December 1969 | Volume 21, Issue 1
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
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 During those months he kept a remarkable journal, which until now has remained unpublished.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.
February 23 —Reported to Major John N. Reynolds, commanding officer, at gist Aero Squadron Headquarters. Moved to new quarters, Swiss huts, at noon. In the evening, Royce threw a hell of a party at his billet in Amanty. Besides the gist, the 88th, formed from the rest of the gang that came up from Issoudun, attended with its commanding officer, Major Anderson. All these regular army flying officers are good scouts. Party a huge success culminated by our wheeling our new commanding officer around the barracks area in a wheelbarrow on an inspection trip.
March 6 —Checked out on an AR. Got in three landings and half an hour’s time. It looks like a truck and flies like one. Shot 167, 177, and 188 at the range on the Lewis guns.
March 8 —Assigned to Number 3 Photo. … Flew all day. Tired as hell horsing this old crock around. On the last flight cracked the landing gear on Number 3. Someone told [First Lieutenant Hugh L.] Fontaine that there were some wild pigs in the woods just west of the flying field. Hugh said he was going to get a wild boar for the mess. No one took him seriously until this afternoon when he came back to camp yelling for a couple of men and a stretcher to bring in a wild pig he had shot with his Colt .45. Sure enough they brought in a dead pig, but there was certainly some question about its wildness.
March 11 —… This afternoon a French peasant farmer came in complaining that some soldier or soldiers had shot one of his pigs and carried it off. He had heard a couple of shots last Friday afternoon and the next day had found blood and a lot of footprints on the path leading to our camp. I translatad his story to Major Reynolds who said to pay him off and collect from Hugh. The farmer wanted 100 francs as compensation for losing his favorite pig. I argued him down to fifty francs and paid him. I hope I can get it back from Hugh. He is due back tomorrow.
March 18 —Some general over at Gondrecourt wanted a couple of planes to fly over and make simulated attacks on his troops during a training exercise. Major Royce came over this morning and gave Major Reynolds the time, place, and other dope for the “attack.” Major Reynolds assigned the job to Hugh Fontaine and me. We took off at 11:00 A.M. and flew over to the area where the exercise was taking place. With Hugh in the lead, we dove on a bunch of troops moving across the field. They took off for a patch of woods nearby, and even those in several shallow trenches got up and ran for the trees. On the second pass, as I started my dive, I didn’t see anything to attack except what looked to be a band of about a dozen men and a man on a white horse, galloping out onto the field. Hugh took care of the band, which immediately scattered, leaving drums and horns all over the place, while I took out after the horseman. As I pulled up to keep from hitting him or his horse, the horse reared, and when I looked back, the man was lying on the ground and the horse was a hundred yards away and still going. When we got back to the field, Royce was at the flying line to greet us. “Do you two fools know that you damn near killed a general?” he yelled. “He wants both of you shot at sunrise. I’ve had a hell of a time quieting him down and I’m not sure yet that he won’t prefer charges against you. Both of you, consider yourselves severely reprimanded until I think of something else to do to you. In the future, for God’s sake remember that these infantrymen don’t have a very good sense of humor, especially generals that get thrown off their horses in front of their own troops.”
March 22 —Up with an observer named Wagner. … Suddenly the engine quit cold and I had to land in the woods. Almost made a little clearing but hooked the right wing on some trees and spun into the ground. Plane Number 19, AR, busted all to hell. I got cut up about the hands and face when I went through the control wheel. My stomach bent the control column, so it hurts. Teeth loose in lower jaw in front. Middle finger on left hand busted at the second joint. Ribs are sore. I think a bone in the left forearm is busted and the right ankle hurts like hell. I’m quite sure something is broken there. Wagner was not even scratched. I used a strut as a crutch and hobbled out to the highway, about a hundred yards, and got a ride on a French truck to our camp. Went to bed and groaned all night.
