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Title: Luck on the Wing - Thirteen Stories of a Sky Spy
Author: Haslett, Elmer
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



[Illustration: GEN. WILLIAM MITCHELL, COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE AMERICAN
AIR FORCES AT THE FRONT]



                            LUCK ON THE WING
                    _Thirteen Stories of a Sky Spy_


                                    BY
                              ELMER HASLETT

  Major, Air Service, U. S. Army. Distinguished Service Cross. Croix de
 Guerre Française. Recipient of two special citations by General Pershing
      for conspicuous bravery and exceptionally meritorious service.
        Operations Officer U. S. Air Service, First Army Corps at
 Château-Thierry and of First Army Observation Wing at St. Mihiel and the
                                 Argonne.

[Illustration]

                                NEW YORK
                         E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
                            681 FIFTH AVENUE



                            COPYRIGHT, 1920.
                       BY E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY


                         _All Rights Reserved_


                Printed in the United States of America



                              TO MY MOTHER



                       SOME WORDS IN EXPLANATION


If any one should be interested enough to inquire as to the reason for
my becoming a sky spy, an aërial observer, a deuce, or whatever one
chooses to call it, I should certainly speak the truth and affirm that
it was not the result of calm, cool and deliberate thought. I have
always had a holy horror of airplanes and to this day I cannot say that
I exactly enjoy riding in them. My sole reason for flying now is that I
am still in the Air Service and there is not an excuse in the world for
a young man being an air officer if he does not spend a part of his time
in that element. Every boy in his own heart wants to be a soldier
whether his mother raises him that way or not: as a boy and as a man I
wanted to be an infantryman. Upon being commissioned in Infantry
following the First Officers’ Training Camp, I was about to have a
lifetime’s ambition gratified by being placed in charge of a company at
Camp Lewis, Washington, when along with two hundred other new officers I
was ordered to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for assignment with the Missouri and
Kansas troops. I had been enthusiastic over the infantry, I liked it
fine, and most of all I wanted to train my company and lead them into
action. Arriving at Fort Sill, we found that the troops had not arrived
and would not come for at least a month. Meanwhile we stagnated and lost
our pep. The papers were full of the pressing need of help at the battle
front and still all around I could see nothing but destructive delay. It
was the old call of the individual—for though my heart was set upon the
ideal of training my own men for the supreme test yet I could not stand
the delay. I was determined to get to the Front and with that as my
paramount ideal, I would take the first opportunity that would lead to
its realization.

The chance came one morning early in September, 1917, when one of my
friends, Lieut. Armin Herold, caught me going out of the mess hall late
(as usual) for breakfast and excitedly told me that the Division
Adjutant had just tacked a little notice on the door at Headquarters, in
response to an urgent request from General Pershing, that ten officers
who ranked as First or Second Lieutenants would be detailed at once for
training as airplane observers, and would be sent to France immediately
upon completion of their training. Volunteers were requested. That part
about “training as airplane observers” was Greek to me—I did not know
that such things existed—but at the word “France” I pricked up my ears
like a fire horse at the sound of a bell. My decision was formed then
and there. I was going to be an aërial observer, whatever that was, and
nothing was going to keep me from taking that chance, my first
opportunity, to go to France.

I almost lost my breakfast at the thought of having to ride in an
airplane, but that promise to send me to France at once was an
anesthetic to my better judgment, and I right away made my first flight,
au pied, covering that ten acres of plowed ground over to the Division
Headquarters in ten flat. I rushed in and made application.

The Divisional Signal Officer was a Major who felt that aërial
observation was an extremely technical branch. He did not know a
terrible lot about it, and told me that he had placed the bulletin on
the board only a few minutes before and was surprised that I had
responded so quickly. He asked me a lot of trick questions as to my
technical training, and now, since I have made a fair record as an
aërial observer, I don’t mind making the confession that I, along with
other conspirators desiring early action, made several “for the period
of the emergency” statements. The Major wanted to know if I knew
anything about civil engineering. I told him I did, but, as a matter of
fact, I hardly knew the difference between a compass and a level. He
asked me if I got sick in an airplane. I flinched a little, but told him
“No,” the presumption of innocence being in my favor. He then asked me
if I had ever ridden in one. I laughed so heartily at this joke that he
was convinced that I had. The truth of the matter was that previous to
that time if anyone had ever got me in an airplane they would certainly
have had to hog-tie me and drag me to the ordeal. He then wanted to know
what experience I had with mechanical engines. I told him that my
experience was quite varied and that I considered myself an expert on
mechanical engines, having had a course in mechanical engineering. This
was all true, yet I do not, to this day, know the principles surrounding
the operations of an engine, and if anything ever should go wrong, the
motor would rust from age before I could fix it.

My application was hasty and unpremeditated and I did not actually
realize what I had done until I got outside—then, just as after the
unpremeditated murder, the murderer will turn from the body and cry,
“What have I done?”—so I turned from that house with exactly the same
thought, and as I walked back to my barracks I kept repeating to myself,
“What have I done!” “What have I done!” The big question then was to
find out the nature of the new job for which I had volunteered. The
first question I asked of the two hundred officers when I returned to
the barracks was: “What is an airplane observer?” No one present could
enlighten me.

I had volunteered for so many things in this man’s army which had never
panned out either for me or for any one else, that I was naturally
apprehensive as to the result. Having in mind such dire consequences
should the thing turn out, and yet hopeful of a more pleasant outcome, I
alternately anticipated and naturally brooded a great deal over the
thing.

The next morning I learned that the telegram had actually been sent to
the War Department at Washington and that my name had been first on the
list. The package of fate was not only sealed, but clearly addressed,
and I was the consignee.

In a remarkably short time the orders came from Washington and ten of us
were loaded in a Government truck and transported to Post Field. Of
those ten Lieutenants it is interesting to note that seven got to the
Front, and from those seven one can pick five of America’s greatest sky
spies. Every one of the seven was decorated or promoted in the field.
They were Captain Len Hammond, of San Francisco; Captain Phil Henderson,
of Chehallis, Oregon; Captain Steve Barrows, of Berkeley, California;
Captain How Douglas, of Covina, California; First Lieut. Armin Herold of
Redlands, California, and First Lieutenant “Red” Gunderson, of Spokane,
Washington. These were the first officers detailed in the United States
to “Aërial Observation.”

The Observation School at Fort Sill was just being started and was yet
unorganized, so after a very extensive course covering four weeks of
about one hour a day, in which we learned practically nothing of real
help, we were ordered to France for duty.

After an unusually short stay in the S.O.S., or Zone of the Rear, we get
to the Zone of Advance at a place named Amanty, where we were stationed
at an observer’s school, and, after a very incomplete course there, we
were distributed among French squadrons operating over the Front, in
order that we might get some actual experience, since the Americans had
no squadrons yet ready for the Front.

But a word as to the reason for this book. Here is how it happened. We
were at this school at Amanty, hoping each day for orders to move us on
up to the real front. It was in February, 1918, and one day, by a great
streak of good fortune, Major Schwab, the school adjutant, picked on me
as I was passing the headquarters. “Hey, what’s your name!” he said, to
which I replied, with a “wish-to-make-good” salute.

“Here!” he continued, in a most matter-of-fact way, “you are excused
from classes this morning. Take the commanding officer’s car, go down to
Gondrecourt, and pick up three Y.M.C.A. girls who are going to give an
entertainment out here this afternoon. Report them to me.”

This was an unexpected pleasure, so, with all pomp and dignity, I seated
myself in the rear of a huge Cadillac, with “Official” painted all over
the sides of it. It was my first ride in the select government
transportation—I had previously drawn trucks. Then we whisked along the
ten miles to Gondrecourt. The surprise was a happy one, because the
three girls were peaches, and, an aviator being a scarce article in
those days (and I wore my leather coat to let them know that I was one),
I was received most cordially.

We had just started back to the camp, and I was Hero Number One of
Heroes All, when they all harped as of one accord, demanding if I would
not take them up in an airplane. This is a feminine plea which never
seems to become old, because every girl you see nowadays still asks the
same question. But I maintained silence on the subject of taking them
up. So, they talked about aces, seemingly positive that I was one of
those things—what a wonderful flyer I must be—and a lot of other bunk,
until I began to feel exalted as if I were of the royalty, for it seemed
that I was being worshipped.

I interrupted their wild rambling to ask if they objected to my smoking.
Of course, being a hero aviator, there was no chance for objection. So,
as I unbuttoned my leather coat, threw back the left lapel, and pulled
out a stogie from my pocket, the eyes of one cute little frizzle-haired
girl fell upon my aviation insignia, which, of course, consisted of only
one wing. Wild eyed and with marked disdain, she exclaimed sneeringly to
the others, “Oh, he’s only an observer! A half aviator!”

Actually I had not claimed otherwise, but, as long as I live, I shall
never forget the sting of those words, and especially the biting
insinuation on the word “only.” To their minds I was a branded
hypocrite. Talk about the poor man standing before the criminal judge
and being sentenced to the impossible “99 years” in the penitentiary;
well, take it from me, this was worse, for my foolish pride had been
embellished to an acute cockishness by this preliminary adoration, but
my soaring little airplane of selfish egoism took a decided nose-dive—it
smashed my whole day’s happiness.

The other girls, and in fact this little frizzle-topped girl, too,
realized immediately the impropriety of the remark, and tried in the
most sincere way to temper the sting and alleviate my apparent
embarrassment. The only hollow remark I could offer, in my futile
attempt at indifferent repartee, was to the effect that pilots would be
aces always, and observers, being the lowest card of the deck, must be
deuces. They laughed—I don’t know why—perhaps to jolly me along. I
intended to say something else, but they took advantage of the necessity
of my taking a breath—by laughing—so I dropped the “deuce” gag, but, as
the conversation went on, the more chagrined I became.

When we finally got to camp, I turned over the precious cargo to the
camp adjutant, and then struck out for a long hike by my lonesome to
walk it off.

But, like an “ignorant idealist,” heeding the call of the fair sex, I
went to the entertainment that afternoon, and, as I left the hut with
several other observers, we met the entertainers who were now walking
along in company with the commanding officer. Of course, we all saluted,
the commanding officer sloppily returned it, and the party passed on.
Then this same little frizzle-top, red-headed girl, as if by
afterthought, recognized me, turned around, and begrudgingly nodded as
if meeting a disgraced member of the family. She disdainfully called the
attention of the commanding officer and the other girls to my humble
presence by saying, “He is the observer that came out with us in the
car—you know the ‘deuce,’” and, I might add, she laughed lightly and
shrugged her shoulders. I’ll tell the world it hurt my pride, and I was
off with all of womankind for the time being. I had labored under the
impression that an observer was some big gun in aviation. Believe me,
she took it out of me.

In fact, these two incidents with this young lady revealed to me for the
first time the real insignificance of my position as an aërial observer.
A thousand times afterwards, when I still wore an observer’s insignia,
people would look at it and, for some psychological reason or other,
they always seemed to say either by sound or facial expression, “only an
observer.” Even to-day, as throughout the war, the same haunting epithet
follows the observer. In fact, in the American Expeditionary Force, we
had an unofficial rating of military personnel which classified the
various grades as follows: general officers, field officers, captains,
lieutenants, pilots, sergeants, corporals, privates, cadets, German
prisoners and last aërial observers. And no matter which way one
considered it, the aërial observer was the lowest form of human
existence. For a long time he was not even eligible for promotion or
command. Indeed, in the game of war, he was the deuce—the lowest card of
the deck—and the first to be discarded.

So far as official recognition is concerned the observer is gradually
coming into his own. After comparing the fatalities in the various
branches of aviation, it is agreed as one of the lessons of the war that
the observer has had a hard deal as have also observation pilots and
bombardment pilots. In recognition of this principle, the Director of
Air Service in a letter of January 5th, 1920, in declining to sanction
the word “ace,” wrote as follows: “The United States Air Service does
not use the title ‘Ace’ in referring to those who are credited
officially with five or more victories over enemy aircraft. It is not
the policy of the Air Service to glorify one particular branch of
aeronautics, aviation or aero-station at the expense of another.... The
work of observation and bombardment is considered equally as hazardous
as that of pursuit, but due to the fact that the observation and
bombardment pilots are not called upon merely to destroy enemy aircraft,
it should not be allowed to aid in establishing a popular comparison of
results merely by relatives victories.” I notice that the Director, in
spite of the nice things he said about the observation and bombardment
branches of the service, has expressly referred to “pilots,” which of
course makes me peevish. But so it is. The Director undoubtedly intended
to include observers; indeed, the observer is the man who does the
shooting from observation and bombardment planes—but it is the same old
story—the observer is so insignificant that he was just naturally
overlooked. Indeed, an observer is only a quasi-aviator, as a friend
with a legal mind once said—and after he used that word “only,” I hated
him.

And in public appreciation, they consider the observer as the deuce—the
card without value—with no definite status, just an inexplicable freak
habitating around aviation. The common acceptation of an aërial observer
is a mild, passive, sort of a guy, who wears nose glasses, is
mathematically inclined, and who, in battle, is privileged to run from
the enemy, being, as it were, tamed and “too proud to fight.”

Thus, to present to the public a more consistent version of the real
life of the observer at the Front in his various rôles, and hoping in a
way to dispel this very unfortunate public misunderstanding, this book
of my own modest experiences as an observer is presented for
consideration under the title “LUCK ON THE WING.”

                                             ELMER HASLETT,
                                             Major, Air Service
                                             United States Army
                                             Washington, February, 1920.



                                CONTENTS


 INTRODUCTION BY GEN. WILLIAM MITCHELL                              xxiii

                               CHAPTER                               PAGE

                                    I. BEGINNER’S LUCK                  1

                                   II. HARDBOILED                      22

                                  III. MY FIRST SCRAP                  50

                                   IV. BRERETON’S FAMOUS FLIGHT        73

                                    V. TROUBLES ON THE GROUND          99

                                   VI. THE WILD RIDE OF A GREENHORN   121

                                  VII. EILEEN’S INSPIRATION           139

                                 VIII. DOWN AND OUT AND IN            163

                                   IX. THE COURT OF INQUIRY           192

                                    X. BECOMING KULTURED              219

                                   XI. ESCAPED ALMOST                 238

                                  XII. THE PRIVILEGES OF PRISONERS    253

                                 XIII. “COMING OUT”                   276



                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


 GEN. WILLIAM MITCHELL, COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE
   AMERICAN AIR FORCES, AT THE FRONT                      _Frontispiece_

                                                             FACING PAGE

 AN OPERATION ROOM OF AN AMERICAN SQUADRON AT THE FRONT,
   SHOWING BATTLE MAPS, WAR PLANS AND PHOTOGRAPHS                     34

 THE VILLAGE OF VAUX ON THE DAY PRECEDING THE BATTLE OF
   VAUX                                                               74

 THE VILLAGE OF VAUX DURING THE BATTLE OF VAUX, JULY 1,
   1918                                                               78

 TANKS GOING INTO ACTION, AND TRACKS LEFT BY THEM                    128

 PAGNY-SUR-MEUSE, SHOWING PRISONERS CAPTURED BY THE
   AMERICANS AT ST. MIHIEL                                           154

 A CAPTURED GERMAN PHOTOGRAPH SHOWING AMERICAN PRISONERS             200

 COLONEL BRERETON, MAJOR HASLETT AND OTHERS BEING
   DECORATED AT COBLENZ                                              296



                              INTRODUCTION


Major Elmer Haslett has made a valuable addition to the literature of
the World’s War in writing the volume to which these lines must serve as
introduction.

“Luck on the Wing” has two distinct sources of value: first it presents
a clear, graphic picture of the life led by our fighting airmen during
the three great actions in which American soldiers played so important a
part—Château-Thierry, St. Mihiel, and the Argonne—and best of all the
picture is a truthful one: and, second, it, all the more forcibly
because often quite unconsciously, brings out clearly the lack of
understanding of the functions of Air Service, a lack which in the final
analysis was responsible for the greater part of whatever of
dissatisfaction and disappointment with this branch of the Military
Service there existed in the American Expeditionary Forces in France.

Since the Armistice there have been published a great number of books on
the War, the majority of which have been the work of actual
participants—of officers and enlisted men. But so far as the Air Service
of the United States is concerned Major Haslett has, in my opinion, in
the relation in simple narrative form of some of the adventures he
himself met with Overseas provided not only the most interesting story
but one of the very few which the future historian will find of
considerable value when he sets himself to the task of compiling Air
Service History.

“Luck on the Wing” is the story of an American observer. The claims to
fame of the fighting pilot were early recognized in the World War. The
Ace soon became a public favorite. The War Correspondents were quick
indeed to realize the news potentialities inherent to the “Knight of the
Air” and their dispatches made the world familiar with his extraordinary
and ordinary adventures. The peoples of the World followed with the zest
that the American baseball fanatic follows the baseball victories, the
scores of the World’s great Aces. But to the observer fame came in
rather homeopathic doses, if it came at all. And most observers are
willing to take oath it came not at all.

That there were exceptions to this rule, that the very important work of
the observer was not entirely lacking of official and public
recognition, is a source of personal gratification to me because as
Commander of the American Air Forces at the Front I personally knew and
fully appreciated the great value of the work done by this class of Air
Service officers. Major Haslett is deservedly one of the exceptions. The
variety of his war service qualifies him better perhaps than any other
American Air Service Observer to write of Air Observation: the
efficiency of his work is attested sufficiently by the fact that he was
rapidly promoted from Lieutenant to Captain and from Captain to Major.
His personal daring and courage, and the extent of both, need no
testimony and indeed could have none more eloquent than the citations he
received and the decorations awarded him.

To say that this officer or that officer was the “greatest” fighting
pilot or the “greatest” observer in the American Air Service overseas
would, assuming that it were possible, and many hold that it is
impossible, assuredly be improper; but of Major Haslett it may be said
with entire propriety that the value of his services was certainly not
exceeded by the services rendered by any other observation officer in
the American Air Service. And it must always in after life be a source
of great pride and satisfaction to this officer to know that he
successfully executed every mission upon which he was sent up to the day
that he was shot down far behind the enemy lines in the Argonne after an
unequal but protracted combat with superior enemy forces.

Few men even in the Air Service had so many and so astounding adventures
as befell the author of “Luck on the Wing,” and of these, fewer still
lived to tell the story. In simple but vivid language Major Haslett
tells in this book of many of his astonishing experiences. Life at the
Front with him was just one adventure after another—from his first trip
over the lines when he sat in the observer’s seat in a French plane
perfectly at ease and in blissful ignorance of a French battery’s
desperate efforts to signal him that there was a squadron of seven
German Fokkers over him. Through this first adventure his amazing luck
carried him safe (or was it a Divine Providence moving as ever
inscrutably?). And this same amazing luck carried him safely through an
even more remarkable adventure. While under heavy ground fire on an
artillery mission he was thrown out of his “ship” but caught the muzzle
of his machine gun as he went over, and in some way managed to pull
himself back into the airplane—and then completed his mission. But on
September 30, 1918, even Major Haslett’s luck deserted him and he was
shot down and captured. The rest of the war he spent mainly in
unsuccessful efforts to escape from German prisons.

“Luck on the Wing” tells of these adventures—and others.

It is appropriate in concluding this brief introduction to tell of some
of the work of Major Haslett overseas which he himself cannot well
mention. Much of this officer’s service at the Front was spent as
Operations Officer. As such his duties did not require him to execute
missions over the lines himself. Major Haslett insisted always on doing
not only the full share of such perilous work as would fall to an
officer not in an executive position, but more. His argument to his
commanding officer was that only by experience over the lines could an
operations officer thoroughly master his work—a theory that he went far
toward proving.

Whenever ultra-dangerous work presented itself this officer was quick to
volunteer. Major Haslett was more than an observer, he was a student of
air operations. He was among the first of the American officers to prove
that low flying over German trenches was not only possible but was a
method of effective attack for airplanes. At the time that he was shot
down he was engaged in working out the problems of adjustment of
artillery fire on moving targets by airplanes—a question of prime
importance in warfare of movement.

This officer during the course of his service at the Front not only
contributed exceptionally distinguished personal services over the lines
and as an operations officer but he also contributed ideas and
suggestions of considerable value in the development of Air tactics and
Air strategy, and as I have mentioned before he had the proud record of
successfully executing every mission which he undertook during his
entire service at the Front with the single exception of the mission he
was on when he was shot down by superior enemy forces.

With entire frankness Major Haslett has told the story of how he
succeeded in getting an assignment as an observer and in later getting
duty with Colonel Brereton’s squadron at the Front. And by his own
account he has shown with equal frankness that he had no hesitation in
overcoming obstacles to this accomplishment by any means that came to
hand. Perhaps some of the fastidious may find something to criticize in
this. But Major Haslett’s all-impelling motive was to serve his country
by meeting his country’s enemies on the battlefield. And it was this
same all-impelling motive which gave inspiration to the personnel of the
American Air Service, which brought to the Air Service proud achievement
and dauntless courage in action. Service against the enemy is a good
soldier’s ambition. This motive carried Major Haslett to the very front
rank of all American observers, and gave him the adventure of which he
tells in “Luck on the Wing.”

                                                   WILLIAM MITCHELL,
                                   Brigadier-General United States Army.

 Washington,
   Feb. 24, 1920.



                            LUCK ON THE WING



                                   I
                            BEGINNER’S LUCK


We had been up with the French Squadron for about three weeks and it had
rained every day or something else had happened to prevent flying. We
had a wonderful social time, but our flying had been so postponed that I
actually began to think that the French did not want us to fly, probably
lacking confidence in our ability, so, one day I walked up to the
Captain and by means of his imperfect English and my perfectly inelegant
French we managed to perfect some close, cordial and personal liaison. I
told him that we appreciated the long, drawn-out dinners and the very
excellent quality and quantity of the red wine and the white wine, but
that actually we came up to take our first trips over the line and learn
a little about observation. He shrugged his shoulders and said that he
felt quite sure that we would be there for three or four months and that
there was absolutely no hurry. I told him he did not know the American
Army, for while I would admit that we had not shown much speed up to the
present time in getting squadrons on the Front, or in the manufacture of
our ten thousand airplanes a month, or our five thousand Liberty Motors,
at the same time, somewhere, someplace, somehow, someday, we were going
to make a start and that I was quite positive that we were not going to
have any observers unless the French got busy and trained some for us,
and that in my mind we would be leaving mighty soon and it might look
sort of suspicious on paper if we had been with the squadron a month and
had never taken a trip over the lines.

This sort of impressed the Captain and dear, old fellow that he was, he
immediately ordered “Mon Lieutenant Dillard,” who was his Operations
Officer, to arrange for me to accompany the next mission over the lines,
as a protection. This was scheduled for the next day. A French
Lieutenant by the name of Jones was to do an adjustment of a battery of
155’s, and I was to accompany him in another plane to protect him from
any attack by German airplanes.

That night we played Bridge until midnight, whereupon we all shook
hands, as is the French custom, and departed for our various billets. My
Bridge had been rotten—my mind was on a different kind of bridge: How
was I to bridge that next day—What did it hold? The night was chilly as
the devil and as I picked my way in the darkness I could hear very
plainly the rumble of guns and could see the artillery flashes very
clearly, although the front was twenty kilometers away. I began to think
about my first trip over the lines that was soon to come. I was mentally
lower than a snake. I hadn’t prayed for some time and I was just
wondering whether or not I would pray that night. My solemn idea of
prayer was that it was an emergency measure. I was always reverently
thankful to the Maker for His blessings, but He knew that for He must
have known my mind. I believed that God helped him who helped himself,
but when the question was too big for man to control, then it was the
time to invoke the help of the Supreme Being. I was inclined to think
this case was only a duty of war in which man should help himself. So, I
had decided that I would go ahead and handle it as a man to man
proposition, reserving invocation for a more serious situation, but as I
was getting pretty close to my billet I heard a sudden noise that gave
me a real thrill—a big cat jumped out of a box and ran directly in front
of me. It was too dark, of course, to tell the color of that cat, but
the condition of my mind convinced me that it could be no other color
than black and that it was an omen that bad luck was sure to come my
way. When that cat ran in front of me my Man theory was gone,
absolutely; I knew quite well that I was going to pray.

I lay abed for fully three hours, going over in detail every piece of
the machine gun, what I was to do in case of a jam of the machine gun,
and what I was to do in case of stoppage of the gun. I was trying to
picture in my mind silhouettes of the different German airplanes that
had been on the wall at school, and which I, to my regret, had not
studied. Then I remembered reading stories of how poor boys were shot
down, and most of them on their first flight, and I thought of airplane
accidents and I thought of my girl. In fact, I had such a variety of
thoughts that when I finally dozed off, that quasi sleep was a
nightmare, and when from nervous and physical exhaustion about
three-thirty o’clock in the morning I reached the point where I was
really sleeping, I was suddenly shaken, and, of course, I jumped as if
branded by a hot poker. It was my French orderly telling me it was time
to get up to make my flight. I first realized the truth of that little
saying, “There is always somebody taking the joy out of life.” He was
crying, “Mon lieutenant! Mon lieutenant! Il est temps de se lever,”
which is French for “It is time to get up.” I had a notion to direct him
to present my compliments to the Captain and to tell him that I was
indisposed that morning but I couldn’t speak French well enough to
express myself, so, there was only one thing to do and that was to make
a stab at it. I dressed and took my nice, new flying clothes which I
received at Paris, and hobbled the kilometre and a half out to the
field. The crews were already there and also the other flying personnel.
Of course, I put on a sickly smile as if to help things along, but
honestly there wasn’t much warmth in my hand-shake. The Frenchmen were
all excited, standing around a telephone in the hangar and I found out
from one of them who spoke English, that they were trying to get the
balloon to find out about the visibility. This pleased me for my feet
were already chilling and I was as strong as horseradish for each
moment’s delay. In a few moments the Lieutenant put the receiver on the
telephone and with some sort of an ejaculation I saw the face of
Lieutenant Jones, who was to do the adjustment, assume a very dejected
attitude, for while these Frenchmen are the strongest people in the
world for lying abed in the morning, yet they certainly hate to have
their trouble in rising come to naught by reason of impossibility to
perform the mission assigned and in this case I found that the
visibility was “mauvais,” or “no good.” So, we just hung around.

