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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 23 —Up on a photo mission in the morning. Diekema leading, with Hoel and me flying protection. Hoel dropped out with motor trouble so I went along covering Diekema. Over Sassy-sur-Meuse, we ran into a patrol of fifty Boche. Hell of a fight. Everyone shooting front and rear as there were plenty of targets everywhere. Right in the middle of the fight, Duncan’s guns jammed. Diekema dove with a Fokker after him and me after the Fokker. I got in a good short-range burst on him just as we all went into a cloud. When I came out, Diekema and the Fokker were nowhere in sight, but just behind us and to the right, the sky was full of Heinies. Duncan still hadn’t cleared his jammed guns so I told him to just hang on for a while as I dodged and twisted heading toward another big cloud. One devil got on my tail long enough to fire a burst into my ship that was awful close, but I dodged and made the cloud. I stayed in it for a while and then spun out into the clear at 2,500 meters. No planes were in sight—ours or theirs. …
October 27 —The Germans dropped a note about Adams and Bash. They are both prisoners. Adams is all right but Bash is badly wounded. In their note the Germans asked if we knew anything about a couple of their pilots who had been missing for some time. Some dumb guy in our intelligence section couldn’t get any information about them from any of the other squadrons in this sector so he called First Army intelligence up at Souilly. They asked why he wanted this information and the fool told them. Our man was immediately told in no uncertain terms that “communication with the enemy” was not only forbidden but a court-martial offense and that the practice would be stopped.
Ortober 28 —Over with Duncan on visual reconnaissance in the morning. From Verdun, north, on the west side of the Meuse River, the American anti-aircraft guns shot at us. We knew it was the Americans, as their puffs of smoke from the high explosive shells are white while the smoke from the German Archie is black. Duncan, who likes to shoot it out with enemy planes, hates ack-ack, so he asked me to go over on the east side of the river on our way to Stenay and Montmédy. I said, “You know that’s where the Germans live.” “I know,” he replied, “but I’d hate to get shot down by our own people.” I nodded and headed over across the Meuse. The German black-smoked Archie immediately opened up and was much more accurate than the Americans. After a couple of bursts had rocked our ship, Duncan called to me over the speaking tube, “Hey, let’s go back and let the Americans shoot at us. They don’t come so close as these damned Heinies.”
October 29 — … First Army put out an order forbidding any more message-dropping to the Germans. From now on, anybody caught at it or having anything to do with it will be court-martialled. Seems too bad to spoil a nice sporting business. …
October 31 —Over in the morning with Duncan on a photographic mission. Delana and Chamberlain flew protection for me. We got twenty-four pictures before running into heavy clouds. Going through them, the formation got separated, and when I broke through just north of Stenay, the only planes in sight were nine Fokkers. I was already headed south, and I kept the throttle wide open as they chased me all the way back to Verdun. Duncan kept shooting although I told him he was just wasting ammunition at that distance of three to four hundred yards. One of the Fokkers pulled up in a stall, fell off spinning, and passed out of sight. “Look at that!” yelled Duncan. “I think I got him.” “Oh, he is just playing at acrobatics,” I replied. It didn’t seem possible to me that the Boche could have been hit at that distance. The same thing happened a minute or two later to another Fokker and then a third, except that they spun much longer before I quit looking at them to watch the others chasing us. The remaining six left us just before we got to Verdun. When Duncan was making out his report, he asked about the “combat.” I suggested that he forget it as he was the only one shooting. As far as I knew, none of the Boche had fired a shot, so you couldn’t very well call it a combat. Duncan agreed so we just reported seeing the nine Fokkers.
November 2 —Americans still moving fast. … Duncan and I drove up to Souilly to check with balloon headquarters about official confirmation for the Boche that Major Reynolds and Hammond got on the sgth of October and to give General Mitchell a recommendation for a Distinguished Service Cross for Major John. While checking over the balloon records, we saw a report that on October 31, around eleven o’clock in the morning, a lone Salmson flying at 5,000 meters engaged in a running fight with nine German Fokkers all the way from Stenay to Verdun and that during the encounter, three of the enemy aircraft were shot clown and seen to crash. The records also showed that this was the only American plane in that area at the time. Duncan turned to me and said, “Say, it seems like we got those three Boche and the balloon boys will confirm it.” I still wasn’t too sure but I said, “All right, Dune, if you have nerve enough to claim them and put in for official confirmation and credit, I’ll sign the paper with you.” Duncan thought it over, remarked that it sure would look funny when he hadn’t even reported a combat that day and finally said, “Aw, to hell with it. We’ll just have to be more careful the next time. No, I haven’t got the nerve to claim them.”