March 23 —Took one of these “no springs” Army ambulances in a ride to Bazoilles Hospital near Neufchâteau. Ankle badly swollen and painful. Left arm had also swollen and my face looks like I had been through a meat grinder. Stomach, ribs, left arm and hip all sore. Tomorrow they X-ray. In bed all day. No sleep all night. They won’t give me any dope as I may have internal injuries. I did spit up a little blood. The real reason for my crash has now begun to dawn on me. Before taking off yesterday, I had changed breeches and had forgotten to change my lucky dice over at the same time. … They had been blessed by a priest at Issoudun, who told me to always carry them when I flew. From now on, I’m never going to even cross a street without making sure I have my dice with me.
March 24 —Ankle badly swollen so they say I’ll have to wait at least until tomorrow for X rays. I don’t know why but they are terribly busy. It is the Johns Hopkins Unit.… Almost everyone in this big ward is from Seicheprey up on the Toul sector where the Americans took a lot of casualties from mustard gas, a few days ago.
March 25 —X rays taken in the morning. They show broken ankle, broken middle finger on left hand, some cracked ribs and bone in left forearm. I am sore all over and it hurts like the devil to move. No sleep—just cat naps.
March 26 —All set in plaster of Paris casts and tape. Finger in a splint taped to a board on the left arm. General Gerard of the French VIIIth Army came to pay a visit here at the hospital this morning. With an aide carrying a box of medals, he moved over the whole ward, which is almost 100 per cent occupied with wounded from the Seicheprey action, pinning Croix de guerres on everyone, conscious or unconscious. When he came to me, I thanked him but told him that I didn’t belong with the Seicheprey crowd, that I was an aviator who had crashed in the woods near Amanty when the motor quit. Also that I couldn’t take a decoration for having a forced landing. My squadron would laugh me out of the service. He seemed kind of puzzled but moved on to the next bed without decorating me. A quartermaster corporal in one of the beds was out cold. He got a Croix de guerre and the kiss on both cheeks by the general. It turns out that last night, being quite drunk and noisy, he resisted arrest by the MP’s in Neufchâteau so strenuously that they had to hit him over the head with a billy to quiet him down. He didn’t come to until a short time after the decoration ceremony. A nurse told him about his getting the Croix de guerre pinned to his pajamas. He is proud as hell about it. He says he earned it in combat. It is the only decoration he will ever have a chance to get in this war and he is going to keep it…
April 10 —Surprise. They got us up at dawn and loaded a lot of the partially recovered patients on a train for Vichy to recuperate. An excellent hospital train, Number 1919, comfortable, good food, nice nurses and doctors. We pulled out at 8:00 A.M. On the train all day. Won about all the money on the tram shooting craps. Won a little over 3,000 francs or roughly $600.
April 11 —Arrived at Vichy about 9:00 A.M. As we were the first American wounded to arrive in town, the automobiles supplied by the French toured the place to show us the sights. It is a pretty town but I was tired and cranky by the time we got to the Carlton Hotel, which has become Base Hospital Number One, Bellevue Unit. … In the same room with me are Lieutenants Martin and Bonnell and Captain Bond. Bond is from the 5th Field Artillery. The other two are infantrymen. All three were gassed at Seicheprey and in the same hospital with me at Bazoilles. At noon, the mess was so lousy that we checked out and with them I hobbled around town. We had lunch at Francois. Good food. François used to be a waiter at Delmonico’s when Teddy Roosevelt was police commissioner of New York City. He said Teddy would come in in the morning, sit down, read his paper for about five minutes and then, “Damn it, where’s my eggs?”
April 14 —Captain B—— of the hospital wants to cut my middle finger out of the left hand as he says that the second joint will be stiff, or ankylosed, and the finger will just be sticking out straight and in the way. I said I liked it that way and it was my finger and I was not going to have it cut off. I was reminded that I was a patient subject to his orders. I suggested that he prefer charges against me as I would like to discuss the matter with a court. He glared at me and left …
April 21 — … While riding around in my hack in the afternoon, I picked up a French doctor who runs the French rehabilitation hospital here. Talked about my foot to him. We had dinner at François. We both got crocked and wound up at his hospital. He X-rayed the foot and said I’d never walk if it wasn’t operated on to take out little pieces of bone that were messing things up. We made a date for the next day at 8:00 A.M. I figured I might not get back to the Bellevue Unit that night so I fixed it up with the nurses to check me in at night and mess up my bed before the morning shift came on. It only took a couple of pounds of marrons glacés.