In a few moments one of the enlisted men came up to me and saluted me
smartly, and mumbled a lot of stuff about “voulez vous” something,
“voulez vous” being all I could understand, so I beckoned one of the
Lieutenants who spoke a little English and he asked me if I wanted a
“Raelt Saeul” or “ordinary open sight.” I had never had a course in
aerial gunnery and I did not know the difference; in fact, my experience
in machine guns consisted of two lectures by a guy who didn’t know much
about it, at Fort Sill, the dismantling of one gun and about an hour and
six minutes in an open firing butt at Amanty, France. I was afraid
“Raelt Saeul” would be something technical, in which case I would
certainly demonstrate my ignorance, and to my dazed mind “open sight”
certainly sounded frank and on-the-square, so, of course, I just
shrugged my shoulders and pointed as if I were perfectly familiar with
both but under the circumstances I would take the “open sight.” They
were both quite surprised and tried to open the discussion upon the
relative merits of each, but I passed this up and made it emphatic that
“open sight” it would be. I found afterwards that the “Raelt Saeul” was
a great deal more accurate. So, they put the machine guns on the plane
with “open sight.” I wanted in the worst way to get around and monkey
with those machine guns, but I knew if I did I would certainly shoot
some one up or kill myself, so I laid off. It was a terrible
predicament; I knew I had no business going up and my conscience began
to hurt me for the sake of the Frenchmen I was supposed to be
protecting. Incidentally I must admit, in capital letters, that I had my
own personal safety somewhat in mind. But it was too late—I had to go
through with it. It was the proposition now of luck, and lots of it. We
kept on with preparations; it was still foggy.

At nine o’clock we went in an automobile and got our breakfast, which
for the Frenchmen always consisted of hot chocolate and a piece of
bread, but for me it usually consisted of ham and eggs, and potatoes,
and jelly, and bread, and butter and coffee, and as it usually consisted
of that—as this was probably my last breakfast it certainly would not
consist of less this time. So, I hied me forth after having my
“chocolate” with the Frenchmen, and gave my landlady her usual two
francs, in return for which I had the repast above accurately described.

We went back to the flying field and waited until about eleven o’clock.
I had made up my mind that I was going through with it and the
nervousness was beginning to wear off. About noon it got real cloudy and
at twelve twenty-six and a half the first drop of rain fell. Believe me,
the exhaust action of my sigh of relief was not unlike one of these
carnival, rubber balloons when it is dropped in hot water. They, of
course, called it a day, came in and had “déjeuner” and gathered around
the Bridge tables, while Dillard played some very classical airs upon
the automatic piano which this squadron carried with it.

In the middle of the afternoon the shower completely ceased, while Sol
came out in all his magnificent glory; magnificent I say, to the farmer
who wants to till the soil, to the sweethearts who want to go on a
picnic, and to the washerwoman who wants to dry her clothes, but for me,
it was just like an April shower on a new silk hat—I lost all my
gloss—for in a few moments “mon capitaine” came in and announced that he
felt we could get the planes off the ground. We called up the battery
and they were ready so we climbed into the automobile and went out to
the field again. The mechanics rolled those two dilapidated Sopwith
planes out of the hangars and gave those rotary engines a turn and they
began to burr. That whirr and burr felt to me just like the whirr and
burr of the dentist’s burr that gets in the middle of a wisdom tooth and
hits the nerve.

The other two American student observers were out on the field. Phil
Henderson, who always was the head of his class and very mechanical by
nature, gave me a few added remarks about some technical points of the
machine gun, how to do in case of a jam, etc., while Hopkins, the other
American, jollied me along. It was the first time I had ever had a ride
in a Sopwith. I do not know whether it was from the fact that I was not
used to climbing into the Sopwith or that I did not know what I was
doing, but anyhow I stepped on that one particular part of the fuselage
which is supposed to withstand only wind pressure and as a consequence
my one hundred and eighty-two pounds made a nice hole in the canvas. Of
course the Frenchmen had complex fits but the pilot merely shrugged his
shoulders as if to say that it wouldn’t impair the flying qualities of
the boat. I honestly felt that the tearing of the canvas was an omen
that I ought not to go. But already the other plane was taxiing out to
take off, and it was like a drowning man grasping for the last straw.
They came up to see if I was fixed all right. I was fixed, and in more
ways than one. I was holding on to the fuselage for all I was worth.
Fortunately they noticed that I was not strapped in and so they
proceeded to strap me.

They said something about the “mitrailleuse” but the “mitrailleuse” did
not worry me—I said it was all right. I did not know what they were
talking about, although I afterwards learned that they meant machine
guns, but what they wanted me to do was to shoot a couple of bursts into
the ground to see if the guns were working. I tried to twist the
tourelle (the revolving base upon which the machine gun turns) around to
shoot in the proper direction, but it would not budge. The Corporal came
around and pressed a little lever which released the mechanism and, of
course, the tourelle turned just as easy as a roulette wheel. Then they
told me by means of sign language to point it at the ground and pull the
trigger. I did, but I almost broke the forefingers of both hands trying
to pull the trigger. The pilot was getting nervous; I think he clearly
saw that I was probably like the American airplanes that they had heard
and read so much about—I was not coming across. The Corporal came around
to determine the trouble. I shrugged my shoulders, French fashion, as if
to say “ça ne marche pas,” that is, “it doesn’t work,” but lovely as
that gun lad was he did not give away my ignorance but simply said “Vous
avez oublié”—“you have forgotten something,” and he proceeded to pull
down the little latch on both guns which unlocks the entire mechanism.
Then he stepped out of my way and I pointed the guns. Having, as I said
before, almost broken both my forefingers trying to pull the trigger, I
pulled in the same manner, force and fashion, and before I could get my
fingers off of the triggers I had almost shot both of the magazines
full. I thought those guns never were going to stop firing. The
Frenchmen surely oil their guns and have a similar high strung technique
in pulling the trigger that our high-grade artists on the piano have
with staccato notes. I could see by the expression on the faces around
me that they were indeed surprised at American methods but anyway the
guns worked, so I said “tres bien,” and my pilot taxied the plane out,
gave it the gun, and took off.

This plane did not have telephones; if it did they would have been
useless, because I did not Speak French understandably, and the pilot
did not know a word of English, and we had not agreed upon any signs.

The other plane had gained considerable altitude and after about fifteen
minutes I was able to orient myself by means of my map and to know that
the aerodrome was directly beneath me. We had gotten about three hundred
meters above and two hundred meters behind the first plane. In a few
moments the first plane headed due north and we followed. Over to my
right I saw very plainly Souilly, which was later destined to play such
an important part in the history of the American Army, being the
Headquarters of our First Army in the Argonne drive. In a few moments
more I saw below me the shell-torn country and the two peaks known as
“Hill 304” and “Dead Man Hill”—to the French they are known as “Trois
Cent Quatre” and “Mort Homme”—which were so prominent in the fighting
around Verdun.

Only a few days before I had visited these same places on the ground and
I had seen the myriads of human bones in that mighty cemetery which,
though originally properly interred, were being continually brought to
the surface by the constant and incessant artillery fire. I thought at
the time how terrible it must be to live day and night in the trenches
of that graveyard, knowing not but that in the next instant you,
yourself, might be the one destined to replace the remains which, from
four years of exposure, were crumbling into the dust. On that visit the
thing that impressed me was the minuteness of the individual, for both
German and French, though the deadliest of enemies in life, found a
common resting place, side by side, in the same yard of earth for which
they had given their lives to gain.

While on the ground I had seen an airplane high in the heavens and I
thought how much more wonderful it was to fight in that broad, open
expanse of atmosphere where the extent of one’s endeavor is not limited
by a section of a trench, but only by the blue heaven, the reliability
of the motor and the accuracy of the machine gun. It is strange how
one’s outlook can change. Man is the slave of temperament and romantic
dissatisfaction. Excite him and he pleads for quiet, give him solitude
and it becomes unbearably monotonous. I was enwrapped by environment.
When in the trenches of that bleached boneyard the monotony and horror
were agony to me—so many bones and those huge trench rats—I wanted in
the worst way to get out of those trenches and back to the airdrome, to
take my chances mid those silver-winged birds that floated so gracefully
above. But, when I actually got over this same graveyard at six thousand
feet altitude that same picture again entered my mind. I knew I would
soon be crossing the lines. I began to think of the terrible fall of six
thousand feet before hitting that cemetery, and then I thought what I
would look like after I did hit. In fact, cold shudders crept through me
like a continued electric shock. For once I was downright scared and if
I could have changed places with the stalwart guardians of those
trenches in the rat-ridden graveyard beneath I would have run for the
opportunity. I would, at least, have something solid to stand upon.

We were going straight toward the lines and directly in front of Hill
304 and “Mort Homme.” They stood out extremely clear and plain. The
perpetual shell fire had left its mark for while the surrounding country
was green with vegetation, yet these two hills bulged forth, bald and
barren. Hill 304, or “Trois cent quatre” was the worse. It had nothing
growing on it at all. In fact, it was so bad that one of the polite,
French jokes on a bald-headed man was to call him “Trois cent quatre.”
After flying parallel to the line for a few minutes we turned back
toward our own lines. I determined that the French observer had found
his target and would soon be calling his battery.

This trip was a complete surprise because I understood from my meager
instructions that even when crossing the line the enemy anti-aircraft
artillery, commonly called “the archies,” would certainly open fire, but
everything was calm and peaceful—except my mind. I looked at my map to
find where the panels were displayed. Panels are large, horizontal
strips of cloth which are placed on the ground in various symbols near
the battery and are used as a means of communication between the battery
and the airplane. The airplane communicates with the battery largely by
means of the radio telegraphy, but as it was not practicable to receive
the radio signals in the plane from the ground, we used these panels.
Among the signals formed by these white panels, which are quite clearly
discernible from the air, are those meaning that the “Battery is ready
to fire,” “Battery has fired,” “Fire by Salvo,” “Change target,” and
many, many others including the signal “There is an Enemy Plane near
you,” which is the most dreaded panel that can be displayed. I might
incidentally mention that there is another panel which means “There is
no further need of you; you can go home.” Now this may not have a great
deal of significance to the average layman, but I’ll say that when the
sky spy has been tossed about for a couple of hours on the archie
billows he joins the union which says that “go home, you’re fired” is
the greatest little panel of the whole panel alphabet. So, in a few
minutes I picked up the location of the panels and I had a little chart
on my map board showing the meaning of these many panels. I had had some
instructions upon them while at Observation School, but I had depended
on crossing the bridge only upon arrival thereat, so I did not pay a
great deal of attention to them. The descriptive chart on my map board
interpreted the panels in French so I was not sure that the chart would
do me any good after all for my knowledge of technical or any other kind
of French was less than meager. I saw the panel “Battery is ready,” and
then the plane headed toward the lines and in a moment the panel changed
to “Battery has fired,” so I looked over in Hunland but I could not find
where the shells had hit. In my mind they were hitting everywhere so how
could I pick out the particular ones that Jones was directing. In a
moment I again saw “Battery is ready,” and again I looked directly
toward the supposed target. Suddenly I saw four shells strike real close
by and my vigilance was rewarded for I was to witness an actual
adjustment of artillery fire against a real enemy. Then I took a genuine
interest in the adjustment and paid very close attention to every
detail. In fact, I was so attentive that I was oblivious to the fact
that my mission was to protect the leading plane.

Delving into this new game I indulged in certain psychological
conclusions which took my mind off of the thing that had been troubling
me; namely, the unpeaceful condition of my mind. This was most
interesting. They had fired about six or seven salvos and were coming
very near to the target, which was a cross-road. I thought it must be a
wonderful observer to guide the battery with such unfailing accuracy and
I looked forward to the time when I too might be a genuine sky spy and
with American batteries seek out the enemy and destroy him, for after
all was not the position of the aerial observer one of the most
dangerous of the army, the spy—for his greatest mission was to find out
the intentions of the enemy and if he succeeded in bringing back the
information without being seen all would be well, and if he was seen it
meant he had to fight for his life. Like the spy he, too, lived within
the lines of the enemy.

This was the gist of my thoughts when I suddenly looked down at the
panels and saw a huge “Y” displayed. I did not pay much attention to the
“Y” but I saw Jones’ plane taking a steep spiral toward the earth. I did
not call the attention of my pilot to it because I thought “Y” was
something usual, meaning, perhaps, that the signals were not understood
so Jones was going down low to get closer to the battery in order that
his wireless could be heard, but Jones kept going right on down near the
battery and finally kept circling around close by at about three hundred
feet altitude. I looked around and did not pay any great heed; I thought
Jones would soon climb up again. In a few moments I saw the battery take
in their “Y” and put it out again; take it in and put it out, as if to
attract my attention. Then I saw them running back and forth with
individual panels in different directions, which had a sort of cinema
effect. Then they brought out double panels and made a great, huge “Y.”
Then I thought “Y” must mean something if they were making all that fuss
about it, so I thought “Y”—“Y”—“Y”—“Y.” It was a memory test for me. I
felt I should remember some of those panels and here was the chance to
think clear and quick. I went through the various fake memory courses I
had taken and tried in every way to determine the meaning of “Y,” so
after trying to figure it out by the law of association, the law of
likeness of sound, the law of impress and five other such hopeless laws
I began to regret that I had paid so much for that memory course. Then I
casually took out my map chart to find out what “Y” meant. As I ran
slowly down the list of signals I came to “Y” and looking across it I
saw “Attention! Ennemi avion pres de vous,” which in English means “Look
out! Enemy plane close to you.” I thought I did not know French but I
certainly acquired it with the speed of lightning. I dropped my map
board like a shot, jumped up in my cockpit, grabbed my machine guns,
released the tourelle, and whether I knew anything about that tourelle
or not, it followed me as I spun around three times in a complete circle
of three hundred and sixty degrees with the speed of a ballet dancer—I
was bent on getting anything near me. I stopped—looked frantically at
the pilot, expecting to find him dead. He had turned around to find out
what the rumpus was about. I did nothing but to give him a sickly smile
for I had nothing else to give. They had a signal commonly used among
observers to describe a cross with the forefinger and point when the
observer saw a German plane, but this was among the thousand things I
had not learned about aerial observation. So, he went on, straight
flying, just aimlessly drifting on.

I gradually calmed myself and looked into the sky above me and I saw
seven airplanes which were hidden from the view of the pilot on account
of the position of the wing above him. I was quite sure from the
lectures I had had in America from instructors who had never been at the
Front, that one could easily distinguish an enemy airplane by the huge
black cross that is painted all over it, and so I skimmed my eyes over
them trying to discern the cross. I could not, and yet the airplanes
stayed about six hundred meters above me and kept on circling around. I
decided that I was being duped and that there was some under my tail, so
I hung my anatomy over the fuselage and after a hasty examination I was
convinced that the only airplanes in that sky, except our own, were the
seven above me, and Jones, who was down by the battery still circling
around. I looked down at the panels and they were still frantically
waving that “Y” and peering at the planes above me I saw that they were
still circling around. I did not know what to do. In fact, I did not do
anything for fully thirty seconds, except to watch those planes, but
they did not make any sudden maneuvers or show any inclination to
attack. I looked down again and they were still putting out that big “Y”
and my pilot was just floating along as if nothing had ever happened; in
fact he had never seen the panels and was not paying any attention,
having undoubtedly an abundance of confidence in the ability of the
American observer, and as I could not disappoint him in his splendid
judgment as to my ability I just used my perfectly splendid logic and
decided that if they were German planes they certainly would have
attacked me before this time, and since they had not attacked, they
could be no other than French; and the solution was that the battery had
probably received notice from the Squadron Commander that there was a
green observer up and so they were undoubtedly flashing this “Y” trying
to play a joke on me, believing that I would run home, and thinking,
perhaps, that I had not seen Jones go down in his rapid spiral. So, I
decided to show them that they could not fox me and I just stayed up
there, floating around. After I had stayed up there for about fifteen
minutes Jones pulled out for home, and when I saw him shoot off in that
direction I decided that perhaps the signal had been changed and “Y”
meant that “there is no further need for you,” and that they were just
trying to attract my attention so that we would start home. I decided I
would not show any more ignorance than I had and would say nothing of
the incident.

So we went home and I felt pretty good that I was in sight of the
airdrome again and still alive and that nothing unusual had happened
after all. Jones got there about five minutes ahead of me. Meanwhile the
battery had called up the Squadron and told them that the observer in
that second plane was either the bravest man they had ever seen or the
biggest idiot, that he had stayed up there daring seven Germans to
attack him single handed, while they had toiled feverishly for fifteen
minutes with “Y’s” and double “Y’s” trying to give him warning and that
his utter disregard of their signals had so unnerved the crew that fifty
per cent. would be sick for a week. So, of course, the entire flying
personnel, including Adjutants, Sergeants, Corporals, Lieutenants and
Aspirants (Cadets) were there, as well as the Capitaine, to meet and
greet us. Jones, of course, had gotten out and also told them about our
narrow escape from the seven Huns and you can imagine the excitement and
ejaculating of a bunch of Frenchmen when anything so preposterous as
this should happen, especially with a new American who as yet was
untried in valor on the battlefields of France.

They were thoroughly convinced that I was an unusually hardboiled
soldier and that I had just dared the Germans to come down, and knew all
the time that they were Germans and that I was really seeking a fight
with the seven. Imagine the reception—they all ran up to the plane,
double time, including the rather heavy Captain, waving their hands and
shouting, but their remarks were so jumbled that I could not grasp the
entire meaning. They all came up and shook my hand and patted me on the
back and said “Bravo!” “Tres Fort!” and “Vive l’Americain!” and a lot of
other stuff. I was not much excited about it because I thought perhaps
that was customary as it was my first trip. Then, just as suddenly as if
they were waiting to hear a pin drop, everything became quiet, and they
demanded my story. Strangely enough I was perfectly convinced that we
had done nothing wrong, so I asked one of the Lieutenants who spoke a
little English to tell me what it was all about. He threw his head back
in great surprise and demanded in low tones, “Did you not see those
seven planes above you?” I quietly answered, “Certainly, I saw those
seven planes,” for I did. Then he continued in the same low voice, “And
did you not see the battery putting out the ‘Y’ with the panels?” I
said, “Certainly!” Everybody and everything was as quiet as death, and
then the light began to come to me just as the sun’s rays so suddenly
and rapidly dispel a fog, and I knew exactly what the next question was
going to be. He said, “Those were German planes, didn’t you know it?” At
those words I almost faded away but this was the real time for a little
“emergency” drama, so I assumed the rôle of a modern Daniel emerging
from the Den and shrugging my shoulders with a very much emphasized
forward motion of the chest, I bellowed, “Sure, I knew they were Germans
all the time. I didn’t run (emphasizing “I”) because I wanted to say I
had shot down some Boche on my first trip over the lines.” Their fond
expectations of the bravery of the Americans and incidentally my prowess
were met. They were proud of their new ally. Then came many cries of
“Bravo! Bravo!” and indiscreet whispers of “Croix de Guerre,” and we all
went home, with the American Sky Spy about the most popular fellow he
has ever been.

That night we had a real banquet at which I bought the champagne and the
red wine. While we were celebrating I was going over the whole matter
and long before I went home that night I realized that it was more than
luck and a “handful of Marines” that had saved me from those seven Huns.
It was manifest destiny, for I found that the reason those German planes
did not attack when they had me cold was that one of the aerial tactics
in vogue at that time, was to send one plane low as I was, with a strong
pursuit patrol high in the clouds above so that when the enemy attacked
the lower plane the pursuit planes high above could dive on the enemy,
thus having the great advantages of position, speed and surprise. The
seven Huns thought I was a dupe—I was, but not the kind they thought.
Mine was a case of ultra-distilled beginner’s luck.



                                   II
                               HARDBOILED


Every soldier from the General to a private sooner or later gets his
reputation. It comes through observation of a man’s action and attitude
by his fellow soldiers. Those who early in the game get a favorable
reputation are indeed fortunate while those who get in bad, so to speak,
are generally strictly out of luck for reputations are like postage
stamps—when once stuck on they are hard to take off.

There was one reputation which many sought but which represented to me
exactly what a real man’s nature ought not contain—this was the common
prefix to one’s name of “hardboiled.” The accepted meaning of this word
varied with localities, but I did not like it even in its most liberal
and favorable interpretation.

In every locality except the front, the common acceptance of the term
“hardboiled” indicated one who in any position of authority was a
pinheaded, tyrannical crab, who was so engrossed in himself and his big
stick position that he was entirely oblivious to the feelings and rights
of those he commanded. In other words, one who neither sought counsel
nor permitted argument. At the front, however, common usage had changed
the meaning of this famous term. There it ordinarily referred to the
soldier who had the maximum quantity of bravery and the minimum amount
of common sense and who purposely flirted with death for the fun of it
and who valued life somewhere between eight cents and two bits, war tax
not included. I paraphrase Mr. Shakespeare in that some people are
naturally hardboiled, others acquire it and still others have it thrust
upon them. I must add another class which has grown quite common since
the war is over; that is, assumed hardboiledness, and it is ordinarily
recognized in the blowing of one’s own horn lest it be not blown for
true enough the genuine hardboiled soldier in the fighting
interpretation of that word, is strictly a man of action and not words.

It is, of course, safe now for the parlor sofa soldier to explain to his
audience just how much help the rest of the Army gave him in winning the
war. I sometimes pull this gag myself when there is a good chance to get
away with it. For those who, during the war, were in the rear waiting
for the chance to get to the front it was also healthy to emphatically
emphasize just what wonders they would accomplish when fortune favored
them by sending them to the lines. There it was entirely a matter of
environment for there was no likelihood of those perfectly harmless
bluffs being called since there was no possible opportunity at hand to
demonstrate the modest announcements of their prowess. But take it from
me as the greatest lesson I ever learned, it is the most ill-advised
speech possible when one arrives at the front and begins to scatter
broadcast promiscuous remarks either about one’s own particular courage
or any one else’s lack of it, for, believe me, you will no more than get
the words into sound than they will be called and called strong. At the
front they have the peculiar faculty of making immediately available
full opportunity for demonstrating daring, bravery, or any other manly
virtue that the newcomer claims as a part of his makeup.

The now famous 12th Aero Squadron formed, with the 1st Aero Squadron,
the first American Observation Group at the front. It was located near a
little village called Ourches, about fifteen kilometres northwest of
Toul. Upon completion of my training with the French, during which time
I had just the one trip over the lines, I was assigned to the 12th Aero
Squadron. My time over the lines amounted to only fifty-five minutes.
The only thing I knew about sky-spying was what I had read in my books
and what I had picked up in our embryonic course of instruction at the
schools. Just as soon as I had gotten to the squadron I began to hear
wild rumors of how the Commanding Officer was going to send back to the
rear all those observers who did not have sufficient experience over the
lines and that he expected them all to have had, at least, ten trips
over the lines. I immediately realized that I had no chance whatsoever
with that standard, so my only hope was that the Commanding Officer
would be a nice man and that I could talk him into making an exception
in my case. I found out that the squadron was commanded by a young
Regular Army officer by the name of Major Lewis Hyde Brereton. No one I
could ask seemed to know a lot about him, for the squadron was just
being organized and would not operate over the front lines for a couple
of days, at least. So I had no dope on the manner of man I was to
approach and who fortune had destined should become the leading and
controlling influence of my life at the front.

Captain “Deacon” Saunders, who has since been killed, had been one of my
instructors at school and he had been designated by Brereton as Chief
Observer. “Deac” was a wonder. It was his duty to round up the wild
observers and present them to the Commanding Officer, who
cross-questioned them as to their experience and the like. So, “Deac”
grabbed me eventually during the morning of the second day and took me
over to meet His Royal Majesty, the Commanding Officer of an actual
American Squadron at the front. He was quartered in a wooden hut
commonly known as an “Adrian Barrack.”

Saunders gave a sharp military knock of three raps and I, of course,
expected to hear a nice, soft, cultured voice say, “Won’t you come in?”
What I heard, however, was considerably different. “Who in the hell’s
there?” The voice was sharp and impatient, and it suddenly made me feel
“less than the dust beneath thy chariot wheel.”

Captain Saunders spoke up, “Sir, I have a new observer reporting and
would like to present him to you.”

“What’s his name?” gruffed the irate voice.

