- 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
October 1 —My Number 5 had engine trouble so I took Number 9 and went over with Badham on a solo photo mission to get pictures of the Kriemhild Stellung position, the main German line in the MeuseArgonne sector. … Archie was hot as hell. I was holding a straight and level course for Bill’s photos and the bursts got closer and closer. Just as he was about through, one burst almost jarred my teeth loose. I thought we had been hit, especially when I heard a garbled voice over the speaking tube. It was Bill. I didn’t know it but the jar had upset him and he was on the floor all tangled up in his speaking tube and drums of ammunition that had fallen out of the racks. I called to him, “Bill, are you hit?” “Yes,” I thought I heard him say over and over again. Poor Bill, I thought, he’s really got it, so I pulled off the course and headed wide open for Souilly to get him to the hospital there before he bled to death. We landed, and as soon as we had rolled to a stop, I got out to help Bill out of his cockpit. Much to my astonishment, he stood up and yelled, “What in hell are we landing here for?” “I came in here to get you to the hospital,” I replied. “When I asked you if you were hit, you said, ‘Yes.’ Now, are you or aren’t you wounded?” I was exasperated. “No, I’m not wounded and I didn’t say I was,” Bill roared back. “All I was telling you was to ‘Ess,’ instead of keeping on flying in a straight line until those damned Archies shot us down. I was through taking pictures and just wanted to get out of there fast. What’s the matter? Are you sore because I didn’t get hit?” I started to make some pithy remark but as we glared at each other, the silly situation dawned on us and we both laughed. We took off, flew back to Vavincourt, and forgot about it.
October 6 —Rain all day. No flying. The word around is that Frank Luke is dead. Guess the Germans must have dropped another note.
October 8 —Rain and low clouds all day. No flying. I got a new observer, First Lieutenant Asa North Duncan. Talked with him all afternoon. I like him and I think we will make a good team. Had dinner at Barle-Duc with him. He has a good voice and likes to sing “Honey, Honey, Bless Your Heart.” October 9—Over in the afternoon on a photo mission to get the eastern half of the Kriemhild Stellung line with my new observer, Duncan. Chamberlain and Sieper and [Mike] Delana and [Abe] Tabachnik flew protection. Just west of Dun-sur-Meuse, after getting about half of our pictures, we were hopped by fourteen Fokkers. Hell of a fight. My plane was badly shot up. I had a lieutenant’s bar shot off my left shoulder and the left sleeve of my flying suit cut from the elbow to the wrist. The airspeed indicator, altimeter, and compass on my instrument board were all hit and smashed. Duncan, who turns out to be a hell of a good shot, singing “Honey” all the time he was shooting, blew up one Boche coming in on my tail from above. On the left turn heading out of trouble, Chamberlain, in number three position, got out of formation and passed under my wing and Mike’s, leaving him all alone with the Heinies. Mike and I turned back, got into formation with him and into more trouble. Sieper, Duncan, and Tabachnik all blazed away. Mike and I each got in several bursts before we got the formation together and headed south for home. Two more Boche in the meantime had gone down, one in flames and the other in a spinning dive. Actually I think Duncan may have gotten one or possibly both of them, but with the uncertainty and to be sure everyone got a fair shake, I said each plane would put in for an official victory and the other two certify to it. Everyone was satisfied, especially Abe, who everyone kids about his shooting so that he almost believes himself that he can’t hit anything. One that Duncan and I both shot at and that went down had a red rooster insignia, which is supposed to be the Richthofen family marking. Manfred, with eighty victories to his credit, was shot down on the British front four or five months ago. Lothar, his brother, who has about thirty-five or forty victories, is supposed to be on our front. Then there is a younger brother named Bolko who should have finished training and be getting into the war by this time. Hermann Goering, another big scorer, is leading one of the squadrons of the Richthofen Circus. The one who went down in a spinning dive was the leader of the outfit that hopped us. I hope it was Lothar or Goering.
October 21 — … A couple of weeks ago, Major John asked me if I had a copy of the orders sending me back to the gist from the Bellevue Unit hospital at Vichy last May. I told him that I did not have a copy as I had given the squadron adjutant the only one I had. Major John said he remembered seeing it but that he had received a letter from the hospital about me, raising the devil and practically demanding a general courtmartial for disobedience of orders, desertion, absence without leave, and violating hospital procedure. He said he was going to put an endorsement on the letter and send it back through General [Billy] Mitchell [commanding officer of all American flying units at the front] and the Headquarters First Army, telling that bunch of doctors where to head in. … The Army sure does take it seriously whenever you do anything that is not specified in the rule book. All I wanted to do was to get back to the front. If I had followed the rules, I would probably be back home in some hospital fighting with the doctors.