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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

SOUCEK, APOLLO (1897–1955).

Aviation pioneer and U.S. Naval hero Apollo Soucek, born on February 24, 1897, at Lamont, Oklahoma, garnered the most accolades of the four "flying Soucek" relatives who flew Navy aircraft. Soucek's father, John, born in Czechoslovakia, participated in the 1893 Cherokee Outlet Opening and resided fifty years in the Medford area, serving a term as the town's mayor. A self-educated man, the elder Soucek had a passion for Greek mythology that manifested in the naming of five of his six children, Apollo, Zeus, Ormus, Romus, Myrrha, and Emma. In the mid-1930s John Soucek told an interviewer with the Oklahoma Federal Writers' Project that Apollo and Zeus, at the ages of twelve and ten respectively, had built an airplane of stick, cloth, and wire. They tied it to a mule, and, with Apollo in the cockpit, the younger brother coaxed the mule into a trot. The plane climbed thirty feet before the mule wore down, bringing the contraption back to earth.

The Soucek brothers attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and both helped develop the fledgling air force. In 1928 Zeus accomplished a Navy seaplane endurance record, before he left the Navy to join a New Jersey aircraft manufacturer. Two of their cousins, Victor, who attained news headlines by swimming one-half mile in the cold, choppy Pacific Ocean to save the crews of four downed airplanes, and Archie, a football star and later assistant coach at the Naval Academy, had stellar Navy careers.

On May 8, 1929, Apollo Soucek set an altitude record of 39,140 feet, which a German pilot eclipsed seventeen days later at 41,760 feet. Later that year Soucek set a seaplane altitude record of 38,560 feet. On June 4, 1930, he took his aircraft to 43,166 feet and held the altitude record for all planes until British flyer Cyril Unwins topped it in late 1932. A key officer in the development of aircraft carriers, Soucek served on the Langley, Lexington, Saratoga, Yorktown, and Hornet. On the Hornet he served as first air officer under Capt. Marc Mitscher and gave the launch command to Lt. Col. James Doolittle and his pilots for the bombing of Tokyo in retaliation for Japan's Pearl Harbor attack. In 1945 the Navy appointed Soucek the inaugural commander of the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, a new, larger class of aircraft carrier, and promoted him to rear admiral. He later took charge of Carrier Division Fourteen, in 1946 was appointed commander of Fleet Air Wing One, and in 1952 became the commander of Carrier Division Three during the Korean Conflict.

Other notable posts Soucek had held in his career included commander of the Patuxant Naval Air Test Center, naval attaché to the American Embassy in London, England, and chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. The Silver Star, Spartan Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, two Legions of Merit, the Bronze Star, and the Distinguished Service Medal number among his many medals and awards. He has also been inducted into the Naval Aviation Hall of Honor and the Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame. Apollo Soucek died on July 22, 1955, in Washington, D.C., and was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. Posthumously the Navy promoted Soucek to vice admiral and also renamed Naval Air Station Oceana (Virginia Beach, Virginia) as Apollo Soucek Field.

Larry O'Dell


R. Manning Ancell and Christine M. Miller, The Biographical Dictionary of World War II Generals and Flag Officers: The U.S. Armed Forces (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996).

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 3 January 1937, 28 October 1945, 23 July 1955, and 21 February 1971.

Who's Who in America: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women, Vol. 26 (Chicago: A. N. Marquis Co., 1950)

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Larry O'Dell, “Soucek, Apollo,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=SO021.

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