RETURNING from Paris on November 5th I found it still
raining. Almost no flying had been possible along this sector since my
departure. In fact no patrol left our field until November 8th, the same day on
which we caught by wireless the information that the Boche delegates had
crossed the lines between Haudry and Cheme on the La Chapelle road to sign the
armistice. Peace then was actually in sight.
For weeks there had been a feeling in the air that the end
of the war was near. To the aviators who had been flying over the lines and who
had with their own eyes seen the continuous withdrawals of the Germans to the
rear there was no doubt but that the Huns had lost their immoderate love for
fighting and were sneaking homewards as fast as their legs would carry them.
Such a certainty of victory should have operated to produce a desire to live
and let live among men who were desirous of " seeing the end of the war," that
is, men who preferred to survive rather than run the risks of combat fighting
now that the war was fairly over.
But it was at this very period of my leadership of the 94th
Squadron that I found my pilots most infatuated with fighting. They importuned
me for permission to go out at times when a single glance at the fog and rain
showed the foolishness of such a request. Not content with the collapse of the
enemy forces the pilots wanted to humiliate them further with flights deep
within their country where they might strafe aeroplane hangars and retreating
troops for the last time. It must be done at once, they feared, or it would be
On the 9th of November Lieutenant Dewitt and Captain
Fauntleroy came to me after lunch and begged me to go to the door of my hut and
look at the weather with them. I laughed at them but did as they requested. It
was dark and windy outside, heavy low clouds driving across the sky, though for
the moment no rain was falling. I took a good look around the heavens and came
back to my room, the two officers following me. Here they cornered me and
talked volubly for ten minutes, urging my permission to let them go over the
lines and attack one last balloon which they had heard was still swinging back
of the Meuse. They overcame every objection of mine with such earnestness that
finally against my best judgment I acquiesced and permitted them to go. At this
moment Major Kirby who had just joined 94 Squadron for a little experience in
air fighting before faking command of a new group of Squadrons that was being
formed, and who as yet had never flown over the lines stepped into the room and
requested permission to join Dewitt and Fauntleroy in their expedition.
Lieutenant Cook would go along with him, he said, and they would hunt in pairs.
If they didn't take this opportunity the war might end overnight and he would
never have had a whack at an enemy plane.
Full of misgivings at my own weakness I walked out to the
field and watched the four pilots get away. I noted the time on my watch, noted
that a heavy wind was blowing them away and would increase their difficulties
in returning, blamed myself exceedingly that I had permitted them to influence
me against my judgment. The next two hours were miserable ones for me.
The weather grew steadily worse, rain fell and the wind grew
stronger. When darkness fell, shortly after four o'clock, I ordered all the
lights turned on the field and taking my seat at the mouth of our hangar I
anxiously waited for a glimpse of the homecoming Spads. It was nearing the
limit of their fuel supply and another ten minutes must either bring some word
from them or I should know that by my orders four pilots had sacrificed
themselves needlessly after hostilities had practically ceased. I believe that
hour was the worst one I have ever endured.
Night fell and no aeroplanes appeared. The searchlights
continued to throw their long fingers into the clouds, pointing the way home to
any wandering scouts who might be lost in the storm. Foolish as it was to
longer expect them I could not order the lights extinguished and they shone on
all through the night. The next day was Sunday and another Decorations Ceremony
was scheduled to take place at our field at eleven o'clock. A number of pilots
from other aerodromes were coming over to receive the Distinguished Service
Cross from the hands of General Liggett for bravery and heroic exploits over
enemy's lines. Several of our own Group, including myself were to be among the
The band played, generals addressed us and all the men stood
at attention in front of our line of fighting planes while the dignified
ceremony was performed. Two more palms were presented to me to be attached to
my decoration. The Army Orders were read aloud praising me for shooting down
enemy aeroplanes. How bitter such compliments were to me that morning nobody
ever suspected. Not a word had come from any one of my four pilots that I had
sent over the lines the day before. No explanation but one was possible. All
four had been forced to descend in enemy territory crashed, killed or
captured it little mattered so far as my culpability was concerned.
In fact a message had come in the night before that a Spad
had collided in air with a French two-seater near Beaumont late that afternoon.
A hurried investigation by telephone disclosed the fact that no other Spads
were missing but our own thus filling me with woeful conjectures as to
which one of my four pilots had thus been killed in our own lines.
At the conclusion of the presentation of decorations I
walked back to the hangar and put on my coat, for it was a freezing day and we
had been forced to stand for half an hour without movement in dress tunic and
breeches. The field was so thick with fog that the photographers present could
scarcely get light enough to snap the group of officers standing in line. No
aeroplanes could possibly be out to-day or I should have flown over to Beaumont
at daybreak to ascertain which of my pilots had been killed there.