April 22 —That French doctor is an artist. With a local anesthetic he took out a couple of splinters of bone, tied a ligament back in place, and sewed me up in no time at all. Stayed in the hospital that night. In a few days he will put me on a daily schedule of baking, electrotherapy, mechanotherapy, and massage.
April 23 —Met Yvonne S—— and a Russian girl named Sasha something at the hotel. Martin … latched on to Sasha, a tall, handsome, dark-eyed quiet type. That left me with Yvonne, chubby, full of fun, and vivaciously French.
April 30 —Therapy at the French hospital. Baking oven at 100 degrees centigrade. The electrotherapy followed by gentle massage. In the afternoon Bonnell and his girl Jeanne introduced me to Madame Fernand Dedravir. A good-looking blonde from Calais whose husband was killed on the front about a year ago. She visited relatives in Paris until a month ago. Left on account of Big Bertha. We shook Bonnell and Jeanne and had dinner at François.
May 2 —With Bonnell, Jeanne, and Fernand (Fredy) in the evening.
May 4 —Over to the hospital. Fredy along, wanted to know why they are massaging my foot with talcum powder. The doctor said of course oil was better, but they couldn’t afford it. Fredy found out what kind to get and found some at a drugstore or some place and turned it over to the masseur at the hospital …
May 11 —To Hauterive for lunch with Fredy. … On the way back, met the nurse who messes up my bed and checks me in and out at the Bellevue Unit. She says my name is on a list to go to Bordeaux tomorrow or the next day and then to be sent home for a physical disability discharge.
May 12 —Walked for the major and a captain named Burdick to show them that I don’t belong on that Bordeaux list but should really be sent back to the front to the gist Aero Squadron. The foot hurt like hell. They were both surprised but not quite convinced. They probably thought I was putting on an act. They did agree to take my name off that list temporarily but not to send me back to the front, at least for some time.
May 13 —Out to Hauterive with Fredy. Told her I was going to take off for the front by myself tomorrow and say nothing to the Bellevue Unit.
May 14 —Bought a bag and a cane and packed up. Over at the Bellevue Unit headquarters at noon. Nobody around except a sergeant who let me use a typewriter. Wrote orders sending me back to my squadron via Paris and signed the commandant’s name to it. For twenty francs I borrowed the seal and made the orders official so I could get by the MP’s at the railroad station. … Farewell party with Fredy at François.
May 17 —Looked over Salmsons which have replaced our old AR’s. They sure look classy.
II. Combat Flying, Toul Sector
May 24 —Moved to new location near Toul at Gondreville-sur-Moselle. Had lunch at Vaucouleurs on the way. We acquire Second Lieutenant James S. Suydam, photographic officer, and a photographic section of twenty-four men.
May 31 — … Sergeant Newman, my crew chief, gave me a cane made from the prop of the AR I crashed in the woods March 22, and a mahogany paperweight from the prop hub with a Y-shaped ack-ack fragment embedded in it. “I got it out of your crankcase,” he said. “That’s what brought you down, after all the oil drained out through the hole that hunk of iron made.”
Here I had figured that I just had a forced landing. I hadn’t thought the ack-ack had come that close.
June 7 —Every ship in commission, over in the morning. No combats but plenty of holes from “Archie” [anti-aircraft] fire. I went up with Al Lawson, but we developed motor trouble and had to come down.
June 14 —Battle and Williamson reported officially as missing in action. Our troops on that front saw the plane go down in German territory after it had made a couple of strafing runs on the enemy trenches.
June 25 —Officer of the Day until noon of the a6th. Got the copy of my orders from Vichy to Amanty out of the headquarters files during the night and burned it. I don’t want that paper around if I ever get in trouble later on about leaving Vichy.
