 Colonel Steed was assigned as Chief of Staff IV Bomber Command, Headquarters Fourth Air Force, San Francisco, receiving the Legion of Merit. He commanded the Bomber Command for several days in November, 1942, in a caretaker status. From this assignment he was selected to command the 456th Bomb Group.

Colonel Steed took command of the 456th at Gowen Field, Idaho on July 14, 1943. In five months of training he supervised the development of the group from a small cadre of transferred personnel without equipment to a unit of 2,300 officers and men and 61 B-24 Liberator bombers. Included in the training period were four changes of station that forced a reduction of phase three training, normally three months in length, to a month at Muroc AAF, California.

At Muroc the 456th had only half the number of aircraft it required for training and was unable to secure equipment for high altitude bombing and gunnery practice which were necessary to prepare the crews for combat. When the Preparation for Overseas Movement inspectors asked Colonel Steed to certify his group as ready for combat, Colonel Steed replied that, as a professional airman, he could not comply. According to the group history of the 456th, Steed added that he knew the group would be sent anyway, that its members wanted to get into combat, and that the 456th would "fight one hell of a war." Despite efforts to have him change his position, the 456th was sent overseas without POM certification.

The 456th, based at Stornara, Italy, was assigned to the 304th Bomb Wing, headquartered at Cerignola, as part of the Fifteenth Air Force. There it flew 249 combat missions from February 10, 1944 to April 25, 1945, with Steed as its only commander. On its final mission the 456th achieved the only 100% bombing accuracy by a Fifteenth Air Force group (and only the second in Europe). The group earned two Distinguished Unit Citations and seven campaign streamers. Its members were awarded one Distinguished Service Cross, 19 Silver Stars, 215 Distinguished Flying Crosses, over 2,000 Air Medals. While at Stornara, Colonel Steed met and married his wife, Julia, a captain and army nurse with the 34th Field Hospital, Cerignola. Colonel Steed returned to the United States in May, 1945.

USAF service

His post-war assignments for the USAAF and after September 18, 1947 the USAF were:

(The headquarters of the 91st SRW and 301st BW were integrated after April 1950 and Col. Steed commanded both simultaneously, rotating command tours with Col. H.M. Wade)

Colonel Steed medically retired from the Air Force on October 31, 1952. In July, 1950 Colonel Steed had been severely injured during an RB-50 training flight in England when a crewman went berserk on the flight deck of Steed's aircraft. During the attempt to subdue the airman Colonel Steed was struck on the head with a wrench, causing a bone splinter that eventually forced his early retirement.

Following his retirement, Colonel Steed resided in Pelham, New Hampshire, and became a contract realtor and an appraiser for the Veterans' Administration. Colonel Steed died October 21, 1973 at the Veterans Hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire, from meningioma.

Awards and decorations

Silver Star ribbon.svg Silver Star
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg Legion of Merit
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon.svg
Distinguished Flying Cross (with oak leaf cluster)
Silver oakleaf-3d.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Air Medal ribbon.svg
Air Medal (with six oak leaf clusters)
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Army Commendation Medal ribbon.svg
Army Commendation Medal (with two oak leaf clusters)

American Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg    American Defense Service Medal

American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg    American Campaign Medal

European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon.svg
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with eight battle stars)

World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg    World War II Victory Medal

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  1. The others were Col. Paul L. Barton (483rd BG, 15th AF) and Col. Albert H. Shower (467th BG, 8th AF).