James Eucene Chaney, born on 16 March 1885, was the son of Dr. Thomas Morris Chaney, an eminent physician, and Mrs. Emma Chaney, of Chaney, Maryland. Young Chaney attended public schools in Dunkirk, Maryland, and Baltimore City College for three years before coming to West Point. He was President of his class at City College, played tackle on the football team and ran on the track team.
He was appointed to the United States Military Academy by Senator McComas of Maryland and entered with the Class on 16 June 1904. From the beginning he proved to be rather a model cadet but with a number of extra-curricular interests, which were pursued with characteristic diligence and aptitude. He was a hop manager, played on the cadet polo team, and worked his way steadily to the top as a Cadet Captain. Upon graduation on 14 February 1908, he was appointed a Second Lieutenant of Infantry and was immediately assigned back to West Point to supervise the training of the new Fourth Class, which entered the Academy on 2 March of that year. That assignment was an exceptional distinction, accorded to only three other members of the Class: Beavers, Higley, and Hughes.
After a short tour of duty at West Point, Chaney joined his first regiment, the 9th Infantry, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, with which he served for two years. He was an enthusiastic polo player and became the Captain of the first Fort Sam Houston polo team, which played inter-service and other teams in the area.
On 28 February 1910 he married Miss Miriam Clark, daughter of Colonel Charles H. Clark, Class of 1875, USMA, and the granddaughter of General R. E. DeRussy, a former Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy. She was a charming and gracious lady, and their marriage was definitely for keeps. She survived her husband, after a long illness, by only six weeks. His attentive devotion to her throughout her illness until his death was superb.
Chaney served with the 9th Infantry in Texas and at Iloilo, Philippine Islands, until June 1912, when he returned to West Point as an instructor in modern languages. He served with the 25th Infantry at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, from 1914 to September 1917, when he was detailed to the Air Service and began a long and distinguished career in that great Service and its successor organizations.
After serving as Commandant of the School of Military Aeronautics, and a short time in the Office of the Director of Military Aeronautics, Chaney was sent to Europe in August 1918, where he held a variety of important assignments in the Office of the Chief of Air Service and in command of troops in France, Germany, and Great Britain. In October 1919 he was appointed Assistant Military Attache for Aviation in Rome where he remained for nearly five years.
Returning to the United States, he attended the Air Service Tactical School at Langley Field, Virginia, and after graduation attended the Army Command and General Staff School, completing the course as an honor graduate in June 1926. He commanded the Air Corps Primary Flying School, Brooks Field, until March 1928, and the Air Corps-Advanced Flying School, Kelly Field, Texas, until June 1930, and then went to the Army War College.
Upon graduation from the War College in June 1931, he was assigned to the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps until 1935, except for six months, January to June 1932, when he was a Technical Advisor at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. During this period he was designated Assistant Chief of the Air Corps with the temporary rank of Brigadier General. In May 1935, he took command of the Air Corps Training Center, Randolph Field, Texas, and served until the expiration of his term as Assistant Chief of the Air Corps in July 1938. He was then ordered to Mitchel Field, New York, where in January 1940 he was made head of the Air Defense Command. In October and November 1940 he was in England as an observer during part of the Battle of Britain. In May 1941 he was stationed again in London as head of the Special Army Observers Group, and from January to June 1942, he was Commanding General, U.S. Army Forces in the British Isles.
In July 1942 he became Commanding General of the First Air Force at Mitchel Field. From May 1943 to November 1944, he commanded the Army Air Force Training Center at Sheppard Field, Texas, and then the Air Force Western Technical Training Command, Denver, Colorado. From November 1944 to July 1945 he commanded Army forces in the seizure and development of Iwo Jima and from March 1945 he commanded all U.S. Forces on Iwo Jima. In August 1945 he became Commanding General of the Western Pacific Base Command on Saipan.
In October 1945 he became a member and later President of the Secretary of Wars Personnel Board until 31 July 1947, when he retired at his own request.
In his long and varied service, General Chaney was awarded many military decorations, both American and foreign, of which the highest was the Distinguished Service Medal awarded in 1943 with the following citation:
"For exceptionally meritorious service in a position of great responsibility as Special Army Observer, and head of the Special Army Observers Group, London, England, from May 1941 to June 20, 1942, and as theater commander between the dates January 8 to June 20, 1942, General Chaney rendered service of outstanding value and importance, both individually and in guiding and directing the labors of the Group, in establishing coordination and contact with the British Army, Air Force, Navy, and other governmental departments and agencies; in the planning for the reception of the United States Forces in Iceland, Northern Ireland, and Great Britain; and in the establishment of the European Theatre of Operations. Working with limited means and often under trying conditions, he performed his missions with inspiring leadership and unswerving devotion to duty. His personality and his labors were outstanding factors in the success of the mission, and the establishment of the European theater which he commanded.”
This is an outline of the illustrious career of one of the outstanding graduates of West Point. He was a man of dignity, integrity, versatility, devotion to duty, and with all an unfailing sense of humor. An admirable comrade, a faithful friend, a devoted husband, they do not come finer.