CAZENOVIA — On Tuesday, Sept. 12, the Cazenovia Public Library & Museum will welcome Frank Stritter, Ph.D. of American Legion Post 88 to the Betsy Kennedy Community Room to present on the military career of William “Billy” Mitchell, a controversial World War I pilot whose name became synonymous with military aviation between the two world wars.
An outspoken and untiring advocate of air power, Mitchell was viewed as a gifted visionary by some and an egotist by others.
The free lecture begins at 7 p.m. and is titled “William L. ‘Billy’ Mitchell, Colonel, US Army Air Service, 1879 to 1936 – Father of the US Air Force or Zealot?”
Stritter, a military historian and a Cazenovia native, said his interest in Mitchell arose from a more general interest in learning about the people responsible for starting each of the US military forces.
“For the Air Force, it was Colonel William ‘Billy’ Mitchell,” Stritter said. “The more I read about him, the more I realized that he was a character that I had to talk about. He was controversial. He always seemed to be involved in a disagreement with someone, mostly his superiors in the Army or high-ranking officers in the Navy, but the men in the various units he commanded loved him. At the end of his career, he was court-martialed and then resigned his commission. Notwithstanding this, most historians today say that he deserves to be considered the ‘Father of the Air Force.’”
Stritter holds an undergraduate degree from St. Lawrence University, a master’s from Colgate University, and a doctorate in education from Syracuse University.
After completing his master’s, he was called up to active duty in the US Army and spent the next two years with the US 7th Army in Germany.
“That was in the middle of the Cold War, so there was a lot of high alert time, but no shooting,” he recalled.
While earning his Ph.D., Stritter put in five more years of active reserve in the Army before deciding he had to choose between his academic career and the reserves.
“I could not do both, so I resigned my commission as a captain and was very proud of my years of service,” he said.
Stritter then joined the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he taught graduate students in the School of Education and faculty and residents in the School of Medicine. In 2003, after 32 years, he retired with the title of professor emeritus.
In his retirement, he joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 8866 in North Carolina, where he lives for part of the year, and the American Legion Post 88 in Cazenovia, where he spends his summers.
Stritter started speaking to groups about the military at the request of his VFW post commander.
“[He] asked me to help develop a curriculum that would tell the public about many of the varied aspects of military life, the good people who were involved in the military, and things the average civilian may not know about the military,” Stritter said. “He also wanted members of the organization to know more about their own organization. As I had research and presentation skills developed during my years on the faculty, I agreed to participate and that started my second career in military history.”
Rather than center his talks on battles and military strategy, Stritter chose to focus on people.
He delivered his first presentation on the controversial figure General George Armstrong Custer and gradually developed a library of other lecture topics.
As word of his talks spread, Stritter started receiving invitations to present to various other groups, including history clubs, senior organizations, veterans’ groups, his grandson’s Scout troop, and the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps unit at the local high school.
“When I came back to Cazenovia in the summer, I showed the commander of the American Legion Post my growing library of topics and asked if he thought that any of them would be of interest here,” Stritter said. “We met with the librarian at the Cazenovia library, and she thought that we should schedule a presentation that would be sponsored by Post 88 and hosted by the library. That was six years ago, and my military history presentations have been an annual September event ever since.”
In the past few years, Stritter has also presented to Cazenovia seniors and local historical societies on multiple occasions.
“I am happy to speak with any group that wants to listen to one of the topics that I have in my library,” he said.
According to the researcher, one of his recent focuses has been the “unsung heroes” of World War II, which include African Americans, Japanese Americans, Native Americans, women, and other groups that performed their jobs valiantly during the war but were discriminated against when the benefits, rewards, and other recognitions were passed out.
“Each group and one prominent member of that group was the topic for a different presentation,” Stritter said. “I have presented several of those and am still working on two of them.”
Next year, in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings along the Normandy coast during World War II, Stritter plans to focus his talks on some of the individuals involved in the invasion and the roles they played.
For more information on Stritter’s Sept. 12 presentation, visit cazenoviapubliclibrary.org or call 315-655-9322.