“Lieutenant Haslett, Sir,” replied Captain Saunders.

“Who in the devil asked for him?” came from the inside.

“Sir,” said my godfather, “he was included in the list sent down by
Headquarters.”

“Well! Is he there now?” said the power within.

“Yes, sir, right with me now,” was the reply, and I began to pull down
my blouse and otherwise mill around in preparation for my entrance, for
this last question was encouraging.

“Well,” came the growl, after a discomforting hesitation, “I don’t want
to see him. I’m writing a letter to my wife and I can’t be bothered.”

I felt about as welcome as a skunk in a public park. In all my military
experience I cannot remember anything that really hurt me so much. I
wanted like a starving man wants food, to be a plain buck private in the
Infantry, for this was the most inconsiderate sort of a bruise; it hurt
me more, of course, because I was an officer and was wearing my pride on
my coat sleeve. The only thing that bolstered me up was the fact that I
had finally gotten to the American front and I was willing to sacrifice
practically anything to stay there, but I certainly realized that the
man who put the “boiled” in “hardboiled” was no other than Major Lewis
H. Brereton.

At noon I saw Brereton for the first time. Some one was kind enough to
point him out to me, and I remember thinking at the time, “How can a
pleasant-faced youngster like that be so hardboiled?”

That afternoon, around three o’clock, “Deac” Saunders said we would
again attempt to get an audience, and just as he introduced me, for some
reason, Saunders was called away, and I had no friend to sponsor my
cause before a hard judge. Brereton had just finished his after-dinner
nap and was in the act of dressing in flying clothes to take a little
flight around the field, so being in a hurry, he began throwing out
snappy questions at me, as if trying to establish a record in getting
rid of me. He lost no time in continuing his dressing, and did not even
ask me to sit down or to allow me to relax from my painfully rigid
position of Attention.

“What’s your name?” he commanded.

“Lieutenant Haslett, Sir.”

“I’ve got eyes,” he snapped. “I can see your rank all right. How does it
happen you are Infantry?”

“I volunteered, Sir, for Aviation and was detailed.”

“Volunteered or was ordered to volunteer?” he queried. This hurt for it
had been strongly rumored that in the selection of aerial observers,
many line commanders had gotten rid of their undesirables by sending
them to aviation—as observers.

“Volunteered, Sir!” I replied, bluffed and bewildered.

His attitude showed plainly that I did not strike him at all well. I was
still standing at attention, when he sharply commanded “Sit down!”
Believe me, I did.

“How many hours over the lines?” he fired next.

Hours! That word removed the floodgate and the last ounce of my
composure ebbed away. My time over the lines was measured in minutes and
here was a man talking in terms of hours, already. This was the one
thing I must avoid, so I sought to evade the question.

“I have had eight hours in the air, Sir.” But I did not lay any stress
on “in the air.”

“I don’t care how many hours you’ve had in the air. I asked you how many
hours you have had over the lines. That’s what counts with me,” he said
emphatically.

There was no escape. If I lied he could look up the record, so, I
decided to tell the truth from necessity for this was not the place or
time for “period of the emergency” statements.

“Fifty-five minutes, Sir,” I confessed.

“I thought so,” and he nodded his head in proud self-approval just as
does the cross-examining prosecutor when he finally forces an admission
from the man at bay. “How many adjustments over the lines?”

“None, Sir.”

“None!” he said with a noticeable inflection. “How many in the air at
school?”

“None, Sir,” I said meekly enough.

“None!” he exclaimed emphatically. “How many on paper?”

“One, Sir,” I said, hesitatingly, for my energy was getting low.

“Well,” he snapped, as if glad to dispose of me on my own lack of merit.
“You don’t know a damn thing about observation. How in the hell did you
get to the front, anyway? I might use you as a mess officer, but if you
ever intend to fly over the front you’ve got to go back and learn
something about your job. This is a service squadron, operating over the
front. Whoever ordered you to Toul intended to send you to Tours, so
I’ll call up and get orders for you to go back to the rear.”

Tours, by the way, was the great aviation primary school of the American
Forces—while Toul in those early days signified the front.

My pride fell like a demonstration of Newton’s law of gravity. This
hardboiled man could not be approached by man or beast; and it seemed
the only thing I could do was to say “Yes, sir” and beat it. I had
visions of returning to the rear for further instruction, yet here I was
at the front—I had finally realized my ambition and yet was on the verge
of having it strangled by this man’s inconsideration. I could not endure
the thought—my attitude changed in a moment—I determined to assume
hardboiledness, for after I had gotten that close to the front I
certainly was not going back without putting up some sort of a fight.
Besides, I had a few days before written my folks and my friends that I
was actually at the front, and what kind of a legitimate reason could I
give in my next letter when I would have to tell them I was no longer at
the front. The only legitimate excuse a soldier has for leaving the
front after being fortunate enough to get there, is an incapacitating
wound, and while Brereton had dealt me several wounds which were sure
enough incapacitating, yet they were not the kind that would put pretty
little gold wound stripes on my arm. Sure enough—I was down and about to
take the count.

There is always a way to get out of the most entangling net. Sometimes
it narrows down to only one way and if the captive fails to choose that
one particular hazard out of a thousand plausible ones, he is out of
luck. So it was, there was only one way to extricate myself from the web
that Brereton had spun so quickly around my whole ambition. Very, very
fortunately I had picked the winner. It was a long chance, but I was
Houdini this time. This hardboiled monster had to be met with his own
style. So, with an assumed rôle of the hardboiled, man-eating cannibal,
I right away cut out that “sir” stuff, took out my pipe and calmly
started to fill it with “Bull Durham” tobacco, which was the only brand
our little canteen had in stock, and we were really mighty happy to get
even that.

Brereton plainly saw that my temper had gotten out of bounds and that I
was preparing to come back at his apparently final decision either with
tears or blasphemy or both. But just as the matador seeks to infuriate
the bull by waving a red flag before slaughtering him, so Brereton
seeing me about to fill my pipe with this well-advertised and justly
celebrated brand of tobacco, ventured forth.

“Lieutenant,” he said, clearing his throat by way of emphasis, “I take
it that you are about to use some Bull.”

He said this quite seriously, without even a follow-up laugh to dull the
cutting bluntness of it. It apparently was his day, for like the
infuriated bull, I was seeing red already. I made the final run to gore
him or be stabbed myself by his waiting poniard of arrogance.

“You can call it Bull, if you like,” I fairly cried, “but, pardon my
frankness, the fact that you classify what I have to say even before you
have heard it shows your premature judgment, just as you prematurely
judged my ability or lack of ability as an observer before even giving
me an opportunity to demonstrate it. Of course, I don’t know whether you
have ever been over the lines or not, but if you have, you will concur
with me that the greatest thing an observer needs is ‘guts.’ I don’t say
I’m a world’s beater in experience, but one thing I have and which can
be demonstrated nowhere else but over the lines,” and here I threw out
my chest, “and that is ‘guts’ or politely ‘intestines.’ Now, if that
asset means anything to you, you will give me a chance to stay with the
12th. All I want is an opportunity to render good service, and to show
the stuff I am made of. Now if you don’t want to give me a chance I can
do nothing further except to tell you that I will get the chance
elsewhere and that I know more about observation than most of your
observers ever will know.”

Major Brereton was dumbfounded. When he recovered he gave a real,
ringing, golden, genuine laugh, came across and said, “Damn it all, my
boy, maybe you’re right. I haven’t been over the lines myself yet.”

I knew quite well he hadn’t. If it had been otherwise I would have
mended my speech considerably.

“But, old man,” he said, “I was only thinking for your own good. Hell,
if you want to be a damn fool and go on over the lines, knowing as
little as you do, it’s not my worry. Go ahead!”

I thanked him and told him that I had to start some time and I would be
all ready to go over at my first opportunity.

Fully decided to make myself at home I went out to the hangars and to my
surprise, I saw the same kind of old airplanes we had used in the
observation school in France. They were an obsolete type of French
service plane, known as “A.R.’s”—Avion Renault—which in English meant
“Renault Airplane.” The accepted meaning to the Americans, however, was
“Antique Rattletrap.” The only good feature about the A.R. was the
dependable motor, but they were very slow and did not fly well. They
might in those days pass for a second class training plane, but to have
them on the line, functioning as service planes, was a great surprise to
me. The life of the airman depends very largely on the bus he drives. We
all wanted Spads, Salmsons or Breguets, and, of course, any prospect of
an American plane in those days was a myth, so there was noticeably keen
disappointment when we found that we must fly over the front in those
old, discarded and obsolete A.R.’s. However, they were all we had and so
far as I was concerned, I knew that my stay in the squadron was largely
by sufferance and I could not afford to kick lest I be also kicked out,
so I immediately decided to think a lot, but say nothing.

Those first few missions over the lines were tame enough. Happily enough
I got in as substitute on the first mission of the squadron over the
lines. The only diversion was the anti-aircraft artillery fire, or the
“Archies,” and there was nothing tame about that. However, there was
more activity in sight for in a few days Brereton announced that he
wanted his squadron to be a specialized one and that he desired the
names of a few observers who would volunteer to specialize in “Infantry
contact patrol.” “Infantry contact patrol” to my mind meant nothing, so
from force of habit I volunteered. The only other observers who
volunteered were Lieutenant Emerson, a fine, young fellow who was killed
a couple of days later, and Captain “Deacon” Saunders, our Chief
Observer.

Though I was not previously known in the squadron I somehow became
prominent right off, and with it went the title of “Hardboiled.” So,
when several of my newly formed acquaintances solemnly asked me how long
I expected to live doing “Infantry Contact Patrols,” I hied me forth to
the Operations Room and asked the Chief Observer what it was all about.
I was handed a pamphlet written by Colonel William Mitchell, who was
Chief of Air Service at the Front. It started out with these words,
“Infantry Liaison, or Infantry Contact Patrol is the most hazardous, but
most important of all missions.” My eyes began to bat like a
heavyweight’s before he falls for the count, and as I read on I came
rapidly to the conclusion that the volunteer system was absolutely all
wrong and the next time any of these nice, uncertain jobs were offered
I’d take my place in the draft.

I found that Infantry Contact Patrol indicated the airplane that gains
contact with the infantry in battle, which is done by flying extremely
low over the troops, finding the advanced lines, transmitting signals,
calling for reinforcements, ammunition or the like, attacking machine
guns or anything else which is holding up the advance of the infantry;
further, that the great drawback to this kind of work is that the
infantry airplane is constantly under fire from enemy machine guns and
enemy pursuit planes, which, of course, concentrate to hinder this all
important work. I decided that with my huge body in a slow A.R. plane my
life on this work would be measured in minutes. It was a real scare.

[Illustration: AN OPERATION ROOM OF AN AMERICAN SQUADRON AT THE FRONT,
SHOWING BATTLE MAPS, WAR PLANS AND PHOTOGRAPHS]

There was no backing down since I had already volunteered, so I began to
study the bulletins, with the greatest care. No attacks, however, took
place in this quiet sector so I hit upon the brilliant idea of trying
out this new work in practice on the Germans, then I would be properly
experienced should there ever actually be an attack. The trenches in the
Toul Sector were well marked, especially around Layeyville and
Richecourt. So I studied those trenches from maps, photographs and from
the air, until I knew them perfectly.

One evening I had as my pilot, Lieutenant Jack Kennedy, who was one of
our flight commanders, and who was in for anything new and exciting, so,
we fixed it up that we would try out a practice infantry contact on the
Germans. When we finished our usual evening reconnaissance of the
sector, we played around looking for a good situation that might be
assumed. When we got just above Richecourt, which was the beginning of
the German lines, I discerned quite clearly, about ten, big, fat Heinies
slowly wobbling down a communication trench. It apparently was a relief
going into place. The trench was unusually long and was not intersected
by any other trenches for some length.

“Those Germans are bringing up ammunition reinforcements for the
battle,” I assumed. “They must be stopped!” The ammunition was soup.

I called Kennedy, pointed them out to him, and told him my assumption.
Without waiting for a signal, he dived like the winged messenger of
fate. Kennedy had been trained with the English Pursuit Pilots and he
was handling that big, slow, lumbering A.R. like a little fighting
scout. We came out of that dive with a quivering groan, and Kennedy, at
about one hundred meters altitude, began to circle over that
communicating trench, waiting for me to halt the procession. He was too
fast for me, but when I finally got my heart gauged down a bit, and my
Adam’s apple released from its strangle hold on my windpipe, I began to
make my final estimate of the situation. The Heinies had stopped and
were eyeing us like country boys at their first circus. It was easy. All
I had to do was to pull the triggers, for my guns were directly on them
and the enemy reinforcements would never reach its intended destination.
They could not scatter—they were rats in my trap. Then an intensely
human appeal struck me—poor, belated, unfortunate Heinies—they were not
my personal enemies, and if I pulled the triggers it would be little
short of murder. To balance this was another series of thought—they were
enemies of my country—of the United States—and, if I allowed them to
live, would probably kill many of our own brave doughboys; perhaps they
belonged to machine gun squads; perhaps it was they who had killed my
pals, Angel and Emerson, a few days before. Such were my thoughts when
suddenly, Spiff! Spang! and two bullets went between me and the gasoline
tank, tearing a hole in the top plate. Spiff!!! Another went through the
fuselage, smashing into bits, my hard-rubber wireless reel. It was no
time to indulge in psychological deductions—I realized that I was being
fired at from the ground, and like my lumbering old A.R., I was about to
pass from obsolescence to obsolete. The application of proper psychology
indicated that since I was being fired at, the war between the United
States and Germany had not ended and below me was the enemy. I was
conscious of something within calling me to “Do my duty!” I did. The
bullets began to sing at the rate of six hundred per minute, and my
tracer bullets did not betray me. They were finding their mark. Measured
by the standard that an Ace is one who gets five or more Boche, I became
an Ace in a day—and also the first American Ace. However, strangely
enough, when my friends to-day ask me, “How many boche did you get?” I
can truthfully say, “Between seventy-five and a hundred,” but when they
say, “How many boche planes did you shoot down?” I have to renig for I
am not an Ace.

I was quite certain that my assumed reputation of “hardboiled” would be
justified by this day’s performance. The mechanics took a just pride in
the holes in our plane and patched them over, as was the custom, with
miniature Iron Crosses, showing the date of the puncture. The next
morning I noticed myself being pointed out by several officers of the
squadron and this gave me the rather satisfactory feeling commonly
described by the English as “cocky.”

Brereton had nothing whatever to say about the mission but Captain
“Deac” Saunders said “Bully,” and called me “Hardboiled,” but my
reputation lasted only two days, four hours and twenty minutes, for the
Group Commander threw ice-cold water over everything by saying that he
considered it very poor work, that it had no military value and that it
only encouraged reprisals on the part of the Hun who would soon do the
same thing. So, I was temporarily classed as bone-headed, and a “dud”
and was in dutch all round. There was one little spark of encouragement
in a remark that Brereton made, which got to me through the medium of a
friend, and it took away the sting of the Group Commander’s criticism,
for to me the only boss I had was Brereton, and what he said was law.
The adverse remarks of the Group Commander hurt at the time, I admit,
but when Brereton said he did not exactly agree with him that the
mission had no military value, and also several months later, when this
type of mission had so developed that we had special squadrons in the
Saint Mihiel and Argonne offensives that did nothing but this particular
type of work, I was happy indeed. Later, all types of planes were
ordered to fire at troops on the ground when their assigned missions
were completed, and the opportunity presented itself.

Shortly after this mission, Henderson, who was the Operations Officer
under Captain Saunders, the Chief Observer, left for the aerial gunnery
school in the south of France, with three other observers, to take a
month’s course in firing and then return to the Front. This left the
much coveted position of Operations Officer open and, of course,
everyone was wondering to whom it would fall. It was the biggest job in
the squadron next to the Commanding Officer and the Chief Observer, and
since the Operations Officer dealt directly with the observers I was
mighty anxious to find out who my new boss would be, so that I could
make it a point to get along with him.

That night Saunders came around and called me out of a little game we
were having—I thought perhaps I was scheduled to go on a special mission
of some kind, but there was a surprise, undreamed of, awaiting me.

“Haslett,” he said, “Henderson is going to Caseaux to-morrow and I have
recommended you to Brereton for appointment as Operations Officer. He
kicks like the devil that you haven’t had much experience, but he likes
that mission you got away with and thinks you are ‘hardboiled,’ so he
may come across. He is going to decide before breakfast to-morrow.”

I could not believe what he had said and humbly asked him to repeat it
all over from the beginning. I slept very little that night, for to me
this was the biggest thing in the world, it would clearly indicate that
I had made good and that my stay at the front was assured.

The announcement on the bulletin board the next morning was signed by
Charley Wade, the best Squadron Adjutant I have ever seen, and stated
that I had been detailed as Acting Operations Officer. I was the
happiest lad in the world. I don’t believe any success I can ever
achieve will make me as happy as I was when I read that order. The first
thing I did was to consult Brereton and Saunders as to how they wanted
it operated. Brereton gave me no dope whatever, except “to run it as I
darn pleased and if it did not please him he would soon get some one who
would.”

Thus I started. As new pilots reported I always took them over the lines
for the initial trip. Saunders asked me to do this for he felt that I
was either absolutely worthless or extraordinarily good. If I was
worthless there would be no loss if the green pilot killed me, and if on
my part, I succeeded in getting the pilot back safe, it would be
wonderful training for the pilot. Some logic, I reasoned—thus my job of
official breaker-in of new pilots. I say “breaker” for a new pilot
coming to the front must be broken in just the same as a horse has to be
broken for riding or driving. It is equally true in both cases that the
first ride is the worst.

We had one boy who had been with us since the formation of the squadron,
but who had been sick and was unable to fly. His name was Phil Schnurr,
a young lieutenant from Detroit, Michigan. Phil did not get his first
trip over the Front until some time around the first of June. Of course,
I was the goat and took him across. It was not new for me as he was
about the sixth I had broken in.

I emphasized to him that in my experience over the lines among other
things I had found that the best way to get away from the “archies” was
to dive when they got near you for the reason that it was much easier
for the “archies” to correct deflection than it was for them to correct
range. Whatever that means, it’s all right. Phil knew.

I decided that we would call on a battery and adjust the artillery on an
enemy battery in a woods close by, which was causing our troops
considerable trouble, so I explained to Phil just what we would do,
going largely into detail.

The plane was a little shaky even at the take off, and I decided right
away that Phil was not quite in the class with Rickenbacker, but I
attributed the cause to his natural nervousness, which would soon wear
off. After calling our battery by wireless for several minutes they
finally put out their panels and we immediately went over to look for
the hostile battery that had been reported the same day. I found it and
we just started to cross the lines to go back into France when Fritz
played one of his favorite tricks. The Germans allow the observation
plane to cross the line and come in for not more than three or four
kilometers, then when you turn to come out, having followed you all the
time with their range finders, they suddenly open up with all their
anti-aircraft artillery and generally catch you in their bracket at the
first salvo. You are bracketed when they have fired the first shots—one
above, one below and one on each side of you. It is not a pleasant
position in which to be caught. But they did more than that to us—they
not only bracketed us, but one shot got us right under the tail and when
Phil heard that burst, known commonly as “Aviator’s Lullaby,” which is
the most rasping and exasperating noise it is possible to imagine, he
remembered my admonition to dive if they got close, so just as the tail
went up from the force of the concussion of the shell directly below us,
Phil pushed forward for all he was worth on the control stick. The
sudden jarring of the plane from the explosion and the more abrupt dive,
released the throttle, throwing the motor into full speed. And with one
mighty jerk like the sudden release of a taut rubber band, all three
forces working in the same direction, and aided by the flyer’s greatest
enemy, Newton’s law of gravity, that A.R. omnibus started straight down
in one terrible dive. Poor old Phil was thrown completely out of the
pilot’s seat and was only saved from going headlong into the open air by
his head striking the upper wing of the plane, which knocked him back
into the seat, dazed and practically unconscious. The “hardboiled”
observer in the back seat did not have a belt, for my famous A.R. plane
was not equipped with them. I went completely out of the cockpit and in
that brief second I had one of the rarest thoughts I have ever had—I was
sure I was going to be killed and I regretted that it was in such a
manner, for it was, indeed, unfortunate that I should be killed in an
airplane accident when I might have died fighting in combat—there, at
least, I would have had an equal chance with the enemy. As I shot out of
that cockpit with the speed that a bullet leaves the barrel of a gun, my
foot caught on the wire directly underneath the rim of the cockpit. With
superhuman effort doubled by the intuitive hope of self-preservation, I
grabbed the top gun which in those days was mounted on the top of the
upper plane. Backward I fell. For a moment I was completely free of the
airplane, in midair; as I fell my chin hit the outward pointing muzzle
of the machine gun; I threw my arms forward and closed them in the grip
of death. I had caught the barrels of my machine guns and the next thing
I was conscious of was that I was hanging over the side of the fuselage,
below the airplane, but clinging on to those machine guns for dear life.
The old admonition “to stand by the guns, boys” was tame compared to me.
My watchword was “hang on to the guns, boy.”

The plane had fallen about one thousand feet and was still going, but
stunned as he was, Phil was doing his best to level her off. I was sure
if he ever did level her off the strain would be so great that it would
fold or strip the wings. I cannot account for the strength that came to
me, but I do know that if I ever should get into a good fight, I only
hope I may again be that superman, with the agility of the ape riding
the flying horse at the three-ringed circus.

I scrambled up on those machine guns, grabbed the rim of the cockpit and
the brace of the tourrelle and climbed in. My ears were splitting; I was
certain that the top of my head had been shot away, for there was
nothing there but a stinging, painful numbness. My heart was beating at
the rate of nine hundred and ninety-nine round trips per second. I felt
that my whole body was being flayed by sharp, burning, steel lashes.
Then I suddenly grew as cold as ice and passed out. It was almost a
literal case of a man being scared to death. When I saw the light again
I was limp in the bottom of the fuselage. My first sensation was that we
had crashed and I was alive in the wreckage, but the drone of the motor
brought me to the realization that we were still flying. Evidently Phil
had gotten control again, so I pulled myself up to my seat in the
cockpit and got my bearings—we were headed toward home. Poor Phil had
his eyes set straight ahead. At his right he had a mirror which
reflected the movements of the observer, thus obviating the necessity of
continually turning around. When Phil saw my reflection in that mirror,
however, he whirled around at top speed to verify it. His countenance
changed from being horrified to complete surprise and then to genuine
delight. He had evidently looked around immediately upon gaining
control, and not seeing me, had realized that I had been thrown from the
plane. He was going back to the airdrome to tell the horrible tale.

I could read the look in his eyes, and I do not know what in the world
possessed me to do it, but I gave a huge, roaring laugh that would have
made the jovial laugh of the old southern mammy sound meager in
comparison. Phil did not laugh, he only gave a sickly, sympathetic
smile. The boy was thoroughly convinced that I had suddenly become
insane—he had justification for his conviction for there was nothing in
the world at which I could find a reason for laughing at that
time—either in law, fiction, fact, heaven or earth.

I was still sort of dazed, but we were fast approaching our airdrome.
The thing that preyed on my mind was that we had started out to do an
aerial adjustment and had not finished it. What would Brereton say—and I
was now Operations Officer—what would the Battery say? Could I ever get
the results from observers when I did not bring home the bacon myself.
There was only one thing to do—the adjustment started must be finished.
I shook the plane and spoke to Phil through the old rubber tubes we had
in those days. I told him what had happened, but that I was all right
now. Then he told me what happened to him.

“How’s your head feeling now, Phil?” I asked.

“It’s cracked open,” he answered.

“Can you go ahead and finish this adjustment?” I demanded.

“Yes, I can,” he said, “but I’m not going to, I’m sick.”

“So am I, but you know that’s no excuse at all. Let’s try it,” I
ventured.

He said nothing but turned his plane toward Germany and we were again
speeding toward the lines.

The battery must have realized what had happened or almost happened, so
when I began to wireless to them the location of the target, they were
sportsmen just like all the rest of that 26th Division and they
immediately put out the panel meaning “There is no further need of you,
you can go home.”

This was commendable on their part and it sorely tempted me to take them
up, but I quite well knew there was no excuse to make for going home now
since we had both decided to finish it, so I immediately called back and
asked “Is Battery Ready?” They, of course, put out the signal that it
was. So I gave them the coördinates of the target and we started to
work. We were both extremely nervous and weak and the anti-aircraft kept
firing with unceasing violence. We stayed in the air for exactly an hour
and fifty-five minutes and fired a total of fourteen salvos. But luck
was the reward of our perseverance. On the fourteenth salvo we struck
the huge ammunition dump next to the enemy battery and I have never in
my experience seen such a huge and magnificent explosion. Our plane,
five thousand feet above the explosion, even quivered at the concussion.
We, of course, announced to the battery that they had hit the target and
then started for home. The last wireless was unnecessary, however, for
they had seen the explosion. It was visible for several miles around.

We were so confused and nervous that we fiddled around another half hour
before we could find our airdrome. We finally landed and poor old
Schnurr was a nervous wreck. Pride forbids me from accurately describing
myself.