June 27 —Up in Number 9 for half an hour with Lieutenant William Badham, my newly assigned observer, who has had about thirty hours over the lines with the French before being assigned to the gist. He seemed a bit worried when I told him this was the first time I had taken a Salmson off the ground but after I had made a couple of good landings, he cheered up. Anyhow, I’m over one hump. I am back flying … again.
June 30 —… Badham and I got some good pictures in the afternoon. Saw no enemy planes and got very little ack-ack between Saint-Mihiel and Mars-la-Tour and Conflans. General Gerard of the French VIIIth Army, to which we are attached, came over to compliment us. He said that we had done more in the last two days than his other Army Observation Squadron (French) had done during the whole month of June. … About 6:30 P.M. , we heard a single plane flying high over our airdrome. Suddenly it dropped a can container with a long red streamer attached to it which landed on the edge of the field. The can contained a message saying that Battle and Williamson were prisoners, both unhurt. They had shot off their own propeller while strafing the German trenches north of Flirey. The Germans liked Williamson, but Battle seemed to be mad at everyone. They finished by asking if we had any information about a captain and a flying sergeant who had been missing for some time. We found out about both of them. They had been shot down a couple of weeks previously on our side of the lines. We got all the dope together with the places where they were buried and put it in the same can and attached the same red streamer to it. [Herb] Schaffner will drop it on the Boche field … tomorrow evening.
July 1 —Schaffner dropped the message. He reported no ack-ack fire and saw no German planes in the air.
July 2 —… Mayes and his observer Schilling over at 8:00 A.M. No news from them up to dark today.
July 3 — … Just at dark a German plane dropped another message, which landed over on the Toul field of the pursuit boys. It said that they were sorry to have to tell us that “Leutnant Schilling” was “todt” [dead] and that “Leutnant Mayes” was “schwer verwundet” [badly wounded] after being shot down yesterday. They told us where Schilling was buried and asked for some information on some of their own missing fliers, which we will give them as soon as we get the information ourselves. This is a good sporting part of this war. Got a couple of letters from home.
July 7 —Up in Number 16 in the morning on a test flight for a couple of hours. … My bum foot gives me trouble on any flight over an hour. Every time I push on the rudder bar it hurts like the devil. … I asked Sergeant Newman, my crew chief, to weld a pipe hoop on the left rudder bar so that I can either push or pull with the good foot. I hope it helps.
July 15 —Same weather as yesterday. A Texas boy named Tobin from the pursuit crowd at Toul finally got sick of not being able to get a combat with a German aviator, so the other day he took off by himself, flew across the front, and then on to the Boche airdrome at Mars-la-Tour. Here he saw a plane flying around the field and promptly shot it down and returned home without further incident to be congratulated by the gang. Now he is being kidded by everyone since the Germans dropped a note saying that it wasn’t very sporting to shoot down a brand-new pilot who was just practising landings in an unarmed training plane.
July 16 —Guilbert and Seymour and Van Heuvel and Hirth took off at daybreak on a two-plane formation visual reconnaissance mission. They had just crossed the front north of Pont-a-Mousson at 4,800 meters when four Fokkers jumped them. Guilbert brought his ship back home, but he had three bullet holes in his flying suit and Seymour had his windshield shot off and seven holes in the gun tourelle around him. At the opening of the attack, Hirth was shot through the heart and bullets creased Van Heuvel’s head, knocking him unconscious. He came to at 1,000 meters in a nose-down, motor-full-on spin. He pulled out just at the treetops and made it back to the field. He taxied up to the line, got out, lifted Hirth out of his cockpit, threw him over his shoulder, and carried him in to “Doc” Gray’s tent on the edge of the field. “Take a look at him, will you, Doc?” he said. “I think he’s dead.” Doc Gray took a look at Hirth’s chest where an explosive bullet had torn him apart. “He’s dead all right, Van,” Gray said. Van took off his flying helmet. “Poor guy,” he said, “they got him before he knew he was in a war,” and left.
