- Historic Sites
A Flier’s Journal
The planes were fragile and the Boche was tough, but the girls were pretty, the wine was good, and death was something that happened to someone else
December 1969 | Volume 21, Issue 1
February 21 —Rain all day. Major Ralph Royce, the commandant, back from a trip somewhere. We all reported in to him. He remarked that he had had a lot of communications from Issoudun about us. We had been very bad boys and he was going to have to dish out some punishment. He asked us how we liked Paris. We all said we liked the place. Royce then said it was too bad we hadn’t let him know where we were as he would have told us to stay there a few days longer until he had a place fixed up for us. For the present we would have to stay in the hospital where we were. As for our misdemeanors, he was confining us all to camp for an indefinite period. If we wanted to leave it, we must ask his permission. If he wasn’t available, he guessed it would be all right to go anyhow and tell him about it afterward. This guy, in half an hour, restored our faith in the Army.
February 23 —Reported to Major John N. Reynolds, commanding officer, at gist Aero Squadron Headquarters. Moved to new quarters, Swiss huts, at noon. In the evening, Royce threw a hell of a party at his billet in Amanty. Besides the gist, the 88th, formed from the rest of the gang that came up from Issoudun, attended with its commanding officer, Major Anderson. All these regular army flying officers are good scouts. Party a huge success culminated by our wheeling our new commanding officer around the barracks area in a wheelbarrow on an inspection trip.
March 6 —Checked out on an AR. Got in three landings and half an hour’s time. It looks like a truck and flies like one. Shot 167, 177, and 188 at the range on the Lewis guns.
March 8 —Assigned to Number 3 Photo. … Flew all day. Tired as hell horsing this old crock around. On the last flight cracked the landing gear on Number 3. Someone told [First Lieutenant Hugh L.] Fontaine that there were some wild pigs in the woods just west of the flying field. Hugh said he was going to get a wild boar for the mess. No one took him seriously until this afternoon when he came back to camp yelling for a couple of men and a stretcher to bring in a wild pig he had shot with his Colt .45. Sure enough they brought in a dead pig, but there was certainly some question about its wildness.
March 11 —… This afternoon a French peasant farmer came in complaining that some soldier or soldiers had shot one of his pigs and carried it off. He had heard a couple of shots last Friday afternoon and the next day had found blood and a lot of footprints on the path leading to our camp. I translatad his story to Major Reynolds who said to pay him off and collect from Hugh. The farmer wanted 100 francs as compensation for losing his favorite pig. I argued him down to fifty francs and paid him. I hope I can get it back from Hugh. He is due back tomorrow.
March 18 —Some general over at Gondrecourt wanted a couple of planes to fly over and make simulated attacks on his troops during a training exercise. Major Royce came over this morning and gave Major Reynolds the time, place, and other dope for the “attack.” Major Reynolds assigned the job to Hugh Fontaine and me. We took off at 11:00 A.M. and flew over to the area where the exercise was taking place. With Hugh in the lead, we dove on a bunch of troops moving across the field. They took off for a patch of woods nearby, and even those in several shallow trenches got up and ran for the trees. On the second pass, as I started my dive, I didn’t see anything to attack except what looked to be a band of about a dozen men and a man on a white horse, galloping out onto the field. Hugh took care of the band, which immediately scattered, leaving drums and horns all over the place, while I took out after the horseman. As I pulled up to keep from hitting him or his horse, the horse reared, and when I looked back, the man was lying on the ground and the horse was a hundred yards away and still going. When we got back to the field, Royce was at the flying line to greet us. “Do you two fools know that you damn near killed a general?” he yelled. “He wants both of you shot at sunrise. I’ve had a hell of a time quieting him down and I’m not sure yet that he won’t prefer charges against you. Both of you, consider yourselves severely reprimanded until I think of something else to do to you. In the future, for God’s sake remember that these infantrymen don’t have a very good sense of humor, especially generals that get thrown off their horses in front of their own troops.”
March 22 —Up with an observer named Wagner. … Suddenly the engine quit cold and I had to land in the woods. Almost made a little clearing but hooked the right wing on some trees and spun into the ground. Plane Number 19, AR, busted all to hell. I got cut up about the hands and face when I went through the control wheel. My stomach bent the control column, so it hurts. Teeth loose in lower jaw in front. Middle finger on left hand busted at the second joint. Ribs are sore. I think a bone in the left forearm is busted and the right ankle hurts like hell. I’m quite sure something is broken there. Wagner was not even scratched. I used a strut as a crutch and hobbled out to the highway, about a hundred yards, and got a ride on a French truck to our camp. Went to bed and groaned all night.