- 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
September 6 — … The Germans dropped a note saying that Foster was a prisoner unhurt but that Siebring was dead. A note in Pep’s handwriting was enclosed asking us to send him cigarettes, canned kidneys, and his tennis racket to his prison camp through the Red Cross in Switzerland. This system works well. All the letters from the prisoners agree that the stuff sent them comes through all right.
September 11 — … Major Reynolds gave us the advance dope on the new first all-American offensive, which jumps off tomorrow at daybreak to reduce the Saint-Mihiel salient. …
September 12 —Americans over the top after a brute of a night of artillery preparation fire. The Saint-Mihiel salient is busted. Every town in the salient on the German side is in flames. The old lines are dead. Hellish flying weather all day but lots of it just the same. …
September 13 —Got up for the early flight but the clouds were down to the ground. The guns up at the front were still going strong. Went over at 10:00 A.M. on visual reconnaissance from 100 meters to 300 meters altitude. … The Americans are into the Hindenburg Line in three places.
September 14 —Up on a six-plane photo mission but I was delayed on the take-off and missed the formation. As we had a camera, Bill and I went over anyhow. Got a few good pictures but the weather was too cloudy to finish the job. Six Boche, Pfalz or Fokkers, jumped me near Etain and chased me out to the west of the sector toward Verdun. As soon as they left, we went back in for a visual reconnaissance. Over Conflans, the carburetor backfired and blazed up. I sideslipped and dove and the fire finally went out. We got back home after about three hours’ flying. The plane was pretty badly shot up by Archie fire. … Strahm and Wallis had another fight with six red-nosed Fokkers. Looks like the Germans have moved the Richthofen Circus into this sector. They paint the noses of their planes red. …
September 15 —… Went over with Badham on a photo mission. Diekema and Hammond and Cole and Martin flew protection for us. Over Gorzé we were jumped by four Boche, Pfalz Scouts. Badham shot one down from about fifty meters. He went up in a zoom and fell off in a vrille, on fire, and disappeared in the woods below. My ship was badly shot up with one of the elevators almost off and wobbling. I turned back toward the field wondering how much longer we would be flying. As Diekema and Cole closed up behind me, one of the Boche dove on Cole’s plane and opened fire. At the first burst, a bullet pierced Cole’s neck forcing him to make for the lines and an emergency landing before he fainted from loss of blood. … This evening, the doctors over at the Toul hospital said that Cole would be all right and back in … about six weeks.
III. Combat Flying, Meuse-Argonne
September 21 —Moving day. Flew Number 5 over to the new field at Vavincourt. Rotten field. Two little hills with a valley in between that is sometimes soft. This was one of those times. Broke a propeller blade on landing. Diekema busted up his Number 3. Back to Toul for supper.
September 24 — … Big push starts tomorrow. The Americans are attacking on the front from the Meuse River west to the Argonne Forest, where the French 77th Division moves forward as we advance. Troops have been moving into this sector, mostly at night, for the past week.
September 26 —Plenty of action up at the front. The Americans are moving forward on both sides of Montfaucon but not as fast as we did in the Saint-Mihiel drive. All the roads leading to the front on our side of the lines are loaded with traffic which is moving very slowly and part of the time not at all. … Lieutenant Frank Luke, the guy they are beginning to call the “Balloon Buster” because he has shot down ten or eleven of them since arriving on the front the iath of September, landed on our field this noon in a brandnew Spad. He wanted some gas and ammunition for his machine guns. I took him down to the mess to get something to eat. I knew he had been sent to Paris to get a new plane and to get a little relief from the fast pace of combat he had been setting, so I said, “Frank, why don’t you stay here tonight and get a little rest? The weather isn’t too good anyhow.” He laughed and said, “Maybe you are right. I think I’d better go out to the flying line and see what they have done to my ship. Thanks for the lunch.” He left. About half an hour later we heard the roar of an engine and, looking out the door, saw a Spad barrel-rolling as it disappeared in the haze headed east toward the front.