August 11 —Up in the morning getting photos from Mars-la-Tour to Conflans. Badham got some good ones. Air full of Boche all day. Had to beat it twice toward friendly clouds during the mission we had in the afternoon. Off to Nancy in the evening. Nancy bombed heavily. One landed on a building less than a hundred feet away, wrecking it completely. A girl companion of one of the gang hid under the bed. The guy grabbed her by the heels, pulled her out, and carried her down to the … cellar where the place was full of partially clad American and French officers, Red Cross girls, and friendly French girls. Now he is a hero for saving his girl instead of leaving her to be bombed as several others did.
August 12 —In Nancy all day. Schaffner in for lunch at La Liégeoise. … After struggling with a French dictionary and a phrase book for several days, Schaffner has decided that French is really just a collection of English words used differently. For example— Je ne sais pas is really “Jenny says Pa.” Bon jour becomes “Eon sure"; S’il vous plait is “silver plate” and a tip or pourboire is “poor boy.” Grammar and construction of sentences are superfluous as far as Schaft is concerned. This afternoon, walking around Nancy, he suddenly said, “Let’s go in this store. I want to buy a nightshirt and don’t interpret for me. I can do it myself.”
He stepped up to a counter, consulted his pocket French-English dictionary, and then, fixing the young girl clerk with a wild stare, he blurted out, “ Nuit chemise, nuit chemise, one nuit chemise .” When the girl seemed puzzled, he repeated it louder and about one octave higher. The clerk, by now a bit scared, shook her head and said, “ Je ne comprend pas, monsieur .” She looked at me and shrugged.
“ Monsieur désire une chemise de nuit ,” I said. “ Ah, oui, oui, je comprend ,” she replied, and promptly brought out her stock of nightshirts for Schaffner to examine.
After he had selected his nightshirt and we were on our way out of the store, he remarked, “These French are not so smart. Just because I got the words turned around, that gal still should have figured out what I wanted. I’ll bet in a case like that, any American boy or girl over twelve years old would know what was wanted if a Frenchman came into an American store to buy something.”
“I don’t know about that,” I argued. “Suppose you were behind the counter in a store back home and a wild-eyed Frenchman came in and started yelling, ‘Alls over,’ ‘Alls over,’ louder and louder at you. Would you know enough to sell him a pair of overalls?”
August 17 —Cloudy again. No flying. Fontaine, broke and needing money to settle his mess bill and “urgent” debts in the squadron, held an auction. He was selling everything—spare uniforms, boots, Sam Browne belts, Colt automatic, and so on. Finally he came to a little Belgian Victoria-model automatic pistol of about .25 caliber that he had gotten somewhere as a souvenir.… I said, “Hugh, I’ll bid 200 francs.” It happened to be just the amount he owed me from a crap game. While everyone looked at me as though I had lost my mind, Hugh walked over and handed me the pistol and the box of ammunition. He knew what it was all about, and I knew that he knew when he said, “You know, George, some day I’ll meet you in hell and you’ll have no water and be terrible thirsty. Then, by God, if I’ve got any, you can have it.”
August 23 — … Took off on another photo mission northwest of Metz. Len Hammond was my observer. He got the pictures all right, but as we had no cover, I got out of the area by flying west to Verdun and then south and home. The Archies were hot as hell. I thought they had me one time. A burst under the left wing kicked the plane over into a spin. Not knowing how to get out of it, I was experimenting with the controls when Hammond called over the speaking tube, “What’s the matter, George?” “We’re in a spin,” I replied. “Can’t you get her out of it?” said Len. “Don’t seem to,” I answered. There was a period of silence and then I heard Hammond’s voice. “Okay, kid, hold it in her and if she faints, fan her.” I couldn’t help laughing and relaxed my deathlike grip on the stick. The nose immediately dropped and the spinning stopped as the plane went into a dive. I gently pulled her out and headed back … west and away from Archie.
