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"Keep 'em Flying!".

Early in 1941, under pressure to speed expansion of the U.S. Army Air Corps, the War Department directed its recruiting service to create a slogan that would serve as an inspirational rallying cry. On May 17th, the Army's chief recruiting officer, Lt. Col. (later Maj. Gen.) Harold N. Gilbert, coined the slogan, "Keep 'em Flying!" He later recalled: "We were trying to think of a picture caption for a recruiting ad for the Aviation Cadet Program. The phrase just came out on the spur of the moment."

A poster illustrating the slogan was designed in which the red capital letters formed a circle reading: "LET'S GO! U.S.A. KEEP 'EM FLYING!" Inside the circle, on a white background and colored in blue, were three pursuit planes and the caption: "Uncle Sam Needs Pilots. Be a U.S. Army Flying Cadet." Later, variations of the original insignia included the addresses of the nine Army Corps areas.

Not until after the attack on Pearl Harbor was the slogan used in commercial advertising. It first appeared in the June 18, 1941, edition of the New York Times in an ad by John David, a man's clothing emporium in New York City. Later, and throughout the war years, many stores in cities nationwide emphasized the slogan in their advertising and displayed the posters.

The War Department asked industries, trade organizations, and advertising agencies to promote the slogan as a patriotic service. By December 1941, more than 15,000 posters were distributed in New York State alone. The Army printed for national distribution, 900,000 stickers for automobiles, 100,000 small posters, and 50,000 large ones for roadways and other areas. In addition, 50,000 cards were prepared for display in subways, street cars, buses, and trains. About a million stamps were printed for use by the Army and commercial concerns to advertise the slogan through correspondence. Distribution of all materials, except the stamps, was without charge to users. Whether in advertising, or as a public service by editors, the slogan appeared in newspapers across the United States.

The slogan also inspired writers and a song entitled "Keep 'em Flying!" became popular during World War II. A sample verse from one of these, written by Air Corps members Charles Belanger and John J. Broderick, reflected the slogan's strong patriotic appeal:

And as we go through each day,

Be thankful that we still can say,

We'll preserve our American way,

If we KEEP 'EM FLYING in every way.

This song and several others were printed in the Air Corps News Letter for June and July 1941.

Universal Pictures caught the spirit with its movie, "Keep 'em Flying." Starring the popular comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, the picture was released in November 1941. Marquee and newspaper advertisements touted the film as having "a sky full of sunny songs," including "Let's Keep 'em Flying."

The Army recruiters' goals were 120,000 new applicants for flying commissions and 300,000 applicants as flying crew members. Additionally, the Army hoped to recruit 30,000 trained pilots a year, an increase of 18,000 over 1940's quota of 12,000 pilots. The aviation cadet program offered young men between twenty and twenty-six years of age $75 on enlistment, plus a dollar per day for meals, all necessary uniforms and equipment being supplied without cost. On completion of the seven months' course, each cadet was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Corps Reserves. Immediately after graduation, the new officers went on active duty at $245 per month.

The effect the slogan and its advertising had on the recruiting program cannot be measured. But it must have been significant, considering that even after its advent sixty years ago, "Keep 'em Flying!" remains an effective motto.


Biographical data on Maj. Gen. Gilbert--Department of the Army Center of Military History, Washington, D.C.

Articles on microfilm at Louisiana State University, Alexandria, Louisiana; New York Times, May 11, 1941; May 18, 1941; June 17, 1941; November 18, 1966 (obituary of Maj. Gen. Harold Napoleon Gilbert); and Shreveport Times, June 1, 1941.
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Title Annotation:slogan; 1941
Author:Dill, Harry F.
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2001
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