Schnurr confessed to me later that he barely knew how to fly, having had
only a few hours in a plane, but that he was so anxious to get to the
Front that he managed to slip by the “Powers that be” and finally got
there. He begged me not to tell it for fear he would be sent back to the
rear. Phil was an example of the high-spirited boys who first led the
way for America’s aerial fleets. These high-hearted men were America’s
first and greatest contribution.

However, for Schnurr’s own good I decided that he should have more
training. I got Brereton off on the side and whispered some things in
his ear. He was furious at the fact that a pilot had been slipped over
on him who did not know everything about flying, and said that he would
send Schnurr to the rear right away, but when I finished whispering
these things in his ear he changed his mind, for I repeated to Brereton
that in my opinion the greatest thing an aviator can have is nerve, or
to again use the Army term, immodest as it is, “Guts;” ability is only
secondary. Then I told him how Schnurr had gone on and finished the work
and had blown up the ammunition.

Brereton agreed to keep Schnurr, and we gave him several hours solo
flying under the instruction of more experienced pilots before again
permitting him to go over the lines.

What happened to Schnurr? Well, he turned out to be, in my estimation,
undoubtedly, the best observation pilot on the entire front, and he went
through the hard fighting at Chateau Thierry, Saint Mihiel and the
Argonne, and although he had some of the hardest and most discouraging
missions ever given to a pilot, he was one man who could always be
counted upon to deliver the goods if it was humanly possible. In fact,
he became known as “Old Reliable,” for he never failed.

On the matter of promotions and decorations Phil Schnurr had the worst
deal that was ever handed to any one. He started as a Second Lieutenant
and ended that. He was never decorated although recommended to my
knowledge, at least eight times. Something always went wrong. Where
several proposals would go in, Schnurr’s would never go through. If any
one in the American Army in this War should have his chest covered with
medals and crosses from the Congressional Medal of Honor on down—it is
Phil Schnurr.

From this mission, which is small compared to some of Phil’s later
accomplishments, we were both cited by General Edwards, commanding the
26th Division, as follows:


  HEADQUARTERS 26TH DIVISION AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE

                                           France, September 17, 1918.

  GENERAL ORDERS
      No. 78

                                Extract

                  *       *       *       *       *

  4. By his accurate registration of Battery F, 101st Field Artillery,
  on June 10, 1918, First Lieut. Elmer R. Haslett, 12th Aero Squadron,
  caused the destruction of a large quantity of enemy ammunition, his
  plane being pierced several times during this dangerous work. The
  Division Commander takes great pleasure in acknowledging the
  valuable aid of this officer and congratulates him on his skill and
  daring.

                  *       *       *       *       *

                                                    C. R. Edwards,
                                            Major General, Commanding.


After this mission Brereton, himself, classified both Schnurr and me as
“sufficiently hardboiled.” The boys took up the refrain and thus, after
assuming the attitude necessary, I finally acquired the title and had
the emoluments and incidental responsibility thrust upon me.



                                  III
                             MY FIRST SCRAP


The early days in the Toul Sector are remembered by the aviators in the
observation end of the game as quiet ones. All the time I was there with
the Americans I had never even seen a Boche plane. I understand they
were around all right, but all of our young pursuit pilots of the 94th
and 95th Squadrons were so determined, individually, to become the first
American Ace that they scoured the sky from daylight to dusk, and to
such a degree of success that the Boche thought it rather risky to even
leave their own airdrome.

About the middle of June the Rainbow Division was down in the
Bacarrat-Lunéville Sector and having been there some time without
aviation, it was decreed that the 12th Aero Squadron, which had done
most remarkable work in the Toul Sector, should proceed at once to a
little place called Flin, near Bacarrat, to work with the 42nd
Division—the Rainbow—in order that they might have more experience in
aerial coöperation.

We still had our famous old A.R. training busses, although we had been
again promised everything from Spads to Salmsons. So, with our eighteen
pilots and eighteen observers and our eighteen A.R. busses we started
for our new station, which was about one hundred and fifty kilometers
distant.

We were supposed to begin work on the following day, just as in actual
battle, for we were simulating a real, active battle move. Our trucks
left in the afternoon about three o’clock and without mishap, should
have arrived there about midnight. The planes were to wait until the
next morning and fly down. The truck train got there all right, and got
busy fixing up quarters and getting ready for immediate operations. We
expected to see our famous eighteen planes arrive in a well organized,
close formation at about eleven o’clock that morning, but at eleven they
did not arrive and we heard nothing from them until about three o’clock,
when one of our young pilots came from somewhere out of the sky and
landed. We asked about the other seventeen, to which question he showed
the greatest surprise, and explained that he had been detained by motor
trouble and had been unable to get off with the main formation which had
taken off four or five hours before him. Immediately Dame Rumor stepped
forth, and the absence of the other planes was attributed to everything
from being lost in Germany to being shot down by a German plane.

While we were discussing the matter some one noticed two planes very
high in the air. We thought, of course, that they were our planes and
were probably lost. Ideas were rampant as to how we were going to signal
them to get them down, when suddenly we heard the splutter-splut-splut,
intermittently, of machine guns way up in the sky. This was new to us.
We thought, of course, that some one was merely trying out his guns.
These ideas were soon dispelled for following this short, intermittent
sound we heard one, steady, singing stream of sound—then we knew that an
air fight was on. We did not have time to realize exactly what was
happening for the steady stream of fire suddenly ceased and we saw one
of the planes falling, out of control. It was swaying back and forth
like a falling leaf, and filling the air with a miserable swish-swish
sound. The horrible speed of the fall caused both wings to collapse and
fold, and the compact mass soon came diving toward earth like a huge
torpedo. It crashed with a terrible thud on the very edge of our own
field. When the awful horror of the moment passed, we all started to run
to see the Boche that had been shot down.

We dragged two crushed and lifeless bodies from the debris and in
contrite and humble reverence to our hostile brothers of the air we
removed our caps, while the Surgeon began to take off their flying
garments in order to find their names. It is hard to imagine the ghastly
horror of the shock we received, when, upon unfastening the collar of
the outer-garment the green uniform of the German aviator was not
revealed, but instead the Royal Seal of the Crown of England. Two brave,
British lads had made the Supreme Sacrifice. It is a memory that will
never be obliterated from my mind, and I can well remember how the
sentiment of the crowd changed like a burning slap, from icy but human
feeling to one of fiery hatred and cold-blooded revenge. High in the sky
above the victor was winging his way back to the land of the Hun. Young
Davidson was the only pilot we had there and we had only one A.R. on the
field. It was the one in which Davy had just landed. We knew it would be
foolhardy to send that Antique Rattletrap up against that Hun, but every
man in the Squadron from the Chief Mechanic to the Major’s orderly and
the second cook wanted to go with Davy to avenge our British brothers.
Davy and his Observer, however, took off but only got several hundred
feet when the motor stopped. We had no more gasoline, but the Hun was
already too far toward home and our A.R. could never have climbed the
altitude at which the Boche was flying, so we were obliged to give it
up.

There was no loss of morale, however. Matters were too serious to even
think of that. The thing that was worrying us was what had happened to
our other seventeen planes. Had they all met the fate of the British
Tommies? Had they too been caught unawares, for a lot of them had flown
with mechanics at the observers’ guns. They had undoubtedly lost their
formation and in straggling about it was quite easy to suppose that
they, too, had become an easy prey for the Hun in the Sun. Believe me,
we worried. Not very long afterwards a French soldier came along and
handed us some messages which had been received at the French telegraph
exchange in a nearby village. They were all from our aviators and the
wires indicated that they were scattered all over that country from
Nancy to Chaumont, and from Colombey-les-Belles to Lunéville. The whole
bunch had gotten lost and in trying to pick their separate ways they had
certainly made a mess of it. I expected to hear of some landing at Paris
or Bordeaux, but while they did not do that, after we finally plotted
their various locations on our map, take it from me, it was a study in
polka-dots. One by one they drifted in and outside of one valuable plane
that had to be salvaged, in a couple of days we were able to work.

Brereton did not arrive with the squadron. He had been ordered to
General Headquarters for a conference of some importance, which
occasioned him some delay. The morning he arrived, however, he brought
Henderson, Herold and Hopkins along. They had been detached from us at
Toul in order to take a Gunnery Course at Caseaux, in the south of
France.

Henderson again took over his duties as Operations Officer. Brereton
called me in his office and told me a big secret. He stated that there
were big things ahead—that we were going to Chateau Thierry quite
soon—that he would be Chief of the Air Service for the First Corps and
that I would be made a Captain and the Operations Officer for the Corps.
He asked me how many times I had been over the lines in the last month
to which I answered that it was about thirty times. He said that was too
much and that I needed a rest. He then told me I should not fly any more
for a couple of weeks, so, I took him at his word and settled down for a
rest, meanwhile forming plans for my new job. I strutted around the
Squadron and gave as my reasons for retiring, that it was for my nerves
and the doctor had so ordered. The boys all fell for this line and they
were very thoughtful of me and asked me many times each day as to the
condition of my nerves.

In a few days, the 42nd Division was ordered out of the line in order to
prepare themselves for the affair which we afterwards learned was
Chateau Thierry, and the 77th, which was the first National Army unit to
go in the trenches, was ordered in the line. Their Artillery was not yet
ready for work, so, some of the 42nd Artillery stayed over to support
them. The first morning after the 77th took its place in the trenches
the Germans pulled off a raid, the result of which put about six hundred
of the 77th in the hospital from gas and wounds.

When the raid came off, the first reports we got were from the French at
daybreak. They said that the boche had attacked along the entire
divisional front from Domévre to Badonvillers, and that we should send
out a plane at once and find the line in order that the General might
know where to send reinforcements. It was Lieut. Hopkins’ turn on alert
duty, so, he took off right after daylight in the execution of his first
mission over the lines. Hopkins had lots of courage—he was a brave
fellow—he got tangled up with the “archies” and a huge piece of shell
tore away a part of his knee, but he stayed right up there trying to
execute his mission until he realized he was losing consciousness from
loss of blood. I knew nothing about the attack and was still in bed when
they dragged old Hoppy in.

This looked like exciting business for us so when they dragged Hoppy in,
I got up and began to pay attention. Meanwhile they had got the next man
on the “H” list—Lieutenant Armin F. Herold—whom I knew quite well and he
had already been sent out to get the line. I helped lift Hopkins into
the ambulance to be taken to the hospital and then went over to get my
breakfast. I was about half finished when some one rushed in and said
that Herold was also coming in. Of course, we hurried out just as the
plane taxied up to the hangar. The mechanics lifted Herold out of the
plane with his right leg shattered at the ankle by machine gun bullets
fired from the ground. He, of course, had been unable to get the line of
our troops, but gamely stated he had gone the limit to find our troops
having flown most of the time at about two hundred meters.

I saw Brereton looking around for a new crew to send out. I knew my name
began with “H,” but I knew also that I had been put on the resting list,
and furthermore was sick, according to the doctor, so my mind was
perfectly at ease. There were others in our squadron whose names began
with “H”—among them, Henderson, Harwood and Hinds, and we were not
restricted to “H’s.” But Major Brereton was known to do funny things. I
was starting into the mess shack to finish my breakfast when I heard
that familiar voice and its equally familiar inflection demand with a
tone of final decision, “Where’s Haslett?” I had a creepy feeling run
all over my ribs for I knew it was an off-day. Brereton came into the
mess hall after me. I certainly had not gone out to seek him. Then he
showed the first and only sign of weakness I ever knew him to
display—“Haslett,” he said, “do you want to go and finish this mission?”
Always before he would have said “Haslett, go and do this mission.” I
neither answered “Yes” or “No” for I could not honestly answer “Yes” and
I dared not answer “No.” I simply started to get my flying clothes.
Johnny Miller, who had been the pilot for Hopkins on the first attempt,
and who afterwards was killed at Chateau Thierry, begged Brereton to be
permitted to finish the job. Brereton agreed.

We got into an A.R. plane and I fairly filled the cockpit with signal
rockets for the Infantry. I was determined that there should be no
reason for the Infantry claiming that they did not see any rockets.
Johnny gave her the gun, but as we left the ground the engine failed. We
got the plane back to earth without a crash, although we were quite near
to one, and that was a premonition for me. I had always figured that if
anything mechanical failed, it was certainly, a sign that I had no
business in the air that day. When that engine failed I told myself
“Goodbye.” I felt my time had come.

We jumped out and got into another plane which was the one they had
brought Herold back in. The cockpit was spattered from one end to the
other with blood, but we did not have much choice in planes, so, we had
to take what would run. The sight of that blood and honest-to-goodness,
downright fear caused me to grow momentarily weak. I wanted to get out,
take the count, and worse. As we were getting ready to take off one of
my very dearest, old friends ran out to the plane, all excited, as if
the spirit had suddenly moved him. It was Captain “Pop” Hinds, who was
killed later that same day, in an airplane accident. “Haslett, God bless
you, old boy,” he said, fairly weeping—“something tells me this is an
off-day, and that you’re not going to come back. You’ve taken too many
chances already. I don’t want you to go, old man.” Believe me, that took
all the pep I ever had out of me. I leaned over the side of the fuselage
and patting him on the back said, “Pop, don’t let it worry you. I’m the
luckiest guy in the world—they can’t get me.” And in my soul I thought,
“Well, those are my last words—they’re not half bad at that. How will
they look on my tombstone?”

So, I gave Johnny the high sign and we took off. I could see Johnny was
nervous because in taking off, the wing almost scraped the ground.
Herold had told me where he thought he had seen a panel displayed by the
Infantry, so I first looked that place over and then we flew along the
Front at exactly five hundred meters above where the line was supposed
to be. I began shooting off my fire rocket signals to the Infantry in
order to get them to put out their white panels from which I could mark
their location on my map, but regardless of the many rockets I fired
they did not put out a single panel. We went down to four hundred
meters, flew along the line for fully twenty-five minutes and fired
rockets, rockets, rockets. Still there was no sign of a panel on the
ground. Down to three hundred we went—no panels yet. I felt like going
home because I thought three hundred meters was plenty low enough,
especially on an off-day, but there was only one thing to do—that line
had to be located somehow so, we went on down to one hundred. No wonder
they got Herold, the machine gun fire was something terrible. I had
already fired my last rocket and was never so disgusted in my life for
there was no response. Finally with the naked eye we located our troops
at less than one hundred meters. I hastily plotted their position. If
ever a man feels he needs a friend it is when he is going through that
awful machine gun fire at two hundred feet and trying to be composed
enough to accurately mark on his map the location of things he is seeing
on the ground. We developed some very fine observers like Wright,
Baucom, Bradford, Powell and Fleeson, who got to be wonders at this
work, which is, after all, the greatest work of aviation.

We had been up for about two hours, so, when we landed the whole bunch
came rushing out to meet us, including Brereton. It was the only time I
ever saw him run. I showed him the line and told him how we got it—the
holes in the plane from machine gun bullets convinced him of the truth.
I told him I would hazard my little reputation that the doughboys did
not have any panels to put out, for if they had displayed them I would
certainly have seen them.

He was genuinely peeved and after telephoning the location of the line
to appease the growing anxiety of the French, we got into Brereton’s car
to go to Divisional Headquarters to find out what was the matter with
the Infantry.

We arrived at Bacarrat, went to the Division Headquarters, and the
Signal Officer, in reply to our inquiry, told us quite unconcernedly,
that the Division had panels all right, but this had been their first
occasion to use them and they had not been issued for the doughboys
would get them soiled, or might use them for handkerchiefs or the like.
Brereton, of course, was in a rage and we demanded to see the Commanding
General of Infantry. On duty at the Infantry Post of Command was a
Lieutenant Colonel in the National Army, who had probably held some big
job in civilian life, but who was certainly not born a soldier. He said
that the General had been awake all night and had just gotten to sleep
after the morning raid and so he did not care to awaken him under any
circumstances. Brereton began to cuss in great style and said he’d be
blamed if he’d send his aviators out any more to be killed unless he got
some coöperation from the Infantry and it was a terrible note when the
Chief of a Service could not see the General when an all-important
matter was pending and that if this Brigade wanted the Air Service to
work with them they had better show some willingness to help. He then
demanded that the panels be issued at once. The Lieutenant Colonel began
to show a little concern, and although he was looking right straight at
our wings, he asked, “Are you aviators?” Brereton said, “Yes, of course.
What did you think we were?” The old boy then showed some speed; he got
hold of the telephone and after saying “Sir” many times in order to
appease the wrath of the General who had been so rudely awakened and so
as not to increase his disfavor, proceeded to tell him that the Airplane
Major was here, and wanted to talk to him. Brereton was forced to laugh
at this new title and for some time afterwards we all called him the
“Airplane Major.” The General of course realized the gravity of the
situation and was also mighty peeved about the failure to provide the
troops with panels. The mission ended with the agreement that the panels
would be issued immediately and the General expressed his sincere regret
at the loss of our aviators, and, I believe, became converted to the
fact that the Air Service was also a factor to be considered in winning
a war.

On our way back to the airdrome we stopped at Artillery Headquarters and
they wanted us to go up that afternoon and do an artillery adjustment,
as a couple of batteries were sorely in need of more accurate regulation
in View of further raids by the Germans. When the Artillery Colonel
asked who would do the work Brereton looked at me and I looked at
Brereton, and I knew it was settled. “Why, Lieutenant Haslett here has
been worked pretty hard and I wanted him to rest up, but I guess he can
do this one and then take a rest.” The Artillery Colonel was surprised,
but I was more surprised at what he said—“So you are Haslett! Well,
well, I’m glad to know you. Colonel Sherburne of the 26th Division
Artillery told one of our Majors about a big mission you pulled off for
him in the Toul Sector. We sure will be glad to have you work with us.”
This was the first recognition of this kind that I had ever gotten and
coming from Sherburne it was like a million dollars to me, for he was
one of the greatest men with whom I had ever worked. Of course, after
that compliment I was delighted and I certainly would not have let any
one else do the adjustment at all. I felt like a hero with three wings.
I was determined to do the best adjustment I had ever done in my life.

When we got to Bacarrat on the way to the airdrome, an orderly handed
Brereton a message which dampened my spirit and determination
completely. It read that Captain Hinds—Pop Hinds—the old man who that
morning had told me about his premonition that it was an off-day and
that I ought not go for I would not come back—was himself killed while
taking off from the airdrome, his plane having gone into a tailspin. His
observer, another “H”—Henderson, the Operations Officer, was seriously
injured. This news hurt me more than any I had ever received. Pop was
about forty-six years old and had gone into the flying game simply from
the desire to help along American Aviation, having had some little
amateur training before the War. We had tried our best to get him back
from the front because we realized that the old fellow didn’t have much
of a show against the Hun and under actual fighting conditions, but Pop
would not go back. He was always the first to volunteer for any mission.
A braver man I have never seen. He was a real daddy to us all and his
great human understanding and sympathy caused us to pay him a marked
deference and respect. He often won a lot of money from the officers
playing poker, but in his characteristic unselfishness, he spent it all
for candy, cigars, cigarettes and tobacco for the enlisted men and
mechanics. He was their idol and there was little, if anything, that
they would not do for him.

Henderson was one of my best friends and happily though he was not
killed, it had a peculiar significance to me that one hundred per cent
of the day’s casualties were “H’s.” It looked like an off-day for the
“H’s” without a doubt. There were only three of us left—one was the
Ordnance Officer, Hall by name, who was not a flyer; Harwood, who was
busy as could be on some assignments; and myself.

The only “H” left was to do an artillery adjustment that afternoon. I
thought it might be a good idea to put off that adjustment until the
next day, but I could not get up the courage to tell Brereton my honest
convictions.

When we got to the airdrome every one was feeling mighty low, because
these were our first casualties, outside of the loss of Angel and
Emerson in the Toul Sector. The bunch all felt that though the sun was
still shining and it was a good day for flying that there were better
days ahead. Even the squadron surgeon sent out the recommendation that
the flying be suspended for the day. I felt quite relieved for I could
not conceive of any one going against the recommendation of the
“Medico.” But this did not appeal to Brereton. In his characteristic
manner he loudly and emphatically announced that he was not going to let
a little thing like that stop the War; if a squadron went to the Front
they must expect some casualties and that flying would go right on. I
did not eat any dinner; I did not care for it; for, as usual, I did not
agree with Brereton. I honestly felt that flying ought to be suspended
in deference to old “Pop” Hinds if for no other reason at all.

I really dreaded that flight and even the praise of that Artillery
Colonel meant nothing in my life. No one came out to see us off. It was
the wrong atmosphere. There was gloom in the sky, gloom on the ground,
and gloom within our own beings. In fact, the whole world looked like a
dark cloud. The ordinarily jovial mechanics were all acting like a bunch
of pall bearers.

Brereton gave me a pilot by the name of West, which to my mind seemed
particularly pertinent for I sure felt as though I were going in that
direction.

For protection they sent a plane piloted by Schnurr with whom I had
previously had a narrow escape and as his observer they sent Thompson
against whom I had no complaint at all, for Thompson on his first flight
over the lines with the French, shot down an enemy plane. His presence,
of course, was no meager consolation, for while I did not want any
drawing cards along, I felt that if the Germans were going to attack it
would be a good thing to have some one along who could do the fighting,
because my experience in actual fighting up to this time put me in about
the same class that the St. Louis Nationals generally have in the
Baseball Club standing. I was at the bottom of the list. In fact,
Thompson was the only one in the squadron who had so far had a fight and
that was while he was with the French.

When we got over our battery I began to call them on the radio and they
put out their panels. We picked out the target which we had agreed upon
and sent the signal to fire. I had promised to adjust two batteries. The
plan was to finish the adjustment of the first battery and then begin
the second. So, after an hour and a half I completed the first
adjustment after about fifteen salvos, which, I admit, was rather rotten
work, then I started on the second.

The name of my second target was “Travail Blanc” which consisted of a
section of the trench which was especially heavily fortified with
machine guns, having a sweep on our lines in the ravine beneath. I had
just given them their first signal to fire, and of course, these
batteries not having had a great deal of experience in adjusting
artillery fire by airplane, were very, very slow in firing. Ordinarily
the observer can time the firing, as a prompt battery fires immediately
upon getting the signal from the airplane, and the observer can see the
burst almost immediately thereafter. It is extremely important to get
the first salvo bursts, for from this the observer knows approximately
where to look for the next. So, having pressed the key, I was oblivious
to all else in the world except the area immediately surrounding Travail
Blanc. I must have eyed it for fully thirty seconds, which is an
unusually long time to watch one particular spot on the earth, for with
the speed of a modern German airplane against my antique A.R., in thirty
seconds the Hun could get in a very advantageous place from out of a
cloud or the sun. I was still straining my eyes on Travail Blanc when I
heard the rat-a-tat-tat of something. It was the first time I had heard
machine guns firing in the air while in the air myself, so I felt that
we had probably lost altitude and that they were firing at us from the
ground. I knew that I could not remedy the situation now, so I again
turned my eyes toward Travail Blanc, when I saw the four bursts of the
salvo strike about two hundred yards from the target. I had just started
to reach for my key to send the correction to the battery when again I
heard the long, continuous rata-tat-tat of a machine gun getting louder
and louder. I leaned over the fuselage to take a look at the ground
beneath me. I thought we should be high enough so that they could not
possibly be firing at me and I could not figure what it was. I wondered
where Schnurr and Thompson, my protectors, were, so I began to scan the
air directly above me. As I threw my head backwards a streak of fire
crossed my face barely missing me. I realized that “White Work” (Travail
Blanc) was all wrong; my immediate target was “Dirty Work,” for instead
of seeing my protecting plane above me there was bearing down upon us,
with a speed that was indescribable, and spitting a thousand balls of
deadly fire at me every minute, a German Albatros Scout Fighter, and
directly behind it were two others of the same type. The Hun was already
not over a hundred feet from me and was coming on every iota of a second
with the speed of lightning and with a deadly accuracy of fire that
seemed to preclude any defense.

I had been caught napping and it was now only a question of which one of
the thousands of bullets that were flashing all around me that would get
me first. He was so close that had it been necessary for me to move my
machine gun one particle of an inch he would have finished with me
before I could have fired a single shot. The Hun very well knew that he
had caught me unawares and that I could not possibly do anything to
defend myself. Like a flash my finger flew to the trigger of my machine
gun, which was resting in its ordinary position on the tourrelle. I did
not move it an inch for fortune had pointed it directly in line with the
oncoming German. Already the bullets began singing from my gun and by
the grace of good fortune they were going directly into him. On he came
and it seemed that a collision was unavoidable, then with the speed of
lightning he dived under me. West saw this dive and sharply banked the
plane to keep me in a firing position and as the boche began to zoom to
a position under my tail I again let him have it. I was surprised at the
apparent accuracy of my guns. The Hun made a loop and dived toward home.
I knew he was disabled and could not come back. There were still two
other enemy planes coming on, but strange things happen in the air, for
the other two did not fire a single shot, but turned and flew toward a
light fringe of clouds high above us. I have never, however, been able
to account for their failure to attack simultaneously with the attack of
the first. For once I was close enough to a Hun to see not only the Iron
Maltese Cross but also the fatal cross that stared me squarely in the
face. It is not a pleasant feeling. The first plane got to Germany all
right, but I am quite sure he was forced to land before he reached his
airdrome. I have a hunch, too, that he took his machine guns out on a
cement sidewalk and broke them to pieces, for if ever an aviator had the
death grip on his adversary they all had it on me. In a moment I saw
Schnurr and Thompson, who were flying quite low. It seems that they were
attacked first, which accounts for the first gun shots I heard, and the
Hun, having gotten on their tail first, they were forced to dive. In a
few minutes the two Huns in the cloud were joined by a third, but
fortunately the sun was on our side, so the only thing to do was to
watch that cloud. Regardless of these Huns, Schnurr and Thompson began
climbing and soon reached their position directly behind us.