September 1 —No flying. Rain and low clouds. Drew paycheck. Big crap game. I won most of the money and said I would buy so we took oft for Nancy. Big party at La Liegeoise. … The party, augmented by most of the Royal Flying Corps and part of the French flying show, moved over to the Angleterre, where we had a suite of four bedrooms and a big living room, and kept the hotel staff busy until 3:00 A.M. A crap game started but most of the players were shooting lying down as it seemed a bit difficult to do it standing. … There was only one fight all evening. Two Irishmen. One from Canada and the other from Australia. We broke it up easily. They shook hands and left to look for some women. We didn’t see them any more that night so I guess they found them. I don’t know how much the party cost but my hotel bill was 983 francs and after I paid it I had about the same amount of money that I had yesterday before the crap game. It was a grand party. Come easy, go easy.
September 4 —Vie Strahm leading the same four-plane formation as day before yesterday except that Siebring was Foster’s observer instead of Perry. Got in another big fight this morning over Metz. They shot down two of the three German planes that attacked them, but “Pep” Foster and Siebring didn’t come home. They were last seen going down in German territory, apparently under control.
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.
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.
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.”
November 3 —Over with Duncan on a photo mission. … We got a lot of dope and brought back the first news of a general retreat by the Germans all along the line. Over at headquarters where we turned in our report to General “Billy” Mitchell, he took us in to see General Hunter Liggett, the boss of the American First Army. General Billy praised us and told of the high points of our report. Liggett seemed quite pleased, was very cordial, and complimented us on the job. …
November 6 —First flight off to Souilly but weather too bad for any trips across the front. Peace talk getting hot.
November 7 — … Peace talk still hotter.
November 10 — … The rumor tonight is that Germany has accepted the terms proposed to them by the Allies. All the French in town went crazy, ringing bells, singing, and parading all over the place.
November 11 —It is official. The war is over at 11:00 o’clock this morning. … This evening all the French towns and cities are lit up for the first time in years. A lot of talk by members of the squadron that we should have gone all the way to Berlin and signed the peace treaty there so that the Germans would really believe that they had been licked.
IV. Army of Occupation
November 20 —Orders came in for us to move tomorrow to Preutin, a little village about twenty-five miles northeast of Verdun, where we will occupy an old German airdrome.
November 21 —… Preutin is almost in ruins but the château where the German officers lived … is in fine shape. When we took it over, we found the diningroom table all set—dishes, silverware, glasses, wine, and cold cuts. A note said they were sorry they couldn’t do any better and especially that they didn’t have any decent cigarettes to leave for us but if we liked the wine, there were over two hundred bottles of it still in the cellar. Some of the new members of the gang were a little leery about eating the food or even drinking the wine but all the old-timers just laughed and ate it up. The idea that fellow aviators would poison us didn’t make sense. We located the wine and also a barrel of excellent sauerkraut.
March 23 —In Wiesbaden all day. Pretty town, undamaged by the war. At the Rheingold Café for lunch and drinks and reminiscing with some German aviators who did most of the buying. … They all speak quite good English and are not bad guys except one named Goering, who is a good-looking, arrogant, Prussian type who admits his engine was hit back on October 9 in the Meuse-Argonne sector in a combat with three Salmsons bearing the insignia of a white knight on a black horse chasing a red devil. That was my flight. He said he cracked up when he had to make a forced landing with the dead engine but that he was back in the air that afternoon. He claims thirty-five official victories.
June 2 [Near Brest, France, shortly before embarkation]—Two years ago today I was sworn in as a private in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps Reserve. … All I wanted then was to learn to fly, get to the front, and help run those German fliers out of the air. Well, they taught me how to fly, sent me to the front, and gave me plenty of chances to operate against the German fliers and also against their damned ack-ack guns, which I disliked intensely. They shot at you but you couldn’t shoot back at them. Now the war is over and I am about to go home. I have been pretty lucky, at that. I have been decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star, promoted to a captaincy, and I have been officially credited with the destruction of two German airplanes in aerial combat. When I put in for a regular commission the other day, I was serious. I like this flying game and if I can make it, I’m going to stay in for keeps. …