I was invited to mess with 95 Squadron that noon and I fear
I did not make a merry guest. The compliments I received for my newly received
decorations fell on deaf ears. As soon as I decently could get away I made my
adieus and walked back across the aerodrome. And about half-way across I saw an
aeroplane standing in the center of the field. I looked at it idly, wondering
what idiot had tried to get away in such a fog. Suddenly I stopped dead in my
tracks. The Spad had a Hat-in-the-Ring painted on its fusilage and a
large number " 3 " was painted just beyond it. Number " 3 " was Fauntleroy's
I fairly ran the rest of the way to my hangar where I
demanded of the mechanics what news they had heard about Captain Fauntleroy. I
was informed that he had just landed and had reported that Lieutenant Dewitt
had crashed last night inside our lines but would be back during the course of
the day. And to cap this joyful climax to a day's misery I was told five
minutes later at Group Headquarters that Major Kirby had just telephoned in
that he had shot down an enemy aeroplane across the Meuse this morning at ten
o'clock, after which he had landed at an aerodrome near the front and would
return to us when the fog lifted!
It was a wild afternoon we had at 94 mess upon receipt of
this wonderful news. Cookie too was later heard from, he having experienced a
rather more serious catastrophe the previous afternoon. He had attacked an
observation balloon near Beaumont. The Hun defenses shot off one blade of his
propeller and he had barely made his way back across the lines when he was
compelled to land in the shell-holes which covered this area. He escaped on
foot to the nearest American trench and late Sunday afternoon reached our mess.
Major Kirby's victory was quickly confirmed, later inquiries
disclosing the wonderful fact that this first remarkable victory of his was in
truth the last aeroplane shot down in the Great War! Our old 94 Squadron had
won the first American victory over enemy aeroplanes when Alan Winslow and
Douglas Campbell had dropped two biplane machines on the Toul aerodrome. 94
Squadron had been first to fly over the lines and had completed more hours
flying at the front than any other American organization. It had won more
victories than any other and now, for the last word, it had the credit
of bringing down the last enemy aeroplane of the war! One can imagine the
celebration with which 94 Squadron would signalize the end of the war! What
could Paris or any other community in the whole world offer in comparison?
And the celebration came even before we had lost the zest of
our present gratitude and emotion.
The story of Major Kirby's sensational victory can be told
in a paragraph. He had become lost the night before and had landed on the first
field he saw. Not realizing the importance of telephoning us of his safety, he
took off early next morning to come home. This time he got lost in the fog
which surrounded our district. When he again emerged into clear air he found he
was over Etain, a small town just north of Verdun. And there flying almost
alongside of his Spad was another aeroplane which a second glance informed him
was an enemy Fokker! Both pilots were so surprised for a moment that they
simply gazed at each other. The Fokker pilot recovered his senses first and
began a dive towards earth. Major Kirby immediately piqued on his tail,
followed him down to within fifty feet of the ground firing all the way. The
Fokker crashed head on, and Kirby zoomed up just in time to avoid the same
fate. With his usual modesty Major Kirby insisted he had scared the pilot to
his death. Thus ended the War in the Air on the American front
While listening to these details that evening after mess,
our spirits bubbling over with excitement and happiness, the telephone sounded
and I stepped over and took it up, waving the room to silence. It was a message
to bring my husky braves over across to the 95 Mess to celebrate the beginning
of a new era. I demanded of the speaker, (it was Jack Mitchell, Captain of the
95th) what he was talking about.
" Peace has been declared! No more fighting! " he shouted. "
C'est le finis de la Guerre."
Without reply I dropped the phone and turned around and
faced the pilots of 94 Squadron. Not a sound was heard, every eye was upon me
but no one made a movement or drew a breath. It was one of those peculiar
psychological moments when instinct tells every one that something big is
In the midst of this uncanny silence a sudden BOOM-BOOM of
our Arch battery outside was heard. And then pandemonium broke loose. Shouting
like mad, tumbling over one another in their excitement the daring pilots of
the Hat-in-the-Ring Squadron sensing the truth darted into trunks and kitbags,
drew out revolvers, German Lugers, that some of them had found or bought as
souvenirs from French poilus, Very pistols and shooting tools of all
descriptions and burst out of doors. There the sky over our old aerodrome and
indeed in every direction of the compass was aglow and shivering with bursts of
fire. Searchlights were madly cavorting across the heavens, paling to dimness
the thousands of colored lights that shot up from every conceivable direction.
