It’s a tradition as old as the Air Force itself, but one very few have ever even heard of.
On his first days in office, the general in charge of the newly formed service bought a Bible that’s been a part of every swearing in ceremony for Chiefs of Staff for nearly 70 years. And in it contains the signature of all 21 of the Air Force’s top general officers.
“No documented history of the Bible exists,” says Ann Stefanek, Media Operations Officer at Air Force headquarters. “But a verbal history of the Bible maintains the Gen. Carl A. Spaatz purchased the book to be used in official swearing-in ceremonies.”
Spaatz became the Air Force’s first Chief of Staff on September 26, 1947 — eight days after the National Security Act of 1947 created the service. Since then, each of his successors signed the Bible on their last day in office.
The story goes that when the Pentagon was evacuated during the attacks of September 11, 2001, Gen. John P. Jumper, who was only in the office for a few days, rescued the Bible when he evacuated the office. It was reportedly the only item he took with him.
On June 22, 2016, Gen. Mark Welsh III, the 20th Chief of Staff, signed the CSAF’s Bible, then walked out of the Pentagon with his wife by his side as the airmen who served with him cheered.
On July 1, the Air Force had a new Chief, Gen. David L. Goldfein. He mentioned the historic Bible in his first message to the Air Force under his command and how the relic reminded him of his obligation to his airmen.
The names on the Bible’s pages include famous Air Force chiefs Spaatz, Curtis LeMay, and even the controversial Merrill McPeak, whose changes to the service’s dress uniform made him one of the most unpopular figures in Air Force history.
While the book remains an unofficial, undocumented tradition, in 1951 the Air Force Officers Wives Club donated a velvet-lined wooden box in which to store the Bible. Both the Bible and the box are on display in the Air Force Chief of Staff’s office.