I wanted to go home in the worst way but the first law we had learned
was that the presence of enemy planes is no excuse in observation for
failure to perform the mission assigned. For once in my career I had
completely lost my courage and pointed toward home. The starch had been
taken out of me completely and it was quite immaterial to me what any
one wanted to think about our quitting. I felt that enough was enough
and I had more than enough. As we passed over our battery, however, my
mind turned to that new Division which had just come in that morning and
who were doing their first service in the lines; in fact, it was the
first time one of our National Army divisions had been placed in the
line. They had been gassed on their first day. What would they think?

This thought of what those lads in the trenches, who, of course, had
seen the entire fight, would say when they saw an American aviator quit,
changed my whole attitude and, to be frank, saved me from becoming a
downright coward. I knew that nothing helped the morale of the doughboys
more than to see American nerve displayed in the air and, on the other
hand, nothing pulled them down more than to see the lack of it. So, I
shook the plane and motioned West to turn around. I threw my switch in,
clutched the key and with an unsteady hand proceeded to send the
correction of the first salvo which I had seen, but which I almost had
not lived to report.

I afterwards learned that the boys at the radio receiving set at the
Artillery checked each other up on the receipt of this message, so
dubious were they that it had been sent from our plane. In a few minutes
the battery put out the signal “Received and battery is ready.” I then
told West to fly in the direction of the line and the three Huns,
although I knew quite well if we flew that way we were going to be
attacked, but it would be a sportier combat, at least, for I had been
caught asleep for the first and only time. I gave the wireless signal to
the battery to fire, but I confess I was not looking at the “White Work”
target, I was keeping an eye on the three Boche in the sky, looking for
more dirty work. The Huns made no sign whatever to attack—they simply
kept circling above us in that slender line of clouds.

This was the worst adjustment I have ever been guilty of performing. I
simply could not watch the target. We went ahead for an hour and fifteen
minutes and during that time we fired a total of seventeen salvos, of
which I saw but seven, for my mind was not on the work—I was busy with
the cloud. At the end of the seventeen salvos, the Huns came out of the
sky and started in our direction, then playfully changed their course
and flew back into Hunland. I watched them until they were completely
out of sight for I knew they would have to go home some time. Actually I
was never so relieved in my life, not for the reason that we were safe
from further interruption, but from the fact that we had buffaloed them
and were the winners of the day’s combat against great odds.

But I was certain that it was only a question of time before they would
have to leave that cloud for a chasse (pursuit) plane does not carry the
same large amount of gasoline as an observation plane, and can not stay
in the air as long in a single flight. I was delighted and beaming all
over, and especially happy to think, or rather imagine, what was taking
place in the trenches below us—those hardboiled doughboys were, perhaps,
congratulating themselves that they too were Americans.

Our gas was running extremely low and it was getting late in the
evening, but with two additional salvos, when my mind was free from
“enemy planes,” we succeeded in putting the battery directly on the
target. We then signaled for destruction fire and signaled we were going
home. Right above the airdrome the motor stopped and we had to glide in.
We had used our last drop of gasoline.

As the airdrome was only twelve kilometers from the line every one had
seen the fight and had seen us stick it out. It was really a joyous time
and we all got a real welcome. Even Brereton came across. It was the
first and only time in my life I ever heard him compliment any one or
anything. What he praised, however, was not “us” but the plane, in that
the Antique Rattletrap was not such a bad old bus after all. Then every
one got around the plane to count the holes made by the enemy airplane.
I did not wait to see how it came out for I wanted to get to my bunk and
collect myself. I was told later, however, that twenty-one holes were
counted—then the mechanics got tired and quit.



                                   IV
                        BRERETON’S FAMOUS FLIGHT


The one characteristic above all others that made Major Lewis Hyde
Brereton respected by both those under him, and his superiors, was the
fact that he flew over the lines continuously and he never assigned any
one to a mission that he would not do himself. All the boys were
acquainted with his record for he not only fought in the air, but also
on the ground. He kept his remarkable hold on men for they knew he was a
fighter from the word “Go.” His whole career had been marked by a series
of brilliant ideas which were so radical and revolutionary that they
always took him into a fight before obtaining their adoption.

For instance, he came to France with a large number of other
officers—about two hundred in all—who accompanied Brigadier General
Foulois, the latter having come over to take command of the Air Service
of the American Expeditionary Force. The majority of the officers in the
party were Brereton’s superiors, and it seemed that he was going to be
swallowed up with many others in the service of supply, or in those
days, what was called line of communications, which was in the rear, for
out of that large number it seemed that but few were destined to reach
the Front. Brereton immediately asked for the command of a squadron at
the front. The authorities, of course, laughed at him and politely
informed him that the Americans only had one squadron at the front and
it had gone forward only a few days ago and that all the other squadrons
in France had competent officers assigned to them; besides, the other
squadrons could not go to the front for a long, long time on account of
not having the proper planes and equipment, the production scheme in
America having fallen down. This did not sound encouraging to Brereton
so he arranged to have himself assigned to a tour of inspection at
Amanty, near Gondrecourt, which was the place designated for our future
observation squadrons to assemble before going to the Front. When he got
there he found that it was true that only one squadron had, as yet, gone
to the Front, but that there were three other squadrons then at
Amanty—the 12th, 88th and 91st waiting for service airplanes before
moving up for action. All these squadrons had old training planes, the
A.R.’s—Avion Renaults.

The squadrons were to leave in the order of the 88th first, then the
91st and then the 12th, according to the rank of the Commanding Officers
of each. Major Harry Brown was then in command of the 12th Squadron and
Brereton found by accident, that Brown was extremely anxious to get into
the bombardment end of the game and was more or less dissatisfied that
the 12th was to be made an Observation Squadron. Brereton found that an
assignment to bombardment would more than please Brown so he wasted no
time on further inspection. He had happened onto his great opportunity,
and he departed immediately for Colombey-les-Belles, which was the
Headquarters of the Air Service, Zone of Advance.

[Illustration: THE VILLAGE OF VAUX ON THE DAY PRECEDING THE BATTLE OF
VAUX]

Arriving at Headquarters, he presented Major Brown’s request to be
transferred to Clermont-Ferrand to take a course in Bombardment in order
that he might command our first Bombardment Squadron. This visit
resulted in two orders being issued—the first relieved Major Harry Brown
from the 12th and ordered him to Clermont, and the other designated as
Commanding Officer of the 12th Aero Squadron, an officer previously
unheard of in aviation at the front—Lewis Hyde Brereton.

Brereton asked permission to take his squadron to the front immediately,
whereupon they thought him insane. It was pointed out to him that on
account of not having service planes the squadron could not possibly get
to the front before six weeks. Brereton went into one of his famous
“pouts,” in which he puckers up his face like a baby about to cry, and
said that we would never have an Air Service on the Front if they were
going to be that particular. His idea was to take what we had and use
it. He argued that since the squadron was going to work over a quiet
sector they could operate just as well with training planes as with
service planes, providing they had machine guns.

Fortunately, he had hit upon the psychological argument for at that time
every one in America was demanding the reason why we did not have
squadrons at the front. There was a terrible mess going on about the
Liberty motor and the other airplane scandals, so those in power agreed
that it would help conditions materially to be able to say that we had
squadrons at the front, rather than one squadron, so after considerable
argument Brereton was authorized to take his squadron to the front at
once with such equipment as they had.

So, the 88th and 91st were left at Amanty and the new comer arrived with
orders in his hand to move the squadron forward for action.

Thus when it came time to pick a leader for offensive operations,
General Mitchell knew what he was about when he selected Brereton for
the Château-Thierry affair. He wanted a fighter and he got a fighter,
for with his characteristic foresight Brereton prepared for any
eventuality. He quite well knew that something would likely happen any
day and he did not intend to let the observation end fall down if it was
humanly possible to prevent it. His job was to accomplish the
impossible; our “quiet sector” units must be prepared for a great and
long offensive, and they must be gotten ready quick.

Brereton selected Lieutenant Ben Harwood as his Liaison Officer,
Lieutenant Mathis as his Information Officer and put me in charge of the
Operations, so, we were gone from morning until late at night, traveling
between the squadrons, corps headquarters and the various divisional
headquarters, getting proper coöperation worked up and, in fact, getting
some semblance of organization. The covetous eye of the Hun already
looked on Paris. It was only a question of days until the German hand
would be extended to grasp what the eye had seen.

The Huns held complete supremacy of the air. They dominated in the ratio
of five to one and flew about in droves of fifteen and twenty. Where a
fight on a mission had previously been the rare exception to our flyers
it was now the common rule. We were very short of pursuit planes. Our
Pursuit Squadrons—four in number—were trying to take care of not only
our own Corps area, but also other areas held by the French and which
adjoined us. As a result, very little direction protection was furnished
to the Observation planes. So, the boys knew pretty well when they went
out for a mission that it meant a scrap.

There was only one time at Château-Thierry when the Boche did not have
the complete supremacy of the air. This was on July first at the Battle
of Vaux, at which place Johnny Miller and I did the preliminary
adjustment and Brereton and I did the artillery control for the
Americans during the battle. We had every American pursuit and
observation plane we could get off of the ground. There were not less
than ninety-six planes in that formation—their mission being to protect
the Infantry plane and to protect Brereton and me, who were doing the
artillery work. There was such a swarm of planes above us that we
practically never looked into the sky, but kept our attention entirely
on the work before us. This was my idea of real protection. It was the
nearest we ever came to our big threat to literally blacken the skies by
droves of American airplanes. However, none of these were American
airplanes, although the aviators were Americans. This was the first time
in the war that the doughboy was brought to realize that there were
really other American aviators than those famous ground flyers who took
off and landed so often at the famous Hotel Crillion Bar Airdrome in
Paris and who were so accurately described by Irvin Cobb.

The Vaux affair seemed to me just like the practice control of artillery
fire that I once did on the blackboard in school exercises. It was
really one of the easiest jobs I ever did and for which I probably
received more credit. The previous day I had passed over the town and
was happy for the poor peasants that it had been spared, for even though
in the hands of the enemy it was practically intact. Now it was a
shell-torn blot of destroyed homes, made more desolate by the scattered
bodies of the German dead—and I had been one of the guiding masters of
its ruin.

[Illustration: THE VILLAGE OF VAUX DURING THE BATTLE OF VAUX, JULY 1,
1918]

From the first of July to the fifteenth we were continuously engaged in
making the best possible preparations for what we knew must come. On the
morning of the fifteenth it came. It came from Château-Thierry along to
Rheims. The first day we did not worry a great deal for we confidently
felt that the Germans would never be able to cross the Marne as all the
bridges had been blown up, but on the morning of the sixteenth day
things were mighty blue. An American pursuit plane immediately after
daylight, reported that the Germans had constructed pontoon bridges in
different places and were already sweeping across the Marne.

This flight by a pursuit plane and the resulting information was, I
think, unquestionably one of the greatest flights of the entire war. I
did not learn until several days later who the aviator really was. No
one seemed to know, nor could we find any record on the regular reports.
The French Army Commander told me the source from which he had gotten
this timely information as to the presence of the pontoons. It seems
that General William Mitchell, who commanded all American Aviation at
the Front, had been at the French Army Headquarters during the night of
the fifteenth, getting the reports from the Front and making his aërial
dispositions accordingly. An hour before daybreak on the morning of the
sixteenth he left the French Headquarters and without telling any one
his intended movements he drove his high-powered automobile, with all
haste, to the American Pursuit Airdrome about fifty kilometers away.
Climbing into a single place Spad, the General hastily drew out a pocket
notebook and scribbled a few words to his chief of staff, and handed
this note to his mechanic. Then the General headed his plane into the
wind and with whirring motor sailed off into the somber darkness. At the
first glimpse of dawn he was over Fere-en-Tardenois, fifteen miles
within the German lines. He saw the glare of the village, but the usual
whiteness of the roads was not there—they were of a greenish hue, like
the morning mist surrounding them. It was hard to comprehend the
magnitude of this view. Heading south for five miles, the roads
presented the same aspect. From fifteen thousand feet the General swept
down to three thousand. Here he could realize the awful fact of what was
taking place below him—the whitened roads were green with the thousands
of German troops driving on toward the Marne with the steadiness and
determination of a huge caterpillar. On south he flew—the Germans were
everywhere—infesting the whole salient like a plague of locusts.
Reaching the Marne, it was certain the inevitable had happened—one, two,
three, four, five—five pontoon bridges already across and the onrushing
Huns were marching across in terrible precision.

It was singularly fortunate that the man who undertook this hazardous
mission was a rare tactician and strategist. He realized the awful truth
where the ordinary airman would not have conceived the possibilities of
such a situation. The General knew that the biggest German Army ever
concentrated was on the move in a final effort to intimidate and conquer
the world.

He made a landing in a small wheat field at the French Army
Headquarters. It would have been folly to go on to the American Airdrome
for if ever seconds were golden this was the time. He told the supreme
commander the extent of his observation and how far back the Germans
were concentrated. It was realized that it would be absolutely
inconceivable to attempt to hold back this advance by a frontal attack.
There was only one thing to do—we must flank the German Army and force
them to withdraw or be annihilated. This must be done within three days
or the Germans would break the line of our armies and march unmolested
to Paris, coming up and flanking our own Northern forces. Going to his
own Headquarters, the General was handed the note he had written to his
distinguished chief of operations, Captain Phil Roosevelt. It simply
stated that if he did not return by eight o’clock that morning to notify
Brereton to take command of the American Aviation at the Front. The
distinguished Roosevelt had also been out doing some rough riding so the
note had never reached his hands.

This flight of General Mitchell’s needs no comment—it was no less than
wonderful, and when the flyers finally heard who had made it, our morale
was strengthened one hundred per cent. We felt we had a fighting General
sure enough.

The Germans continued their crossing on the sixteenth, sweeping on down
toward Epernay on the seventeenth and on the night of the seventeenth it
rained. It rained all night; and all night long, passing our
headquarters were troops going up to the front; all night long we could
hear their continuous tramping; the roads were hydraulically jammed with
cannons, ammunition trains, supplies and troops. They were going to
Château-Thierry. They were retreating from the south it seemed, but why
did they come to this side of the salient? Why not stop the Germans by a
frontal defense?

In a few hours we knew why for on the night of the seventeenth, at nine
o’clock we received orders from General DeGouttes of the French Army
that the French Army, in connection with the First American Army Corps,
would attack all the way from Soissons to Château-Thierry in an effort
to flank the German advance and would continue at any and all costs
until the Germans were forced to withdraw from the salient or face
annihilation.

The attack was to start at daybreak on the following morning. Then I
heard of Mitchell’s flight and information. His recommendations had been
concurred in by Marshal Foch and General Pershing. There was some
activity in our headquarters. We got hold of our squadron and balloon
commanders and ordered them to report immediately. By the time they all
got there it was eleven thirty at night. Harwood was still up at the
line where he had been all day in liaison with the line units. Brereton
was over in conference with the Corps Commander, General Liggett.
Lieutenant Mathis was busy getting out the necessary maps, so, I took
the orders for the battle and, like a young Napoleon, I told the whole
story and made the aërial dispositions for the first day. Fortunately
the squadron and balloon units had already been assigned to the various
line units and had made some arrangements. Of course, the suddenness of
the attack, and the short time we had been there, had caused many
details to be incomplete. I told them that they would still have to go
up to the lines that night and see the units to which they were assigned
in order to be on the job at daybreak. This was absolutely necessary and
yet it did not seem that they could possibly be able to get there due to
the roads being packed with the on-marching troops. It was a great
question, but it was the only way possible. Ben Harwood, our liaison
officer, saved the day, for he came in just as I was about to dismiss
them. Ben had shown his natural initiative and resourcefulness, and had
already been to every American unit. He had gotten the big news while
still at the front lines and had, very fortunately, obtained all the
necessary liaison information. Harwood took over the meeting, explained
everything he had learned from the line units, and by one-thirty o’clock
all the squadron and balloon commanders were on their way back to their
organizations to get out the necessary orders and to see that the planes
were at the lines at zero hour.

The rain stopped just before daybreak. It seemed that even the heavens
were effecting a close, immediate and personal liaison with us, as
Harwood would say. When the barrage lifted and the boys went over the
top in America’s first big effort, they found there to cheer them and to
assist them the drone of airplanes, upon the wings of which was painted
the American cocarde. It was the real launching of American aviation—it
was truly the beginning of the end.

We were tremendously handicapped by the shortage of pilots and observers
and during the entire period of the offensive we were unable to get
replacements for our casualties. In our office we were taking care of
the transmission of every order pertaining to the Air Service, taking
care of the aviation movements, issuing of instructions, getting out the
necessary reports and information. Our office personnel consisted of
Colonel Brereton, Lieutenant Harwood, Lieutenant Mathis and Sergeant
“Spike” Marlin, of whom I cannot speak too highly for sticking to the
job throughout that prolonged period. The boy was sick at the time, but
knowing we had no one else, he stayed right with it and worked on the
average of twenty hours a day for two weeks straight. I might
incidentally say that all of the rest did the same. In fact, our real
activities began when the Germans made their attack on the fifteenth and
with our Shortage of personnel it was necessary that some one be on the
job day and night. Our losses were terrible. It began to tell on me for
I was losing all my dearest friends.

Tired and exhausted under this three days’ strain, in which we had about
two hours sleep nightly, on the third day of our own drive, namely, the
twentieth of July, at about ten in the morning, it was deemed necessary
by the American and French High Commanders that a long distance
reconnaissance should be made immediately in order to determine as near
as possible the intention of the enemy. The Americans did not have an
Army Reconnaissance Squadron at Château-Thierry at the time so the
mission came to us for proper action.

I talked it over with Brereton and we agreed that in order to do the
mission properly with full justice to every one concerned it would take
not less than twenty-five planes and considering the distance of the
mission, the time necessary in the air to complete it, and the supremacy
of the air held by the Germans, based upon the average of our
casualties, we decided we would lose not less than eight of these
planes, with a minimum of sixteen officers.

But things were in a very peculiar situation. We had been temporarily
stopped and it was necessary to find out whether the Germans intended to
make a firm stand or whether their stand was only temporary, in order to
give them time to withdraw their forces from the south. When we came to
our decision we consulted the high command, telling them the number of
planes it would take and what our minimum losses would be. We impressed
upon them our already heavy casualties and how short we were of
airplanes. The answer was that the importance of the mission would
justify all losses should the desired information be gained.

At this answer I suddenly became a tactician and strategist. I hit
Brereton with the suggestion that if we could find a pilot and an
observer who were overloaded with “guts” and properly “hardboiled” and
who did not care much for their lives, they might be able to get in fine
by going very low and thus get the information. My idea was that if we
went in with twenty-five planes this would be such a force that the
Germans would be able to concentrate practically their entire Richtofen
circus against us before we would have had time to make the large
circuit assigned and get out, while if one plane went in, extremely low,
several favorable suppositions might be possible; namely, the German
Chasse Patrols, high in the heavens above, seeing a plane so far behind
the line, would not think that it could possibly be other than a
friendly plane; and being by itself, the anti-aircraft and the command
reporting it would not call out so much pursuit as they otherwise would;
and, furthermore, being alone the pursuit planes would not have so much
chance of finding it. I agreed with Brereton that it was practically
hopeless, but at the same time it was a long chance and as it was in the
middle of the day, if this mission failed we could have another mission
of the twenty-five planes required, in readiness to take off to perform
the mission in compliance with the original plan. This large formation
could leave as soon as definite news was obtained that the first plane
had been shot down, or that it had failed to return after a reasonable
time. Brereton laughed sarcastically and said, “That idea is just about
as feasible as a single aviator trying to fly to Berlin, picking out the
Kaiser from the rest of the squareheads and hitting him with a bomb.”

I accused him of being arbitrary for not giving valid reasons against
the plan whereupon he sprang to his feet and puckering up in his
singular way, exclaimed, “I am running this Air Service, Lieutenant, and
I don’t need any suggestions from First Lieutenants.”

Tired and exhausted from lack of sleep, a court martial didn’t matter
any more to me than five cents does to a millionaire, and Brereton, who
had suffered the same loss of sleep and, of course, more serious
irritation on account of his responsibility, did not care any more for a
poor Lieutenant than an elephant does for a fly. The dog’s hair had been
rubbed the wrong way for I reared up on my hind legs and began to paw
air and it looked like the Corps Air Service was to have a slight
disruption. I was so sore that I almost bawled. I hotly informed
Brereton that if I was to hold the job of Operations Officer I intended
to express my opinion, and if it wasn’t approved, he had a right to say
so in a military manner, and in no other.

Then came my downfall. I raved on, “I’m getting good and tired of this
proposition of being stuck up on one of these bullet-proof jobs when all
my buddies are flying two and three times a day and getting killed,” and
after a moment of silence, I continued, “I came over to be a fighter and
I want to go to the Squadron and take my chances with the rest of them.”

Brereton was worn out and was in no mood to be irritated. “Well,” he
sharply and decisively replied, “if you want to go down to the Squadron,
go ahead, no one’s holding you.”

This made me more peevish than ever, for I had in some way or other
acquired the idea that the Corps Air Service could not possibly exist
without me. My pride was bruised forever. With even more irony he went
on as if to leave no opportunity for a repetition of such bluffing on my
part, “If you’re so hardboiled and brave, why don’t you tackle the
mission you just outlined. Go ahead and win yourself the Croix de Bois
(Cross of Wood).”

I was serious about the proposition; I was pretty sure of getting
killed, but after that last sneering remark my decision was formed.
Momentarily, I hated Lewis Hyde Brereton more than I ever hated any one
in my life, but I knew his weakness, so, I was determined that we should
die together.

“Well, why don’t you go on?” he hotly demanded.

It was up to me; I did not have the composure of a jack-rabbit, and I
began to paw air again, pound the table and turn red, and said, “Well,
Major L. H. Brereton, I’ll go, you know that, and I’ll get the
information, but I can’t pilot a plane. I am the observer. If you will
order,” and I accentuated “order,” “a pilot for me, there will be no
further delay.”

I knew he would do it. He only needed to be brought to the psychological
moment. I knew his big nature would not permit him to order any one on
such a mission. Changing from his irritant, harsh and denouncing manner,
his face registered the greatest possible human kindness and the merry
twinkle in his eye told the world we were friends again.

“Well, Elmer,” he said, in a sharply pitched voice, which, however,
carried deepest respect and utmost conviction, “we have never asked any
one yet to do what we would not do ourselves. If you want to go on that
mission, I’ll go with you.”

We hopped into Brereton’s motor car and were off to the airdrome. Mathis
called the squadron and instructed them to have the command plane in
readiness. On the way to the airdrome the trip was marked by a prolonged
silence. We were not particularly fisty; at least, I was not, because I
was beginning to realize the magnitude of our undertaking. It seemed to
me that we were already making the flight. Just as a flyer keeps a cool
and level head when actually engaged in a combat, even though at great
odds, so, as we sped on, I did not feel any particular nervousness. It
was not necessary to talk over the mission for Brereton knew as well as
I what we were supposed to do, and the route we must take.

Arriving at the airdrome we found the plane ready. Only a few officers
were on the field and to these we said nothing more than the ordinary
greeting between flyers when leaving on a mission. We climbed into our
places. Brereton played with the throttle for a few moments, then he
turned around and in the usual way preparatory to taking off he asked,
“All clear, Elmer?” I looked around to see if any other planes were in
the air, whose landing might interfere with our taking off; seeing none,
I answered as cheerfully as possible, “All O.K., Sir.” But he did not
take off; he allowed the motor to idle away. Suddenly he turned his head
and in a tone that indicated profound sincerity, and at the same time
extreme uncertainty, he said, “Elmer, we’re a couple of boobs. We’ve got
no business doing this job. If they do get us who in the devil is going
to run this Air Service? Your darned hunch is all wrong this time.”

Here was a thought that had not entered my mind for we alone were
familiar with every detail of the organization of the operations for the
drive and our loss at that particular time would really have been felt.
I personally felt it was too late then to change, but this was a
question which I felt was up to the Chief himself to decide, so after
thinking it over a moment I said, “Use your own judgment, Sir.” He
hesitated a few seconds, then shrugged his shoulders and turned loose,
“Well, I guess Bill Mitchell can handle it all right, and as he made
that flight the other day by himself, I guess we, together, can make
this one.” He pulled his goggles down over his eyes, hastily adjusted
his helmet, motioned the mechanics to remove the blocks.

“All clear, Elmer?” he questioned.

“All clear, Sir,” I replied.