Shrill yells pierced the darkness around us, punctuated with the fierce
rat-tat-tat-tat-tat of a score of machine- guns which now added their noise to
the clamor. Roars of laughter and hysterical whoopings came to us from the
men's quarters beside the hangars. Pistol shots were fired in salvos, filled
and emptied again and again until the weapon became too hot to hold.
At the corner of our hangar I encountered a group of my
pilots rolling out tanks of gasoline. Instead of attempting the impossible task
of trying to stop them I helped them get it through the mud and struck the
match myself and lighted it. A dancing ring of crazy lunatics joined hands and
circled around the blazing pyre, similar howling and revolving circuses
surrounding several other burning tanks of good United States gasoline that
would never more carry fighting aeroplanes over enemy's lines. The stars were
shining brightly overhead and the day's mist was gone. But at times even the
stars were hidden by the thousands of rockets that darted up over our heads and
exploded with their soft 'plonks, releasing varicolored lights which floated
softly through this epochal night until they withered away and died. Star
shells, parachute flares, and streams of Very lights continued to light our way
through an aerodrome seemingly thronged with madmen. Everybody was
laughingdrunk with the outgushing of their long pent-up emotions.
" I've lived through the war! " I heard one whirling Dervish
of a pilot shouting to himself as he pirouetted alone in the center of a mud
hole. Regardless of who heard the inmost secret of his soul, now that the war
was over, he had retired off to one side to repeat this fact over and over to
himself until he might make himself sure of its truth.
Another pilot, this one an Ace of 27 Squadron, grasped me
securely by the arm and shouted almost incredulously, " We won't be shot at any
more! " Without waiting for a reply he hastened on to another friend and
repeated this important bit of information as though he were doubtful of a
complete understanding on this trivial point. What sort of a new world will
this be without the excitement of danger in it? How queer it will be in future
to fly over the dead line of the silent Meuse that significant boundary
line that was marked by Arch shells to warn the pilot of his entrance into
How can one enjoy life without this highly spiced sauce of
danger? What else is there left to living now that the zest and excitement of
fighting aeroplanes is gone? Thoughts such as these held me entranced for the
moment and were afterwards recalled to illustrate how tightly strung were the
nerves of these boys of twenty who had for continuous months been living on the
very peaks of mental excitement.
In the mess hall of Mitchell's Squadron we found gathered
the entire officer personnel of the Group. Orderlies were running back and
forth with cups brimming with a hastily concocted punch, with which to drink to
the success and personal appearance of every pilot in aviation. Songs were
bellowed forth accompanied by crashing sounds from the Boche piano the
proudest of 95 's souvenirs, selected from an officer's mess of an abandoned
German camp. Chairs and benches were pushed back to the walls and soon the
whole roomful was dancing, struggling and whooping for joy, to the imminent
peril of the rather temporary walls and floor. Some unfortunate pilot fell and
in a trice everybody in the room was forming a pyramid on top of him. The
appearance of the C.O. of the Group brought the living mass to its feet in a
score of rousing cheers to the best C.O. in France. Major Hartney was hoisted
upon the piano, while a hundred voices shouted, "SPEECHSPEECH!" No sooner
did he open his lips than a whirlwind of sound from outside made him pause and
reduced the room to quiet. But only for an instant.
" It's the Jazz Band from old 147! " yelled the pilots and
like a tumultuous waterfall they poured en masse through a doorway that was
only wide enough for one at a time.
Whooping, shrieking and singing, the victors of some 400-odd
combats with enemy airmen encircled the musicians from the enlisted men of 147
Squadron. The clinging clay mud of France lay ankle deep around them. Within a
minute the dancing throng had with their hopping and skipping plowed it into an
almost bottomless bog. Some one went down, dragging down with him the portly
bass drummer. Upon this foundation human forms in the spotless uniforms of the
American Air Service piled themselves until the entire Group lay prostrate in
one huge pyramid of joyous aviators. It was later bitterly disputed as to who
was and who was not at the very bottom of this historic monument erected that
night under the starry skies of France to celebrate the extraordinary fact that
we had lived through the war and were not to be shot at to-morrow.
It was the "finis de la Guerre!" It was the finis
d' aviation. It was to us, perhaps unconsciously, the end of that intimate
relationship that since the beginning of the war had cemented together
brothers-in-arms into a closer fraternity than is known to any other friendship
in the whole world. When again will that pyramid of entwined comrades
interlacing together in one mass boys from every State in our Union when
again will it be formed and bound together in mutual devotion ?
LAST CHAPTER °