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Former AF Colonel : Model for Radio Hero Jack Armstrong Dies

June 12, 1985|JOSH GETLIN | Times Staff Writer

Jack L. Armstrong, an Air Force colonel whose name was the inspiration for the "All American Boy" radio hero of the 1930s, died Monday in Laguna Niguel after a long illness. He was 74.

During a 21-year military career, Armstrong was a prominent advocate of the non-military uses of atomic power.

After his retirement from the Air Force in 1961, Armstrong worked for the Rocketdyne Division of North American Rockwell (now Rockwell International) in Los Angeles and helped develop the powerful engines that were later used in the Apollo and Gemini space programs, according to his son, James.

Remembered for Name

However, the much-decorated officer is best remembered by his name--a catchy moniker that became familiar to millions of radio listeners as "Jack Armstrong: The All-American Boy."

During the early 1930s, General Mills advertising executives wanted to develop a radio show hero who would somehow represent "All-American virtues . . . of courage, a sense of humor and the championing of ideals," James Armstrong said. "Sammy Gale, a company executive, had been my father's roommate in college, and he decided to use the name 'Jack Armstrong' because it seemed to convey all of that."

Like the Wheaties-eating hero named after him, Armstrong saw combat action all over the world. He entered the Army Air Forces as a second lieutenant in July, 1941, and was stationed at Pearl Harbor at the outbreak of World War II.

Assigned to AEC

After the war, Armstrong was assigned by the Air Force to the newly formed Atomic Energy Commission. Rising to the rank of colonel, he began developing programs such as SNAP (Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power) that eventually led to the launching of the nation's first atomic-powered satellite.

Armstrong grew up in Minneapolis and received a degree in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota in 1933.

He is survived by his wife, Audrey, his son, and his mother, Evelyn Armstrong.

Memorial services will be Thursday at 11 a.m. at the United Methodist Church in South Laguna, followed by a graveside service with full military honors at Riverside National Cemetery at 3 p.m.

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