He gave her the gun and we were off. We headed straight over
Coulommiers, to La Ferte sous Jouarre, which was the headquarters of the
1st U. S. Army Corps, and followed the Marne on to Château-Thierry. We
lost no time in climbing, but in a steady path like the crow flies we
went directly over the lines. We were only nine hundred feet high and
every feature on the ground seemed to stand out perfectly. Our course
carried us straight north along the road from Château-Thierry to
Roucourt; from here we branched off toward Fere-en-Tardenois, and from
Fere-en-Tardenois we hovered along the road to Grandes Loges and St.
Remy. Leaving St. Remy we clung to the road leading north and finally
reached Soissons. Banking to the right we skimmed along the River Vesle,
searching the roads on both banks to Misy-sur-Aisne. We followed the
Vesle down to Braisne and Fismes. At Fismes we were thirty kilometers
within the German lines, and had reached our farthest objective; it was
now only necessary to get out without being caught.

I cannot remember the exact route we took in getting out. I only
remember that Brereton asked me at Fismes, which way home and I
answered, “south with the wind.” I remember that we crossed the Marne
again at Dormans and headed toward La Ferte to drop our message of
information. In fact on the trip out I was not concerned with the route
particularly—I knew that south meant home and we already had the
information wanted, so, to me, life and happiness meant home by the
shortest possible route.

[Illustration: ROUTE · COVERED · BY · ‘BRERETON’S · FAMOUS · FLIGHT’]

In undertaking such a mission as this, that is, in being so far behind
the lines without protection, I fully realized the utter futility of
trying to concentrate my attention on the sky in search of enemy planes
and at the same time do justice to the importance of the mission which
would require practically constant attention to the ground. I quite well
know that if we were caught so far back we would have no possible chance
to get away with our lives, so, in my mind, it was of no importance to
watch the sky. My watching the heavens would not help us from being
seen, but at the same time, as we were carried along, I was also carried
off with a multitude and variety of thoughts. About the biggest question
I was attempting to solve was just how long I would last after a German
patrol started after me. Then, I figured myself falling in flames. It is
strange the many thoughts that will play upon one’s mind in similar
circumstances. The sudden pangs of regret that you ever left the
airdrome and even more sincere sorrow that you ever got into the Air
Service; the wondering what the boys in the Squadron are doing, and how
the folks back home are, and whether you will ever see them again, and
what the preacher in the village church will say at your memorial
services and whether the Commander of the Army will write your mother a
nice letter of condolence and whether the girl who jolted you will be
sorry; and you wonder what you would finally have turned out to be if
you had not been killed, and other such trivial, little things; and the
fact that you had wished you had burned all your letters before you left
and a lot of little things you should have attended to before—for
instance, on that flight I remembered that I was directed to call up the
Corps Artillery Squadron and relieve them from two flights during that
day. I brooded over the thought that if that Squadron went on with those
flights and one of the flyers got killed how sorry I would be—how sorry
I was that I had not attended to that before going out on this fool trip
myself.

I was certainly thankful that I had $10,000 worth of Government life
insurance and was wondering how my mother would get along on $57.50 per
month for twenty years, and I wished I had taken out $20,000 worth in
private life insurance instead of spending two hundred dollars last
month in Paris. All these more serious thoughts were going through my
mind, having practically no one dependent upon me and with only the
expendable rank of First Lieutenant upon my shoulders, and then I
thought of poor, old Brereton with a wife and two children, and a
Major’s responsibility. Very shortly before this, Major Brown, in
command of the 96th Squadron, had gotten lost in Germany and had landed
with five other American planes and their crews, and this matter had
occasioned unfavorable remarks as to his judgment. None of Brereton’s
friends would ever be able to explain why, in his responsible position,
he ever even started out on such a hazardous mission as this.

Well, I came to the conclusion that one has two brains—one constructive
and the other retrospective, for actually while I was thinking all of
those things I was at the same time intently watching the ground and
carefully noting the location of all my information.

That trip, from a standpoint of a war panorama, was a sight-seeing tour
of wonder. Imagine the solid and continuous barrage of thousands and
thousands of shells bursting in a line for miles and miles, the barking
cannons on each side, like so many ferocious dogs spitting fire, roads
filled with on-marching troops, coming up in formation from both sides,
walking as it were, into that veritable valley of death and destruction;
the air filled with hostile planes and our whole safety depending upon
the supposition of being alone and so far behind the lines that the
Germans would not realize the presence of an enemy plane.

We must have seen between a total of seventy-five and one hundred German
airplanes during the entire flight, for do not think that we kept our
eyes glued to the ground all the time; at least I did not; and in one
place we were so near a Boche airdrome that we saw the German planes on
the field milling around about ready to buzz up after us. Yet even at
such a low altitude we were only fired at once or twice by machine guns
from the ground. At the front the machine guns were busy firing forward
and in the rear there did not seem to be any available.

Our mission had been a long one and one of the few in which the crew can
use their own judgment. So, when he circled over La Ferte, the
Headquarters of the Corps, and dropped our message, we had not only
stated the facts as we had seen them, but also our conclusions, taking
the whole aspect as it presented itself.

When we got back to the field Brereton circled the field twice before he
could land. He was considerably discomposed—personally, I was the living
Wreck of the Hesperus. Brereton’s car was waiting and we rushed up to
headquarters. The boys on the field were still ignorant as to where we
had been and what we had done. Neither Brereton nor I said very much
about the mission for we didn’t know whether we would be condemned for
undertaking it or congratulated upon its successful completion. Of
course, the line units around Corps Headquarters did not realize exactly
the importance of such an undertaking, although I admit that Lieutenant
Colonel Williams, whom we affectionately called “Houdini,” and who was
in charge of G-2 Information Group, stated that night, at the nine
o’clock conference, that it was good dope and whoever got it, he
certainly wanted to congratulate them. Brereton kept closed like a clam,
while the position of my mouth was not unlike an oyster. However, when
the French Air Service Commander, Commandant Gerard, heard of it, and he
knew of it almost immediately, he came right over and offered his
congratulations and was very profuse in his praise. Then we began to
think we had really done something. The French told General Mitchell
about it and he came right up to Headquarters and patted me on the back.
Brereton was out, but when General Mitchell did that I knew we had done
something.

In a very short time came the famous order of the great French officer
who commanded our Army—General De Gouttes. It was as follows:


  SECRET

                    VIth Army       24 July 21h 50.

  TELEPHONE ORDER.

  The enemy is in retreat on all our front. I give the order to march
  without stopping in such a way as to lay hands upon the enemy, to
  accelerate his retreat and not to lose contact with him under any
  pretext.

                                                           DE GOUTTES.

                  *       *       *       *       *

  136/G3       Headquarters 1st A. C.

                                                         24 July 1918.

  Copy transmitted for your information and thorough compliance.

                               By Command of Major General Liggett:
                                                   MALIN CRAIG,
                                                       Chief of Staff.

  Hq. First Army Corps
          Official
    Operations Section


Afterwards, when we were around French Headquarters we were always
pointed out as “tres fort” and “tres brave” and were treated with a
great deal of consideration by the French, for they considered the
flight as about the greatest thing they had seen pulled off for some
time, especially since the information had been accurate and had been of
great assistance. In fact, they thought it was so good that they did not
hesitate to decorate Brereton with the Legion of Honor and the Croix de
Guerre. At that time I was only a Lieutenant so I was decorated with the
Croix de Guerre and, as Brereton expressed it, as long as I was with him
I was in the Region of Honor. However, I received stacks of approbation
that I feared for a while would be condemnation, but those are the
chances one takes in undertaking any flight which is revolutionary in
the form of tactics or strategy. In fact, if we had been shot down on
the mission and had been unsuccessful we would probably have been
referred to, even at this late date, as the participants in “Brereton’s
Famous Flight,” only there would have been a different accent of
insinuation on the word “Famous” than there now is in its common
acceptance.



                                   V
                         TROUBLES ON THE GROUND


Here is a story dedicated to the boys who fought the war on the ground,
the holders of the famous “Croix de Chair,” who were commonly known as
swivel chair artists, or “Waffle Seaters.” I was engaged in this duty
myself at times and I know what it means. It is the most exacting and
yet least appreciated task of the war. We used to call these staff
officers “Waffle Seaters” for the reason that they sat so long on cane
bottomed chairs that the seats of their trousers were beginning to take
on the impression of a waffle.

There were troubles in the air and troubles on the ground. One of the
reasons that made it extremely difficult to get a proper understanding
between the units on the ground and the Air Service was that the ground
units had never had an opportunity to work with the Air Service and
they, therefore, could not understand the possibilities and the
limitations of aviation. Neither the airman nor the ground soldier could
be brought to realize that many of the troubles encountered were common
to both. This lack of understanding and coöperation gradually was
eliminated as the units became more experienced in working with each
other.

However, for a long time the airman could not possibly comprehend how
the same faults that bothered the flyer could also bother those on the
ground. The contrary is also true—many on the ground thought the airman
would not be bothered by the same elements that would hinder ground
work.

An incident illustrating this occurred between a couple of air officers,
a Colonel who was in charge of American Balloons at the Front, and a
Lieutenant, a Balloon Observer. This superior officer was a full-blooded
German, born in Berlin. He spoke a German-American language that was
mostly German. His name was Lieutenant Colonel John Paegelow. Paegelow
was a Regular, and a regular fellow. We all liked him very much for he
was very jovial and good natured. Anyway, his loyalty was unquestionable
for he was about the worst Hun-Hater among us. However, he had the
Prussian idea of discipline and he took it out on the balloonatics
whenever he felt they needed it. At Château-Thierry the balloons were
under orders to remain in ascension day and night, and the personnel of
the balloon companies had become noticeably fatigued from this prolonged
vigilance; the balloon observers, especially, were worn out and
naturally cross and irritable. It was a rainy night and Paegelow was
standing on the ground holding the telephone in communication with the
balloon observer two thousand feet above. This observer had been up for
fourteen consecutive hours and was about all in, and the rain had made
it a desolate and disagreeable night, adding considerable more woe to
the occasion.

“Colonel,” the young observer telephoned, in a very disgusted voice.

“Vat?” alertly answered Paegelow, thinking the lad had spied something.

“It’s pitch dark up here, I can’t see a damn thing and it’s raining to
beat Hell up here,” spoke the observer.

“Iss dot up dare all de trouble you got?” said Paegelow, indicating his
overruling of the demurrer.

“Well, what are you going to do about it?” demanded the exasperated
Lieutenant.

Paegelow hesitated a second, then replied, “Vell, vill you shut up and
go on and vork. It iss pitch dark down here, und I can’t see a damn ting
down here either, und it iss raining to beat ’ell down here too.”

When we started to work with new Infantry and Artillery units some were
pleased and others did not want to have anything to do with us. It was
at Château-Thierry that such lack of liaison became a serious matter and
at the same time was the basis for several amusing incidents. The line
units were prone to blame the Air Service for everything that went
wrong. The reason was that they considered an airplane so experimental
and uncertain in itself that that fact alone would preclude any argument
as to the proper placing of blame for every failure.

One of the hardest things we had to contend with was impressing upon the
line units the fact that the Corps Observation and the Corps Air Service
Commander had absolutely nothing to do with the Pursuit and Attack
planes; that all these came directly under the French Army Commander.

Several times I answered the telephone to receive the scathing
denunciation that “the Hun was over shooting up some of our Posts of
Command and that none of our d—d airplanes had been seen in the air all
day.” Whereupon we tried to explain that we did not control the pursuit
planes; that it should have been reported to the Army Headquarters and
that we, of course, would report it immediately. The ground units
considered this rather poor tactics and a very unsatisfactory answer,
for to their minds all planes were offensive fighters. Had the line
units realized the actual number of planes we had on the front and the
area they were patrolling they might have realized why our planes were
not seen oftener. We did not have them to be seen.

One of the greatest difficulties we had was in teaching the doughboy to
recognize the American insignia. Our publications were responsible for
this, for every magazine published in the United States pictured the
American airplane with a big star painted on its wings, while the
insignia actually adopted was a cocarde—three circles of red, white and
blue, within one another, the center circle being white, the British
center circle being red, and the French center circle being blue. As a
matter of fact, the star in the air, at a reasonably long distance,
looks exactly like the German Maltese Cross. In fact, a French airman
once remarked that if the American had gone into combat with that much
advertised star and the Germans failed to get him, a friendly airman,
misjudging the star for a cross, certainly would have given a real
battle.

Our doughboys actually thought that the American insignia was a huge
star, for all the magazines had firmly implanted that on their minds.
They didn’t care about the insignia of any other nation outside of the
American and German. To them one was a star and the other a cross,
anything else was either friendly or enemy; and they would take a chance
on it being enemy and fire at it.

One day before the Château-Thierry drive I was flying low along the
lines and from my map I was quite sure which was our own territory, and
which was that occupied by the Germans. I was well in the edge of our
own territory when I heard machine guns firing at me from the ground. My
first thought was that the Germans had advanced, so I directed the pilot
to dive down to investigate. As we dived the machine gunners became
convinced that we were going to fire upon them, so they turned loose
upon us. As we flew on back, other gun crews having seen those machine
guns firing at us, began firing too and although the pilot kept banking
the plane up so that they might see our American cocarde, they kept on
firing. About a half a kilometer back of the lines we began circling for
altitude, and I kept hearing a few shots from a gun. Then, in a few
seconds I saw a bullet go through the fuselage. Looking down on the edge
of an old trench I saw about three lads with rifles firing at us, and
they were good, old Yankee doughboys; I was sure of it.

I felt like turning loose a burst of about fifty rounds, aiming close to
this group in order to give them a real scare, then I realized that
there might be other troops around who might be grazed by a stray
bullet, so I marked the place very definitely on my map, flew back to
the airdrome and landed.

This was a serious matter, so I immediately made a trip up to the Front
to find out about it. I trudged around the trenches for an hour before
any plane came in sight, then one of our own airplanes came along,
flying very low. Suddenly I heard a rifle firing close by. I immediately
ran in the direction of the shooting and I discovered a half-grown kid
surrounded by a couple of his companions, coolly taking pot shots at
this American airplane. In a rage I jumped on him with all fours.

“Don’t you know that’s an American plane?” I demanded in a manner
neither affable nor pleasant. To my great surprise he responded that he
knew it was an American plane.

“Well,” I continued, speaking even more severely, “what do you mean by
firing on an American plane?”

This doughboy casually continued chewing his tobacco and looking at the
ground for some reason, apparently not from lack of composure, for he
would take an occasional spit at an old, rusty helmet about six feet up
the trench. The presence of an officer bothered him about as much as the
presence of a king affects a bolshevik.

“Well,” I again asked, “where do you get that noise of firing at a
friendly plane?”

This was just the opening he wanted, for he threw out his chest in all
his independent dignity and said, “There ain’t no friendly planes around
here. I ain’t seen any, no how. Them American planes ain’t got no
business being back this far from the lines and if them aviators ain’t
got nerve enough to go over there and scrap them Boche on their own
ground, we’ll force ’em over with our guns and put a little backbone in
’em.”

Then the lad gave me a full explanation as to why they had fired upon
these American planes and he claimed the American flyers always ran from
the Boche; the Boche came over and shot up the doughboys and he had
never seen an American plane going over and shooting up the Boche. Then
I asked him if he knew the functions of the airplanes. I wanted him to
know that some planes had to stay behind the lines at times.

“Yep,” he said, “they’re all fighters, all of ’em, or supposed to be,
but they don’t fight. They stay back here; they’re scared to go over.”

Then I asked him if he had ever heard of an observation plane and if an
observation plane shot a signal of six rockets to him what he would do.
He replied that he did not know anything about observation planes and
didn’t want to know anything about them, but that several times large
planes had flown back there and had fired fire rockets at the doughboys.

“How many rockets did they fire?” I asked.

“Oh,” he said, “lots of ’em. Sometimes three and six at one time.” I
knew six rockets was the official signal from an airplane to the
infantry, and that they were supposed to put out white pieces of cloth,
their panels, to tell the airplane exactly where they were.

“Well, what did you do when the airplane fired six rockets at you?” I
questioned in a more tolerating tone of voice.

“What did I do?” he answered as if surprised at such a silly question.
“What do you think I’d a done? Why, I fired right back at ’em. There
ain’t nobody goin’ to fire at me and get off with it without me firing
back.”

The other buddies backed him up absolutely and I spent a half hour
explaining to them the real facts about the airplane game. They finally
came to my way of thinking on every point except the courage of the
American airman. They could not be dissuaded; they were convinced that
most American flyers were cowards and “yellow.”

I, of course, reported this firing on friendly airplanes to Headquarters
and an order was issued so as to acquaint the Infantry with the Allied
insignia. However, it was not until late in the Argonne offensive that
this misapprehension of the doughboy was entirely cleared away. Time and
time again when I would ask infantrymen, even officers, if they knew the
American airplane insignia, they would say it was a “Star,” but that
they had never seen any American planes on the front. Perhaps it is for
this reason that there are many doughboys who to-day declare they never
saw an American airplane over the front. They undoubtedly saw many
American planes, but they never saw any with the much-advertised star in
the cocarde.

We had a great lot of trouble with wireless equipment in our artillery
adjustments. When anything went wrong it was always blamed on the radio
attached to the airplanes and we, of course, always attributed the fault
to the artillery station on the ground because our wireless sets were
always tested from the air to our own squadron station before starting
on any mission. If the radio was not working, we always came down and
fixed it. But this continual, unsatisfactory coöperation on radio
communication was a serious affair all the way through and it was a bone
of contention between the Air Service and the Artillery in many
instances. Finally radio officers were appointed to inspect the
equipment on the airplane and the equipment on the ground and to
determine where the fault lay. This helped some, but the trouble was
never actually overcome. If the trouble was with the airmen, it was
perhaps due to failure to throw in their switch. An experience I had,
led me to believe that the trouble was more with the personnel than the
material. In each artillery regiment in trench warfare, there was one
battery designated to fire upon a sudden call from the airplane. This
battery was known as the fugitive target battery and the wireless crew
was supposed to be constantly on duty from daybreak until nightfall so
that when an airplane called, the designated battery could be
immediately notified and the adjustment of artillery fire undertaken at
once.

One day I decided to make a thorough reconnaissance of the Front and to
call the fugitive target battery to a certain regiment to make a rapid
adjustment. I crossed the line, found my target, which was a small
convoy on the road within a forest. I was well within range of the
fugitive target battery, so I immediately began to call the wireless
station of the battery. I called it for fully twenty-five minutes but I
could get no response. They did not put out any panel at all. I happened
to know the location of the wireless station in the next regiment, which
was also supposed to be looking out for fugitive target calls, so I
called them and they immediately displayed their panel that they
understood me. I was then certain that my wireless was O. K., so I flew
back to my first battery and began to call them again. After another
fifteen minutes I still received no response whatsoever. As the target
had long since disappeared and being without the range of the alert
battery of the next regiment, I flew home.

After making my report I called up the Colonel of the Regiment in which
the battery was located. He, of course, being a very busy man, was not
especially anxious to talk to a Lieutenant, so he transferred me to his
wireless officer. I told the wireless officer that I had called them for
forty minutes and had gotten absolutely no response and that I was sure
that my wireless was all right. He, in a very nice way, responded that
he was quite sure that my wireless was not all right, because he was
certain that the battalion concerned had their wireless in very good
shape. We got into quite an argument in which I told him that I called
the designated battery of the next regiment and that they had answered
and that I called my home station both on leaving and returning and that
they answered, but the Captain repeated that he didn’t give a
continental how many answered, he still knew his wireless stations were
all right and he didn’t want any argument over the telephone about it.
Whereupon I mentally cussed the whole Army, but merely said, “Yes, Sir,”
and hung up.

I immediately dispatched another plane to call the same battery and to
keep on calling them until they answered. Then I got into the car and
drove up to the battalion concerned. I paid my respects to the Major
commanding the battalion and told him the trouble—that we had called and
had received no response. He was sort of peeved at the whole world so he
said he was getting disgustingly tired of these airplanes hollering
about the Artillery’s wireless; that his wireless was all right and it
was the inefficient airplanes; that his wireless men were on duty and
had been from daybreak until night. I told him I would like to go over,
if I might, and look over his wireless station. He became very indignant
and said, “Lieutenant, that is quite an unnecessary request. I know the
efficient condition of my units and I know my wireless is listening now
and I know that they have been listening in all day.”

I was beginning to become accustomed to these rebuffs by this time so I
smoothed it over the best I could and finally he agreed to take the time
to walk over to the wireless station with me. The plane I had dispatched
ahead was circling above and I knew he was calling. We went to the
wireless station, which was a sort of improvised one down in a dug-out.
The place was deserted and there was not a person in sight. The Major
was sore, but apologetic. He remembered that Battery C was supposed to
furnish the detail and that they were supposed to be on the job
permanently. So we went over and found the Captain of Battery C and the
Battalion Signal Officer, a Second Lieutenant, who were busily engaged
in a poker game. The Major, in a terrible voice, demanded, “Where in
’ell are those radio operators?” The poor Lieutenant meekly gave the
only answer he could think of. “Why, Major,” he said, “they are right
over there at the station; they have been there all day.”

The Major calmly asked, “Lieutenant, have you inspected the radio unit
to-day?”

Whereupon the Lieutenant solemnly said, “No, Sir, I have not inspected
it, but I am positive that the operators are right on the job,” and he
described definitely the place from which we had just come.

We asked him the name of his radio operators. They were all privates.
With the Captain and the Radio Officer we went over to the radio
station. It was still deserted. The Major began to tell the Lieutenant
in language that will not permit of repetition just what he thought of
him. The Lieutenant was speechless, and out of sympathy for him I made
the suggestion that there was an airplane above which was probably
calling them now and that it might be a good idea if we could get some
one there at the station to listen in. The Radio Officer grasped the
opportunity, jumped down and put the clickers to his ears, and the first
thing he said was, “Q-P-R, Q-P-R—that’s our call!” I felt like a million
dollars, for this time the Artillery was forced to concede that it was
not the fault of the airplane. With the assistance of the Major and the
Captain we manipulated the panels while the wireless officer took the
calls and the lad in the airplane did the adjustment. Then we went back
to find out where the radio operators were; that is, the three privates.

The Captain dispatched an orderly to find the first sergeant. In about
five minutes the sergeant was located and made his appearance. He was an
old non-commissioned officer and was seasoned by experience in many
climes and in dealing with many classes of men. He was rather heavy, and
had not shaved for several days, which fact, in addition to his heavy,
disheveled mustache, gave him the appearance of a hardboiled bulldog.

“Sergeant,” began the Captain, “do you know where the radio operators
are?”

“Yes, sir,” grumbled the top soak, affirmatively nodding his head with
self-satisfaction that he quite well knew where they were.

“Well,” went on the Captain, “I want to see them at once. If you will
show me their quarters it will save time.”

“They ain’t in their quarters,” came the reply. “They’re in the
kitchen.”

We went to the kitchen and found the three expert radio operators—two
were scrubbing big, black pans and the third was peeling spuds.

For moral effect, the Captain called the Top Sergeant off to one side.
The rest of us had to laugh.

“Why have you got these men in the kitchen?” hotly demanded the Captain.

“Well, Sir,” replied the Sergeant, closing in his jaws firmly in
determination, “there ain’t no more reason why the rest of the battery
should do K. P. and excuse the wireless men. I heard one of ’em say
yesterday that he ain’t never done no K. P. since he’d been in this
man’s army, and that kind er talk is bad for the morale of the battery,
so I just stuck ’em all on fer a few days to show the fellers they ain’t
no favors played in this battery.”

“Yes, but what about the radio?” asked the Captain. “You should have
left one of them on the job.”

“Oh, well, Captain,” came back the “Top” Sergeant, “it ain’t goin’ to
make no difference; these airplanes don’t call the station more than
once every two or three days and we ain’t got enough men to waste on
sitting around awaiting for ’em to call and they don’t do nothing for us
when they do call.”

Thus I found one of the main reasons for this early lack of results.
These old timers did not take the Air Service seriously. They had no
faith in its present capabilities nor its future development. To them an
Army was composed of Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery. Every other arm or
service was experimental. I am glad to say, however, that later this
battery, in fact the entire regiment of Artillery, became very
proficient in the work with the Air Service and the results were,
indeed, satisfactory to all.

In the actual advance at Château-Thierry the ground liaison—that is, the
communication by telephone, wireless telegraph and ground telegraph
between the line units and the Air Service—became poorer and poorer as
the troops advanced until it was really in a deplorable state. The area
over which troops passed was all shell torn and it was impossible to
move our flying fields farther up because we could not cease operations
in order to make the move since we had no reserve Air units, and worse,
we had no fields prepared and the Germans had destroyed theirs in the
retreat.

As the days advanced conditions became more terrible. The entire corps
headquarters had only one telephone wire and one ground telegraph line
to the Corps Advance Headquarters and from there only one out to the
various Divisional Posts of Command and in front of those Posts of
Command almost everything was done by runners. Our little force at the
Corps Air Service Headquarters was all worked down. After the first few
days the drive ceased to be exciting and it became purely drudgery and
habit. We were all irritable and cross. We were overworked and loss of
sleep was showing very much in our dispositions. This particular day
things were getting pretty bad up the line. The German artillery was
making a strong defense and all of our Command Posts were getting their
full share of German artillery fire. At noon our radio operator told me
that some one had been trying all morning to put through a message to
us, but that we had been unable to receive it. Either the transmitting
set at the line was not working or our receiving set was not. At any
rate, something was urgently wrong somewhere at the front or they would
not have been so persistent. About nine-thirty they started trying to
call us and they kept on until eleven-thirty, but the operator could not
get anything definite out of the sound. In addition, at about a quarter
of twelve they succeeded in getting a telephone call through, but we
could not hear. We tried to relay it, but that did not work. We worked
an hour on that—until a quarter of one. Then they managed to get a
priority call through on the ground telegraph, which telegram was dated
at the Post of Command at one-thirty in the afternoon and was delivered
to me at one-forty. The telegram read as follows:


              “To Chief of Air Service. First Army Corps.

