Richard Ellsworth, the namesake for the Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, South Dakota, was born July 19, 1911. Ellsworth served in the Pennsylvania National Guard from 1929-1931, at which time he entered the U.S. Military Academy, training as a pilot at Randolph and Kelly fields in Texas, graduating in 1935. After graduation, Ellsworth and Mary Ann Thornton were married in August of 1936. In October of the same year, Ellsworth was assigned to squadron duties at Mitchel Field in New York. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a first lieutenant in June 1938, a captain in October 1940, and a major by December 1941. In 1940, Ellsworth had moved, becoming stationed at Kelly Field and Sacramento Air Depot in California. By February 1942, Ellsworth had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and had earned a master’s degree in meteorology at the California Institute of Technology.
Besides his numerous promotions, Ellsworth served in many capacities throughout World War II, including 400 combat missions for the 10th and 14th Air Forces in the China-Burma-India Theater. He also served in Alaska, on the staff of the Air Weather Service in Washington DC, and in the southwest Pacific. For his bravery, he received battle stars for eight different campaigns, and also earned the Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Air Medals, and the Chinese Air Force Wings.
Ellsworth returned to the U.S. after the war for assignment to the Air Weather Service in Washington as chief of Operations and Training Division. From August 1946 to August 1949 he was commanding officer of the 380th air bases in Florida and California. He graduated from the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, in July 1950, and went to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, as chief of plans for the 2nd Air Force. He was promoted to brigadier general in September 1952 at Rapid City Air Force Base, South Dakota where he was wing commander and later commanding general of the 28th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing from November 1950 to March 1953.
He was killed in a simulated combat mission near Nut Cove, Newfoundland, on March 18, 1953. In the aftermath of the crash, an accident investigation board recommended new procedures for flight safety for pilots. On June 13, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower renamed Rapid City Army Air Base to Ellsworth Air Force Base during a dedication ceremony. Ellsworth is interred at Black Hills National Cemetery.