- 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
George Churchill Keimey is one of America’s most distinguished military men. A career Air Force officer who enlisted as a private and rose through the ranks, he was at the end of World War II Commanding General of the Allied Air Forces in the Pacific; later he headed the Strategic Air Command for two years hefore retiring in 1951 as a four-star general. He has described his World War II assignments in his memoirs, General Kenny Reports , but he has never before told the story of his participation in an earlier air war, over the Western Front in France and Germany in 1918. During those months he kept a remarkable journal, which until now has remained unpublished. Witty, occasionally ribald, and full of the thrills and dangers of aerial combat, it is an authentic picture of what that war was like for a handful of courageous young Americans in their rickety flying machines. It is with great pleasure that AMERICAN HERITAGE presents excerpts from it here, together with photographs from the General’s albums.
“To the youth of America and especially to those who went into aviation,” General Kenney recalled recently, “World War I was the Cirent Adventure. Very few of them had ever been outside the United States, but now, after Uncle Sam trained them to fly, they would have an opportunity to visit France, England, Belgium, probably Italy, and even Germany alter we had licked the Heinies. Of course there were stories about aviators at the front not living very long, but everyone had to go sometime, and if you had to go, how much better it would be to have it happen up there in the clean, blue sky than in the slimy mud of a trench.”
George Kenney was one of those high-spirited volunteers. Soon after the United States declared war on Germany in April of 1917, he signed up for the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army. At twenty-seven he was two years above the age limit for combat flying, but he concealed his true birth date, passed the physical, and was sworn in. After learning to fly at Hazelhurst Field in Mineola, New York, he arrived in France in December, underwent two months of advanced training at lssoudun, and received orders to report to the gist Aero Squadron at Amanty. But before reporting, he and his buddies decided to take French leave. “We intended having some fun in Paris,” he wrote in his diary, “before we went to war.” They roamed the town (“Oh you Boulevard des Italiens!”), ate at Maxim’s and Giro’s, caught Gaby Deslys’ act at the Casino (“Some dame!”), and paid a visit to the Maison des Etrangères. They arrived at Amanty, three days late, on February 19, 1918. We join Lieutenant Kcnncy there in selections from his journal beginning on page 49.
I. Combat Zone Training, Amanty
February 19 —Left Paris at 8:00 A.M. for Gondretourt. Arrived at 1:30 P.M. and got out to Amanty a little after 3:00 P.M. Reported to headquarters, where they seemed surprised to see us, and stayed in temporary barracks with a bunch of newly arrived observers. Looked over the airplanes out on the field. They are AR’s (Avions Renault). Enough said. They may fly but they don’t look like it. The French made them but they don’t like them. They have been obsolete for at least a year. The British wouldn’t take them so the French sold them to the Americans who don’t have any planes of their own. Many of the gang, after looking them over, thought maybe we had made a mistake and are working for the wrong side. Surely the Germans have better planes than these. This gang is sure disgruntled at being taken from their chasse training at Issoudun and instead of becoming chasse or pursuit pilots, the aim of every flyer, it looks like we are joining what looks to be an observation squadron, flying AR’s.
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.