  German artillery firing on my Post of Command. Stop it!

                                                             General.”


Of course, we all had a real laugh at the situation; that is, Mathis and
I, for we were the only ones there, Brereton being away on business and
Harwood being up at the front on liaison. Of course, such a request was
obviously impossible. An airplane can spot certain batteries when
firing, but when there are fifteen hundred different guns firing
continuously on fifteen hundred different objectives one can imagine
what possibility an airplane would have of picking out the particular
battery that was firing on this particular post of command. At the same
time, as it was signed in code by a General, it was imperative that
something be done because that unit had not been any too friendly toward
the Air Service, and, of course, the wishes of a General must always
have immediate attention.

I knew there was no answer that I could send back over the wire that
would quiet the situation, so we simply acknowledged the receipt of the
message. At the same time I knew there was no use to send a special
airplane for this request because we already maintained a plane over the
front every hour of the day, the one duty of which was to report by
wireless the location of any enemy batteries seen firing. I was mighty
busy on a multitude of other things, but still the General must be
answered, so I finally decided the best thing to do was to go up to the
Post of Command and explain the entire situation, telling why it could
not be done. After an hour and a half rough riding we finally approached
the Post of Command concerned. I left the car about a quarter of a mile
away so as to not attract the attention of the German airplanes to the
presence of a Command Post. All the way up I had been considering just
what I would say, because, being a Lieutenant, I wouldn’t have much
chance with a General, and yet I felt that since I had to do it I ought
to have something worth saying. I had decided upon my whole speech—I
would simply say that the mission was not only impossible but such a
request was preposterous—an airplane was a great thing, but it had a
limit of activity. At the same time I was in great fear of being laughed
at and being balled out, because in a great many cases a Lieutenant
speaking with a General, with the slight difference in rank, is at a
disadvantage. I knew I had to make some sort of a stab so, though I was
determined on my speech, I really felt very much like a bashful school
boy. As to procedure I had it all fixed up that I would go in, click my
heels together, salute smartly and explain to the General that I was the
Operations Officer for the Corps Air Service, whereupon I thought he
would certainly have some deference for me on account of the important
position I was holding with such low rank. My greatest hope was that he
would be reasonable and would take my statement regarding the situation
as final and authoritative, without further argument. I concluded that
the best way would be to impress him with the knowledge I had on the
particular subject and not give him a chance to come back. To do this I
must be absolutely firm and convincing in what I had to say, but at the
same time, way down deep in my heart I felt it was a hopeless task, for
these “higher ups” are inclined to consider nothing but results—and
since we could not give him the results he wanted, he would conclude
that the Air Service had failed, and as the line units had done on
several other similar occasions, they would merely remark, “the same old
story,” shrug their shoulders and pass it up. I, of course, expected to
find the General down in his dug-out, being heavily shelled, but I was
determined to show him that I was a real hero by walking right through
the shell-fire and calmly explaining to him why we couldn’t help him.
This last decision really required nerve on my part, for if there is any
one thing I cannot stand, it is shell-fire on the ground. It did not
worry me so much in the air, for there seemed to be such a good chance
to dodge, but on the ground—well, I had been caught in it several times
and, in each instance, I made the necessary distance to safety in
considerable less than record time on the fastest tracks.

I picked up a stray doughboy to guide me to the Post of Command. To my
absolute surprise I found that everything was apparently quiet. However,
the surroundings bore the unmistakable evidence that the region had
undergone a very heavy and prolonged bombardment. I could not understand
this; in fact, I was certain that we had come to the wrong Post of
Command.

“Orderly,” I said to a lad standing at the door, “is this the P. C. of
General Blank?” using the proper code name.

“That’s right, Sir,” he smartly answered.

“When did the bombardment stop?” I demanded.

“About two o’clock, Sir,” he replied.

“May I see the General?” I asked.

“What is the name, Sir?”

“Just tell the General or Chief of Staff that Lieutenant Haslett of the
Air Service would like to see either of them at their convenience. There
is nothing urgent.”

The orderly stepped inside and almost immediately a Lieutenant came out.

“I’m the General’s aide,” he said, extending his hand. “The General will
see you at once. Come right in.”

The door opened and I was ready with my speech. Out rushed the General
and his Chief of Staff and the rest of his staff around him—none of them
less in rank than a Lieutenant Colonel. Of course, I stood at attention,
stiff as an iceberg, but they thawed me out by a cordial “Are you
Haslett, the Operations Officer of the Air Service?”

I had never before in my life spoken to such a high ranking General and
in a quivering, quick voice which indicated that I expected to be
crucified at the next moment I said, “Yes, Sir.” The General advanced,
put out his hand and said, “Lieutenant, I want to congratulate you. That
is the first time we have ever had efficient service and coöperation
from your airplane crowd. All morning while we tried to get you by
wireless and we knew we had not succeeded, for you did not answer—they
were firing upon us terribly; and then we tried to get you on the
telephone, but I think the bursting shells around us was one of the
reasons you could not hear; but when we got that telegram through at
one-thirty and you acknowledged receiving it at a quarter of two—it was
simply fine. We saw an airplane circle overhead promptly at two o’clock
and that artillery stopped firing at exactly five minutes after two. Now
that’s what I call splendid work, and I am going to tell the Corps
Commander about it.”

For the moment I was completely nonplussed. There was nothing for me to
say. I had a vision of a young hero with a Distinguished Service Cross
and twenty-six and a half Croix de Guerre—I might not have been the Ace
of Aces, but I certainly was the Deuce of Deuces. After a moment’s
hesitation I knew it was the time to act, so I shrugged my shoulders,
casually lighted a cigarette and nonchalantly informed the General that
I came to see that the airplane had satisfactorily completed its mission
and to assure myself that he was satisfied and to tell him that any time
he had any trouble we wanted him to feel that the Air Service was behind
him, day and night; that if they only got the word to us, we would do
our best.

Believe me, every one of the staff, from the Lieutenant Colonels up,
shook my hand and individually thanked me for the efficient work we had
done in stopping that artillery fire. This was the real case of having
fortune thrust upon one. Perhaps I should have insisted upon explaining
that we had nothing to do with stopping that artillery fire, but somehow
I could not. It was a dream which was better undisturbed, for the German
Heavy Artillery had certainly stopped of its own volition, not ours.

Forever afterwards that General and his entire staff were strong
boosters for the Air Service, and when any one had anything to say
against the Air Service, if there was a member of that staff around an
argument was certain; and the General, I am told, still tells of how the
wonderful American Air Service stopped the German Heavy Artillery on
fifteen minutes’ notice at Château-Thierry.



                                   VI
                      THE WILD RIDE OF A GREENHORN


One of the greatest experiences an observer can have is to take a new
pilot over the lines for his first trip; in other words, “break him in.”
I had sort of specialized in this work in the early days in quiet
sectors, but when I was sent up to the Argonne sector it was for an
entirely different mission. I had long since gotten past this
preliminary stage. The object of my being there was to carry on
adjustments of artillery on the moving enemy targets, for I had been
giving a great deal of attention to this special work all through our
experiences at Château-Thierry and Saint Mihiel. At the opening of the
Argonne drive on the 26th of September my position was that of
Operations Officer for the Corps Observation Wing of the First Army. It
seemed that the development of artillery adjustments on fugitive targets
had sort of been overlooked, so General Mitchell, who was then Chief of
Air Service of the First Army, began to realize the importance of this
work and decided that it should be given more attention. Of course, it
was strictly a Corps Observation mission, and so he passed the order
down to Brereton and Brereton, of course, passed the “buck” on to me,
for the buck never passes up—it’s always down.

It was an important matter, especially for the coming drive, and no
satisfactory method of carrying on this work had yet been worked out, so
I proposed to Brereton that I be authorized to visit each of the Corps
of the First Army during the drive in order to carry on this work; then
I could compile the proper manual for future guidance of our observers.
The big three, consisting of General Mitchell, Colonel Milling and Major
Brereton, all approved, and so I went first to the 5th Corps, whose
airdrome was at Foucoucourt, arriving there on September 25th, about six
o’clock in the evening. The big Argonne-Meuse drive was to begin the
next morning at daybreak.

The Corps Air Service Commander, Colonel Arthur Christie, and the Group
Commander, Major Joe McNarney, and I had a talk about the entire
situation. They decided that I should work with the Hybrid Squadron,
which consisted of a Flight of the 104th Squadron and a Flight of the
99th Squadron under the command of Lieutenant Jeff Davis. The Operations
Officer was Lieutenant Britton Polly, whom I knew quite well in the
Observers’ School, so I told Davis that I would like to take one of the
first missions the next morning, in order that I might get an early
start on my fugitive target ideas.

Polly told me the situation—they were up against it, as they had several
new pilots who had never been over the front, so he wanted to know if I
would help him out by taking one of the new ones over. Ordinarily there
is not much opportunity to do real work when “breaking in” a green
pilot, and although I knew this would detract from my chances for
success, I agreed.

That night I worked quite late preparing a very complete chart, showing
the location of all our batteries on the map, their radio call codes and
a miniature picture of each battery’s panels. I knew that the batteries
would soon be on the move, and my scheme of adjustment had for its
object the ability to call any battery which had halted temporarily,
whether its location was permanent or not.

I got on the field about eight o’clock the next morning and walked over
to the Operations Room of the 104th Squadron to find my pilot, who, for
the purposes of this story, we will call “Lieutenant Greenhorn.” Inside
the hut I found a tall, slender, effeminate looking chap talking to
Britton Polly. I was unnoticed by either. The lad was inquiring as to
this new guy, Haslett, who was supposed to fly with him at nine o’clock.
I heard him tell Polly that as it was his first trip over the lines he
demanded an old and experienced observer to take him over. Since he
didn’t know me, he said, and had never seen me, he would rather have one
of his own squadron go over with him, as he would have more confidence
in some one whose experience he knew. Polly, who was a sort of
hardboiled war horse, told him that he wouldn’t find any observers in
the American Service who were more experienced than Haslett and that he
had better take me while the taking was good.

After “Greenhorn” left I had a good laugh over the matter with Polly and
then I followed the lad to his room, went in, and disclosed my identity.
He was noticeably nervous and made me a confession that he had had very
little flying and that he really had no business being at the Front;
and, as this was his first trip over, he didn’t want to stay long and
wanted to know how it felt to be up there, and what to do when he was
attacked, and what to do when the enemy anti-aircraft artillery shot
him, what to do if his motor failed him over the lines, and a lot of
such odd and foolish questions. My experience with Phil Schnurr on his
first flight made me leary. I didn’t object to taking a man over the
lines for the first time so long as he knew how to fly well, but when a
man did not even have confidence in his ability to fly—well, it was a
very different matter. I was not seeking any thrills—observing had
become a business with me, so I felt very much like refusing to fly with
him, but on afterthought it came to me that perhaps this lad was not
such a bad sort after all and maybe it was just his modesty and timidity
that caused him to talk so disparagingly of his ability. At any rate, if
he was going over, for his own good I would take a chance and try to
start him right.

I proceeded with a story something like this (the same that I told all
the new pilots I ever took over the lines for their first trip):

“The pilot in an observation plane is, in one sense, the chauffeur. On
account of the fact that communication between the pilot and the
observer is ordinarily very poor, we refer to the pilot as the horse,
for he must be guided, and for that reason we append to his arms
directly under the armpits two pieces of twine, string or cord which we
extend back to the observer. The observer holds the reins. The observer
is given the mission to perform and, while he expects the utmost
voluntary coöperation of the pilot, when it comes to any matter of
tactical decision the observer’s word is final; for instance, in this
flight, should we see five planes and decide to attack them, I would
simply give the word and you would direct the plane toward them; or if
we are attacked by them I would give the word whether to dive toward the
ground and run from the enemy or stay and fight it out; or should I see
a machine gun nest on the ground which was holding up our advancing
troops, should I decide to go down and destroy that machine gun nest it
is your duty to direct your plane down on the machine gun nest even
though you know it is certain death. The observer points out the
direction in which he wants to go, how long he wants to stay there, how
long he wants to stay at the line, and, in fact, is the commander of the
plane. As I said before, he is the holder of the reins.

“Now, there is only one exception to this, and that is when something is
mechanically wrong with the airplane. For instance, if the engine is
failing or if a strut is broken, or if flying wires are destroyed—in
such a case the pilot becomes responsible for the command of the plane.
The fear of failing to hear clearly the directions given by the observer
through the speaking tube is the reason we have the lines to guide the
pilot like a horse, and when the observer wants to go up he points up
and when he wants to go down he points down; and should he want to go to
a certain place he would point to that place. It is a sort of mental
telepathy which is expressed in a sign language and is ordinarily easily
understood, so don’t worry—just pay close attention and don’t lose your
head and you will get along all right, for after all, flying over the
front is not so full of thrills as one ordinarily is led to believe, and
whether you live over your allotted twenty hours over the lines depends
largely upon your ability and good luck and watchfulness.”

“Greenhorn” took it all in and said he understood fully. After quite a
little delay in getting a serviceable airplane we finally made a stab at
getting off. I told Greenhorn to take me to a little town called
Avocourt, which was in No-Man’s-Land, and I carefully pointed it out to
him on the map. Of course, Avocourt had been destroyed by shell fire and
nothing remained but the ruins of the town, but they were plainly
discernible from the air. I tested out my wireless and everything was O.
K., so I motioned for him to head on up to the lines. I paid very little
attention to the ground, intending to sort of take it easy until we got
to Avocourt, thus getting a general idea of the lay of the country over
which we were flying. I instructed him to let me know by shaking the
plane when he came to Avocourt. He seemed to be flying along in good
shape so I didn’t concern myself with our location until he finally
shook the plane. He pointed down to an extremely large city and motioned
his lips “Avocourt.” I looked down below me and recognized very well the
historic city of Verdun, as I had flown over this sector one time with
the French in the early days. I shook my head and pointed toward
Avocourt. “Greenhorn” had missed Avocourt only by about fifteen
kilometers. However, the kid was insistent and nodded his head in
affirmation of his own decision and he pointed to his map again and
pointed down and said “Avocourt.” I swelled out my chest and pointed to
myself to impress upon him the lesson that I was running the plane as
per our previous conversation and that he was to go in the direction
pointed without further argument. He hastily acquiesced and turned the
plane in that direction, and from that time on I used the cords attached
to his arms to guide him. When we got over Avocourt I attracted his
attention, pointed down and said “Avocourt.” He gazed down at the
shattered ruins of what was once a town, but said nothing. However, his
eyes and face expressed very well the fact that he would never have
recognized Avocourt from her photograph. I couldn’t blame him, for from
the air a ruined town is highly deceptive and unless one had flown over
that sector he could not realize that the effect of artillery
destruction could be so complete. In a moment he gave some sort of a
shrug of his shoulders to indicate that he was entirely lost, so I
signaled to him and gave him his directions. Then, taking my map, I
pointed north and said “Montfaucon,” which is easily distinguished from
the air for miles, being situated on the crest of a very high hill.
“Greenhorn” immediately headed toward Montfaucon, thinking that perhaps
I had pointed toward that town with the intention of going there. I did
not have this in mind, but since one place was just about as good as
another until we found a target I let him go.

[Illustration: TANKS GOING INTO ACTION, AND THE TRACKS LEFT BY THEM]

Just over Montfaucon we were opened up on by the German anti-aircraft
artillery. I heard a heavy thud under our tail and at once the plane
began to side-slip and quiver. The “Greenhorn” was badly frightened and
began looking in every direction. Then his eyes fell on me and I have
never seen the equal of the expression on his face when he saw me
laughing. He did not realize the significance until I pointed to the
anti-aircraft bursts, which were fully three hundred yards behind us. I
assured him that everything was O. K. and he had done well. That put him
a little more at ease. After a while I spied a splendid target, so I
started him back toward the line so that we could call our batteries. We
then played over our own lines for about an hour, as we were having a
great deal of trouble in getting any batteries to answer, since they had
all started to move up farther to support the fast advancing doughboys.
I didn’t know whether “Greenhorn” appreciated that ride or not, but
believe me, that sight was beautiful. The heretofore impassable region
known as No-Man’s-Land was now converted to Every-Man’s-Land, for the
whole shell riddled section was simply covered with the advancing
American doughboys—in trenches, shell holes, everywhere. The mighty
tanks were slowly plugging and lumbering along over the shell holes and
we could easily see our most advanced lines, the troops deploying, the
German machine gun crews at their nests vainly attempting to hold back
the advancing infantry, and farther back we could see the retreating
Germans, their supply trains, artillery and convoys. I marked down the
location of our advance units, as this was important information, and
told “Greenhorn” to fly north. As we circled over Montfaucon to the west
we drew a very heavy machine gun fire from the Bois de Beuges, which had
put several holes in the plane, and since “Greenhorn” was getting more
and more unsteady in his flying I thought it well for our own safety and
comfort to get a little better altitude, so I motioned up and
“Greenhorn” started a steep climb right off the bat. Of course, I did
not intend for him to make such a steep climb, and as we started our
ascent the machine practically stood still in the air in a stall. This
gave the German machine gunners a chance to concentrate on us, and
believe me, they certainly made the best of their opportunity.
Fortunately, beginner’s luck was with the boy and we got out of it after
he finally heeded my frantic effort to get him to fly ahead for speed
and not for altitude. I looked the plane over carefully when we were
without the range of the German machine guns. Other than a few holes in
the wings and the body of the plane I could find nothing wrong with it;
at least, all the flying wires and struts were still good and the engine
apparently was running perfectly. Upon getting more altitude, however,
the “Greenhorn” started in the direction of home without any orders from
me at all.

Suddenly I heard a faint, indistinct put-put-put and I began scouring
the sky for the place from whence came the familiar and unmistakable
sound. Away over to the right, north of Montfaucon, I saw a genuine
scrap going on. There must have been fifteen planes and soon the faint
put-put became a continuous rattle like the roll of an over-tight snare
drum. I could very easily tell by their maneuvering that it was a dog
fight and if we could only get over there in time we would undoubtedly
get into it. Maybe some of our boys needed help and sometimes the
arrival of one additional plane can turn the balance of power in a
scrap. So I shook the plane and called to him to head over that way as
fast as he could. I expected some slight coercion would be necessary,
but to my surprise “Greenhorn” immediately headed toward the show. As we
were speeding along like the assisting ambulance I decided to try out my
guns to make sure they were in trim condition for a combat, so I pulled
the triggers on both machine guns for a short burst, not thinking to
warn the already irritated “Greenhorn.” Instantaneous with the first
report the plane began to go into a wild spiral. I dropped the guns and
turned around to see “Greenhorn” twisting in every conceivable direction
and manipulating the joy stick right to left, forward to rear, with the
same cadence that the jazz orchestra leader handles his baton—while I
was thrown around in the cockpit like the contents of a shaking
highball. I had a similar trick played on me myself one time while
flying with Brereton at San Mihiel. Brereton and I were alone on a
mission photographing a difficult area behind the lines. Brereton, who
was always a cautious flyer, ordinarily had a small mirror attached just
above the edge of his cockpit in which my every movement was reflected.
Thus he could tell when I was looking the sky over for enemy planes or
watching the artillery or down in the pit operating the camera. I used
to stay down in the cockpit too long at one stretch to suit him. His
idea was that the observer should spend most of the time searching the
sky in order that the Hun could not pull a surprise attack. In this he
was right, but it was extremely difficult to do this and at the same
time do the mission well. Brereton had previously been accustomed to
getting me out of the cockpit by shaking the plane, which merely
consisted of gently vibrating the control lever from right to left. This
day I was trying to get some very good photographs and I admit in so
attempting I was staying down in the cockpit too long. Brereton shook
the machine several times, but I didn’t come out because I wanted to
finish my set of pictures, taking my chances on an attack in the
meantime. Brereton was unusually irritable so he decided that I did not
have the right way of doing things. He immediately turned loose his
machine guns for a continuous burst of about twenty-five rounds, which
sounded to me like two hundred and twenty-five. Believe me, I came out
of that cockpit. I grabbed my machine guns and swung the tourrelle upon
which the guns were mounted full around several times, up and down,
under my tail; in fact, in every conceivable direction, for I was
absolutely convinced that we were in a real scrap. Finally I got a
glimpse of Brereton’s beaming countenance. He was in a perfect uproar of
laughter. The incident had its intended effect, for always afterward
when Brereton would shake the plane, no matter how slightly, I would
come out of the cockpit right off, just as the ground squirrel comes out
of his hole when you give him sufficient water, but with an uncomparable
difference in rapidity.

So when I fired my guns poor “Greenhorn” was pitifully fussed. I could
see he was losing his nerve, but I pointed in the direction of the fight
and, obedient to my instructions, he headed the plane that way. It would
never have done to have withdrawn after getting this far, for in so
doing he would never again have been worth anything in the air.

We were still quite a distance from the show. I was looking over the top
wing to get a line on the fight. They were still at it and it was just
getting good. It seemed to be the ordinary aerial dog fight in which one
allied plane is on the tail of the enemy plane and two of the enemy
planes are on the allies’ tails, and three of the allies on the tails of
the two enemies, and so on—all going round and round, exactly like a dog
chasing its own tail. Suddenly one of the planes dropped from the combat
and, making a steep dive, it burst into flames and fell toward earth. I
shook the plane violently and, pointing toward the falling plane, I
joyously cried to the “Greenhorn,” “Boche! Boche!” He was not so
enthusiastic as might have been expected and I had no more than gotten
the words out of my mouth when another plane started falling—also out of
control. At this point “Greenhorn” again suddenly headed his plane
toward home. In a rage I shook the plane violently and with fury in my
face I again pointed toward the fight. He shook his head. I became more
infuriated and again pointed toward the fight, but the “Greenhorn” just
as furiously shook his head and determinedly kept on going toward home.

This would never do—I would feel like a coward the rest of my life, so I
reached over the cockpit and grabbed him by the shoulders and very
affirmatively pointed toward the fight. He motioned for me to put on my
speaking tube, and amid the pounding of the motor, in his high, squeaky,
girlish voice I could hear him uttering something about “Motor bad.
Mechanical trouble.” It did not sound that way to me, so I doubtfully
shook my head. He vigorously affirmed his statement, showing surprise
that I should doubt his word or question his decision on mechanical
matters. For the purpose of camouflage the plane kept rocking from side
to side and the motor would become very strong and then suddenly die
away. It was my belief that it was being controlled from the throttle.
There was nothing I could do. I was not only disgusted with the
“Greenhorn,” but I was thoroughly ashamed of myself. I felt like a
sneaking coward.

As we crossed the lines our anti-aircraft artillery suddenly began to
fire violently and rapidly into the heavens. Then I picked up a lone
enemy plane swiftly diving out of the clouds in order to attack our
balloons. Here was our opportunity—I knew for a fact that a plane
attacking balloons has not much chance to see any other plane
approaching, so I shouted at the top of my voice, “See that plane
there,” and I pointed to it. “That is a Boche that’s going to attack
this first balloon. Then it’s going over and attack the next one to the
left. We won’t have time to get him before he gets them both, but we
will get him after he leaves the second balloon, for he won’t see us.
We’ll get him sure. Here’s our one chance to redeem ourselves. Nurse
your motor along for we are on our own side of the lines anyway.” The
man at the controls hesitated a moment and then started in the proper
direction with full motor. I realized the danger of getting into a scrap
with a plane that has for its object the burning of balloons, for they
use nothing but incendiary bullets, and while I had no serious fear of
being killed by a clean bullet, the idea of burning in midair was quite
repulsive. Then, too, there was a green pilot, but I actually craved in
the worst way a chance to redeem our plane from its disgraceful conduct
in the dog fight—here was the chance.

The balloon crews already were on the job and were frantically
attempting to haul the balloons down to safety. No other planes were in
sight. We were the only hope of saving the day. In a few moments I saw
the observer of the first balloon jump with his parachute, saw the Boche
empty his fire into the huge bag and then saw the balloon burst into
flames. I do not know why it was, but for some reason at that particular
minute our engine began to die and grow strong, then die again. I
appeared not to notice the motor and excitedly pointed the “Greenhorn”
to the direction in which we could meet the Boche most advantageously.
His face registered a doubtful hope that he might be able to comply with
my urgent request and then, as if his conclusion was drawn after a
consultation with his better judgment, his expression changed to one of
disappointed regret, for he again pointed to the motor and began to
utter “Mechanical trouble.”

He headed the plane toward home and away from the Boches. I knew what
the people on the ground would think at our performance after we had
once started after that Boche. They would be too ashamed of us to say
anything. I was thoroughly disgusted and angered to the highest degree.
Unmolested, except by local defenses, the Hun burned the second balloon
and triumphantly flew back into Germany.

The “Greenhorn” was unbalanced by horrors he had seen. The morning had
his goat, for he kept on looking back, time and time again, as if he
were sure that he would be the next one to go down in flames.

