- 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 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.
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.