That ride back to our airdrome was the wildest I ever got in my life as
a flyer. The boy lost his head completely and I was absolutely helpless,
not having a dual control, though I do not know much what I would have
done at that time even if I had been fortunate enough to have had a dual
control plane. We would take sudden jerks in which I would go half way
out of the cockpit, nothing holding me in but my belt. I knew the boy
was getting worse and I was figuring how I would look after the fall.
When we got directly over our own airdrome, to my surprise he called
back to me in a frantic voice, “I’m lost. Which way now?”

“Take it easy,” I replied, “our airdrome is right beneath us.”

The lad came down like a streak from the sky and I knew we were going to
hit the ground in one grand smash. The “Greenhorn” tried to land and
couldn’t, so he gave her the gun again, circled the field, and in
attempting to land almost hit one of the huge hangars with the tail.
Death looked like a sure proposition to me. I felt like jumping—anything
to get down to earth. In this second attempt he had a good chance to
effect a good landing, but for some reason or other he kept on going.
Then he foolishly did a vertical bank and came in with the wind,
intending to land. To land with the wind is one of the most dangerous
things a pilot can do, but it did not seem to affect our hero. Did he
land with the wind? I’ll say he did. As we neared the ground I was
sweating blood, for I knew what was sure to happen. Perspiration was
flowing from my entire body with the freedom that it rolls from the
winner of the fat man’s race at the old county fair. We hit the field in
the center, took a two-story bounce; the wind caught us and as the
wheels hit again, S-P-L-O-W! We rolled over on our nose. Good fortune
alone kept us from doing worse. We stopped, and I was up in the cockpit
about twelve feet from the ground, though I expected to be found
underneath the engine about ten feet under ground—and the ambulance came
rushing to pick up our remains.

They got me another plane ready and after considerable hard luck I
finally got the mission completed with the help of a very wonderful
pilot named Lieutenant Weeks. Late that afternoon the “Greenhorn” came
around and asked me if I would mind going with him again to-morrow. I
was forced to decline. He was relieved from further duty at the front.
It was his first and only trip over. I don’t think the “Kid” was a
coward—he simply could not stand the gaff of air fighting.

There is nothing more nerve-racking or terrifying than a ride in an
airplane with a pilot at the stick in whom you have no confidence, and
especially so when at war and in an active sector where the enemy has
control of the air. There are many times in my young and blameless life
in which I have been actually scared, but never one in which I have been
carried in that state of fear and terror for such a long stretch as in
that two hours, twenty-one minutes and eighteen seconds in a Salmson
airplane in the Argonne Forest on September 26, 1918, with a green
Lieutenant, fictitiously named “Greenhorn.”



                                  VII
                          EILEEN’S INSPIRATION


Shortly after the great Argonne Offensive commenced, the Fifth Corps Air
Service was visited by a small troop of Y. M. C. A. entertainers. I was
at their airdrome at the time. In the party were two young ladies, one
blonde and the other a brunette. As I was a sort of special boarder
myself, I was very fortunately a guest at the Headquarters Mess, and at
the head of the table sat Lieutenant Colonel A. R. Christie, who was the
commander-in-chief of the Corps Air Service. I had heard early in the
afternoon that these girls were coming, and it had been so long since I
had seen a real American girl that my enthusiasm over their prospective
arrival was not exceeded by a country lad’s anticipation of his first
circus.

As luck would have it, at the dinner table I was seated next to the
brunette, which was just what I had wanted. I must say she was a
“Queen.” She had eyes that were all eyes, and when she smiled it seemed,
as the poet would say, just like the flooding of a dark and desolate
dungeon with the glorious light of day. She wore a daintily scented
perfume that made it all seem to be just like the environment of a
wonderful rose garden and this girl was the loveliest rose of them all.

I immediately felt my insignificance, for I was only a Lieutenant, and
around me were Colonels, Majors and Captains, and on account of this
subordinance I knew my place demanded reticence rather than verbosity.
Therefore, when introduced I merely told her quite formally how happy I
was to know her and then I closed shop with all the good intentions of a
huge, triple-locked, steel safe. However, Eileen, for this was her name,
had the master combination for unlocking the deposit box of pentup
conversation. She started it, but after she had been going for two or
three minutes, rank did not amount to anything to me, because I was
quite sure, as I had been several times before and have been several
times since, that this was the one girl God had made for Elmer. So to me
Rank was business and Love was pleasure, and pleasure superseded
business.

Versatility was this girl’s middle name, and to my great surprise she
even had a conversational knowledge of aerial observation, which is,
indeed, unusual for a woman. Perhaps the reason she was so friendly to
me was that I had some knowledge of aviation myself, and she wanted to
learn more. She asked me no questions, however, simply volunteered her
own information, so I felt she could not possibly be a spy, but whether
she was or not it didn’t matter to me, for I was thoroughly convinced
that there never before had been a girl like this and there never could
be another afterwards.

While dining, it developed that I was especially anxious to get a method
for the rapid adjustment of artillery fire on moving targets. I
explained to her that while it was no easy matter to make an adjustment
on a moving target even in a quiet sector in closed warfare, the
observer, at least, had the advantage of knowing where the battery was
located, what the battery’s signal panels would look like and what code
signals both would use and what method of fire the battery would pursue.
But in a war of movement in which we were engaged, our own batteries
were constantly on the move, and even if we did find a battery that was
not moving there was no way of finding what code call it had been
assigned, for the reason that they never displayed their panels as
prescribed when taking a temporary position. So I explained in a
careless way just what difficulties I had to surmount before reaching a
successful method satisfactory for all conditions. Perhaps I said a
little more than I should, but I couldn’t help it. I simply had to talk
to this girl. She had the art of flattery well in hand, for she
delighted me by demanding what business I had serving as an ordinary
observer with my superior knowledge of things, whereupon I told her what
a great man I really was—that I was the Operations Officer for the Air
Service of the entire Wing, which consisted of six Corps, and that I was
only in this drive doing very special work. This sounded bigger than it
really was, but it seemingly got by, for she seemed very sympathetic
from the first. I was quite sure I had won my happy home.

That night, upon an improvised stage in one of our huge airplane
hangars, she sang. Galli-Curci, Breslau, Schumann-Heink or Farrar had
nothing on her. She trilled and as she trilled, I thrilled. I even had
wild ideas of a little home in California and everything. After the
performance was over I reported for duty and we started to walk back to
the main quarters together, she having spurned the proffer of one of my
superior officer’s car. I had just made a grand and glorious spiel about
the beautiful night, and the myriads of twinkling stars in the heavens,
and how wonderful it was to be walking along in the lovely delight of it
all with such a charming and entertaining companion, and how I dreaded
to think that in the morning I must go out to fly again and might never
come back to all these wonderful things.

I was raving and sputtering away, the enslaved victim of temperament,
sentiment and ephemeral love. In brooding over the possible tragedy of
the next day I was, of course, fishing for sympathy, expecting her to
say, “Oh, don’t talk like that,” or something similar to jolly me along,
but she evidently had had that line pulled on her before.

“You know, Lieutenant,” she smilingly said in a voice as welcome as that
of a dying aunt about to give you a hundred thousand dollars, “I’ve been
thinking of the wonderful work you are doing, and while I was singing my
first song to-night I looked down at you and I had an inspiration which
I think will help you.”

This was the highest compliment I had ever been paid in my life. I had
disgusted people, displeased them, and even been repulsive to some, but
this was the first time I had ever been the cause of inspiring any one.
I thought it was the psychological moment to put the question. I had
previously concluded that when a woman begins to talk about inspiration
she has fallen in love herself, so without inquiring further about this
particular inspiration, I turned to love.

“Eileen,” I said, and my voice quivered, for I had not called her that
before—it had been Miss ——, “do you know, I want to ask you a question.”

She said nothing, and I did not look, though I was certain that she had
modestly turned her head away from me, bashfully anticipating the fatal
question which was sure to come.

“Do you know, Eileen,” I stammered on, nodding my head affirmatively in
order to carry along with my words additional evidence of my sincerity,
“I have been wondering why you have paid this attention to me to-night
and have been heedless of the pressing attentions of the Colonels, the
Majors and the Captains. I don’t like to talk like this so soon, but you
are leaving to-morrow and I might never have another opportunity.”

Then I thought of that song, “Just you, Dear, just you,” and I knew
quite well that she would say that she had been giving me all this
attention amidst the jealous and envious looks of my superior officers
because she, herself, individually wished to and because she liked or
maybe loved me. Whereupon I was going to second the motion and say,
“Ditto, I love you, Eileen,” and all that sort of bunk and close the
contract. I pictured myself enfolding her in my willing arms and making
solemn vows such as I would stand on my ear for her, etc.; all of this,
of course, being contingent upon her responding in the way I fully
expected.

Smiling—her teeth reflected glory in the moonlight—she demurely asked
me, “Why, don’t you know?” That would have been all right ordinarily,
but it had a ringing inflection I failed to comprehend, and being a man
of words instead of action, I said, “No, I don’t know.”

“Well,” she went on rather surprised at my stupidity, “you see, our
manager instructed us that the higher officers do not need the attention
and encouragement of the young ladies because they do not have to
undergo any hardships, so we have been instructed to pay as much
attention as possible to the junior officers, and as you were about the
most junior here—well——”

This was sufficient. I realized that I was on about the fifty-fourth
floor of the Woolworth Building and had better catch the express
elevator down, for it was going to be an awful fall. I had hit the mat
and was already taking the count.

“I was telling you about the inspiration,” she went on, and in a hollow
voice I said, “Yes, Miss ——,” swallowing many cubic feet of chagrin and
remorse, yet still determined.

“I think I have a plan for adjusting your batteries. I got the idea
while I was singing to-night. Of course, I know nothing about the
practical part of it, but why wouldn’t it work this way?” and she
roughly described a scheme that seemed about as feasible as most
military tactics that women conceive. I offered her no encouragement,
but she asked me if I wouldn’t try it out and I told her I would do
anything for her. It would, at least, give me some excuse for keeping in
touch with her, since I could inform her from time to time how her
system was getting along, and I was firmly bent, in spite of the
momentary rebuff I had just received, upon knowing this charming and
bewitching damsel better.

As usual, the night gave me the opportunity to calm down considerably,
so the next morning I took off quite early, the same old guy as before,
with no domestic worries. Eileen was momentarily forgotten—my ardor was
perhaps but a passing fantasy.

At a little village several miles north of Montfaucon there is quite a
fork having two roads branching off to the south and over which the
Germans were passing in their forced retreat. Flying in that direction
the approaching roads were dotted with scattered German transports which
consisted of many horses and very few motor vehicles as the Germans were
short of gasoline and what they did have of this scarce article they
used for their airplanes—their general transportation work was carried
on largely by horses and a more extended use of their steam locomotives
and railroads. But, coming from the south were several of these convoys
trudging along as fast as they could, which, at best, was very slow.
This was unusual for a retreat is generally done under cover of
darkness, but, I suppose this material was such that it had to be moved
at all costs.

Ah! I thought, this is a splendid target. I’ll put the artillery on. So,
directing the pilot to go back to our own battery, I began to make
furious attempts to get into communication with our artillery, by flying
low and finding the location with the naked eye.

Again my theory of the previous day seemed to be all wrong, for in spite
of all I could do I couldn’t get an answer from any of our batteries.
Finally, flying extremely low I found a couple of them and threw them
messages. Neither of them would fire. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps they
were about to move up again. However, I knew that of all of the
batteries in our Division there must a few that could work. Here was a
wonderful target. I was to the last straw—there didn’t seem to be
anything else to do but go home, so, pretty well disgruntled I motioned
the pilot to go on home. Thus, my mind being freed of the cares and
responsibilities of the mission, it naturally began to turn toward the
personal interests of life, and, naturally enough I thought of my
recently acquired acquaintance, Eileen—and instantly I remembered her
inspiration—that silly, tactical dream she had conceived the night
before. I knew it was impossible to try it out as she had suggested it,
but the principle had possibilities, and seemed to be worth taking a
chance on. If it failed, it would do no harm, and, at least, I could
give her some kind of a report.

Attracting the pilot’s attention, I motioned him to turn around and
although he gave me a look that indicated he had some doubt as to my
mental balance, he followed the instructions. It was just a hunch at
most. Instead of calling the particular batteries designated to fire on
fugitive targets I calmly proceeded to call each and all of the
twenty-four batteries assigned to the Division. In about five minutes,
to my extreme delight, I picked up a new panel from a battery.
Consulting my chart I found its call. I immediately wired them a message
and instantly they put out the panel “I got you” or “Understood.”
Communication was established. The inspiration was a success.

Over to my right, my eye caught another panel of another battery.
Consulting my chart again I found that they were both Heavy
Artillery—just what I wanted! The only fault with this method was that
with so much wireless being flashed through the air it would very likely
interfere with any other plane doing similar work in that sector. I knew
of no other aerial adjustments going on just then, so, the chance was
worth it.

Having gotten the two batteries ready to work I wired to every other
battery I had called, sending them the code message, “I have no further
need for you,” this, in order that they would not, by any chance, hold
up their firing on account of my previous message. “Well,” I thought,
“the nice thing about Eileen is that she is not only beautiful and can
sing, but she is sane—she has a good bean.” Even before I had done the
work, which I felt sure I would be able to accomplish, I was formulating
dreams of the way she would receive me when I told her of the great
success of her inspiration.

I did not register these two batteries on the road fork, itself, for
should the first few shells fall near the road fork it would give a
preliminary warning and the Germans would, undoubtedly, stop their
traffic and scatter. A few shells, even if they did happen to hit, would
not serve the end I had in mind. I was thinking of something bigger—a
few pot shots on the road would do more harm than good. So, selecting a
point about a quarter of a mile, directly to the right of the road fork,
I reported the location to the battery. Of course, consulting their
maps, they could not find a legitimate reason for my desire to fire on
this particular point; that is, from its natural location, but
fortunately they did not question my decision and presently gave me the
signal “O.K.” I immediately wired them to fire. On account of the hasty
advances it had been necessary for these batteries to make, their firing
data was considerably off, so, it took me almost an hour to get the two
of them accurately placed on my temporary target. This accomplished, I
began to again pay attention to the road fork. Our firing had not
interrupted the traffic. Coming from the south about a quarter of a mile
down, there seemed to be approaching quite a composite transport made up
of wagons drawn by about four horses each, and coming from the north,
approaching the same road fork, were a body of men and some horses. The
men were not mounted, except in a few instances, and I should say there
were almost a hundred men and about forty horses. To the best of my
calculations, the head of the column coming from the south would pass
this body of men with their horses at the road fork within a few
minutes. With the road fork filled with passing troops and horses it
would be all the more advantageous as a target.

The mathematical calculations and mechanical adjustments necessary for
the batteries to correct a difference of a quarter of a mile in
deflection, are considerable, I had been told, so, it was necessary that
they know their new target immediately in order that they might fire
immediately at my command. I wired them to change their target three
hundred meters to the left and then I specified the exact point by
giving the coördinate location and last I told them to be prepared to go
into a “zone fire” at signal. “Zone fire” is the deadliest of all
destructive fire. It consists of firing the guns as rapidly as possible
into an area, or zone, immediately adjacent to the target specified. The
object of zone fire is that by the scattering of shells the target will
certainly be hit by at least a few of the shells and if the target is
large, as was the case here, the results would be disastrous.

To impress upon the batteries the urgency of speeding up their
corrections I continually wired them in code, “Is battery ready?” “Is
battery ready?” They put out the panels “Wait a few minutes,” but I
continued to wire, “Is battery ready?” We had no code for “Hurry up;” I
wished many times we had, for the columns were fast approaching each
other. In a few minutes it would be too late to get both columns. I
realized those battery commanders had just cause to make use of an
extended stream of profane language when I gave them that large
correction of three hundred meters or a quarter of a mile after
adjusting them to such a fine point, for, undoubtedly, they could not
see the necessity for it. Fortunately they both had confidence and
stayed with me. Just as the heads of the two columns began to pass each
other, which was just a little north of the cross roads, the first
battery put out a panel, “Battery is ready.”

The airplane signal to fire was three long wireless emissions so it was
only necessary now to press the key three times and the show would be
on. I called the battery rapidly, but before I gave the fatal signal I
thought of the warden of the penitentiary about to press the fatal
buzzer that sends the doomed soul to his death. The simile naturally
struck me for I had a hundred men and more horses directly in my trap.
There was no way for them to escape. The deadly zone fire, with the
speed of lightning, would soon crush them. I could imagine our men at
their guns in the improvised battery pits, ready for the minutes of
strenuous work before them, waiting for the radio buzzer to speak and
command. As I looked down I could see the troops and transports were
already passing each other—the road fork was filled—it was now time to
act. I felt as if I simply could not bring myself to the point of
pressing the key. The men and the crushing out of their lives, the
blighting of the hopes of many fond sweethearts, the wrecking of many
homes and the grief of many mothers were strangely enough only passing
thoughts, for it had to be done—“C’est la Guerre”—they were the enemies
of my country. But there was another side of the story, the horses—for
if there is any one thing in my life I have always loved it is a horse.
Since I was a lad I have always picked up with the worst old skate in
the town just out of sympathy, and to see a man abusing a horse would
draw me into a fist fight quicker than anything else. The poor
horses—dumb and senseless—they were not my enemies, except from a
cold-blooded standpoint regarding them as war material of the enemy.

Looking back I found that the other battery had put out their panel
“Battery is ready.” It sternly called me back to my duty and the task
before me for it was not the time to indulge in sentimental reveries—I
must act! I hastily called the second battery and again repeated my call
to the first, then directing my pilot to head toward home I took one
last look at the slowly moving, unsuspecting columns—then, setting my
face homeward, I firmly pressed the key—one, two, three times.

There was no doubt in my mind but that we should call it a day, so, we
were homeward bound with that intention. From a strictly military
standpoint we were proud enough of our performance and as we winged our
way along I took things easy but kept casually looking about the sky to
see that we were not taken unawares by any stray patrols. Looking ahead
I saw the friendly captive balloons lolling along peaceably enough and
my mind was centered pretty largely upon the seemingly monotonous
existence of the men in the balloons who had to stay in one position for
hour after hour, but I shuddered as I thought of being forced to jump
from one of those bags in case of attack. After all, I was glad I was in
an airplane instead of a balloon.

For quite a while it seemed that we were lower than the balloons, then
suddenly the balloons seemed to be considerably below us. My impression
was that we were gaining altitude, but upon consulting my altimeter I
found that we were flying at a constant height. One thing was certain,
the balloons were getting lower; they no longer lolled, but everything
seemed taut. For some reason they were frantically being hauled down. I
readily ascertained the reason,—four German Fokkers coming head-on from
Hunland with the undeniable intention of either burning the balloons or
burning me. I hesitated a moment; the Huns kept straight on and I heaved
a big sigh of relief. They were not going to burn me; at least, not for
the present. The balloons seemed to be going down mighty slow, and the
planes were coming fast. If the Huns could be stopped for only a
half-minute the balloons would be safe. Here we were in a very happy
position to divert the attack should we care to and also in a very
unhappy position if we did not care to, for while it was not our duty to
attack, yet indeed, in this case, it was our privilege. My mind was not
made up what to do. If we turned to the right we would be directly in
their path and above them. From instinct I shook the plane and motioned
toward the four Fokkers and before I knew it, the pilot, thinking I
intended to attack, started directly toward them.

Now there is a vast difference between maneuvering for the purpose of
diverting and maneuvering for the purpose of attack, for had it been one
or two planes I would not have hesitated to attack under the
circumstances, but I want to say that I’ll wait a long, long time before
attacking four fast enemy Fokkers of my own accord under any
circumstances.

It is surprising how rapidly two planes, when approaching each other
from opposite directions, can come together, for before I had time to
actually realize what was happening we were in the midst of a one-sided
running fight in which we were doing the running and in which the
Germans were peppering lead into us from all sides.

We had accomplished our mission for when the German planes attacked us,
it guaranteed that they would not be able to attack the balloons, which
would have plenty of time to be hauled down to a position of safety at
their beds. While the diverting was successful, the diversion of
diverting was not, for we still had to get ourselves out of the mess.

We were going in some direction, but which direction it was I didn’t
know and did not care. Right after us were these four Fokkers. This was
the first opportunity I had ever had to make a comparison of the Salmson
plane in a running fight. It was wonderful, for while the Germans were a
little faster, it was hardly noticeable. The horrible truth of our
predicament did not dawn upon me until, by some hunch, I looked at the
ground during the fight and saw already considerably behind us, the
village of Montfaucon, which is so clearly and unmistakably discernible
from the air. I realized we had been completely outmaneuvered, for we
were headed straight and going farther and farther into Germany. No
wonder the Boche had not closed in on us. They were simply leading us to
our slaughter on their own ground, or even worse, if we did survive we
would be prisoners of war, a thought I had always dreaded much more than
death, for once in flying over Pagny-sur-Meuse in the Saint Mihiel
fight, I saw the thousands of Huns we had captured packed in bull pens
like so many cattle. From this I preferred death to prison. Dropping my
machine guns for the moment I violently pulled the cords that were tied
to the pilot’s arms and emphatically motioned him to turn completely
around. He seemed to think that we were headed toward home and was
extremely obstinate. The situation was serious; it was no time for
discussion. I was sure of my direction. Reaching over the cockpit I
frantically struck him on the shoulder and demanded that he turn around.

[Illustration: PAGNY-SUR-MEUSE, SHOWING PRISONERS CAPTURED BY THE
AMERICANS AT ST. MIHIEL]

We turned and as we did the Germans realized that we had found ourselves
and the battle royal ensued. The leader came first and behind him the
three others in good formation, throwing two singing streams of fire
from each plane, for in attacking balloons they used incendiary bullets.
The leader, to my mind, was the only one that seemed to have had
experience—he was, indeed, good—but the rest of them I thought were
boobs—they did not seem to have the least bit of initiative, always
waiting for the leader and doing exactly whatever he did first. Then
they tried a formation I had never seen before. Climbing about two
hundred feet above and on all sides of us, they kept making a series of
short dives, each plane firing about twenty-five rounds at each dive.
The object of this was undoubtedly to get our morale and if possible
force us down without taking a chance on coming close where machine gun
fire could become effective. This was to our advantage for we were
making time toward home and I only had one full magazine of ammunition
left and it was all in my right gun.

Upon seeing that we were not falling for their cunning ruse the leader
became unusually bully and came directly upon us. I let him have it for
a burst of about forty rounds which I knew went into his plane and at
the end of which he had gone under my tail in a dive. It looked as if I
had gotten him. With typical precision the other three came on. I
deliberately aimed my gun upon the nearest, greatly encouraged in the
belief that I had gotten the leader. Their bullets of fire were going
into my plane, but with a most deliberate aim I again pulled the
trigger. It would not fire. At most I had only sixty rounds left, but
even in sixty rounds there was hope. The gun was jammed and I could not
get the magazine off to put it on the other gun. I was desperate. How
close the three came I do not know, but seeing my predicament they
realized my helplessness and pounced upon me like a toy target.
Frantically I worked at the gun, my hands bruised and bleeding,
hopelessly trying to unlock the jam for a last chance with life. If I
only had something to fit in the cocking piece to give me enough
leverage to clear that jam. In my mad desperation and hopelessness I
looked around for something to hurl—anything to get them away. There was
nothing to be done—it was all up with us. By chance I glanced into the
bottom of the cockpit and on the floor my eyes caught sight of a Very
pistol which had been left in the plane by the observer on the previous
mission whose duty it had been to find the front line of our advanced
troops.

A Very pistol is a gun resembling an ordinary pistol, except that it has
a wide barrel. It is used to eject brilliant fire rockets as a signal
from the airplane to the infantry. These signals vary with the number of
stars fired. For instance, a rocket of six stars means “Where are you?
Show your panels,” whereupon the Infantry displays its white panels of
cloth, while three rockets indicates “Understood” upon which the
Infantry takes in its panels of white cloth.

I grabbed this Very pistol in a wild effort to throw it as a last means
of defense, but the three had already passed under my tail, while to my
disappointing surprise, I discovered that I had not gotten the leader as
I had thought—he was coming up under my tail, already firing. The others
seemed to be getting their formation behind him. As the leader came up
under me in a final blow of death, I madly drew the pistol back in a
position to hurl it at him when the sudden idea struck me that if it
were loaded I would have a chance to set him afire. The cartridge was
intact—it was ready to be fired. Amidst his volley of fire, I reached
far over the cockpit and as the leader passed beneath me, I fired. The
charge missed him completely, but directly behind him burst the
signal—six flaming stars which brilliantly floated slowly on toward
earth. My last chance had failed.

Suddenly resigned to my fate I awaited the onrush of the other three—I
was sure it was only a matter of seconds—I had no defense. To my
absolute surprise the first of the three violently tilted his plane,
banked to the right, and the other two followed. I was at a loss to
understand this move; then came another thought—there was still a
chance. Rapidly ejecting the empty cardboard shell from the Very pistol
I attempted to adjust the barrel to the cocking piece of my jammed
machine gun. It fitted—here was the needed instrument of leverage—with
all my force I jerked—something gave way and I fell to the other side of
the cockpit—from the side of the gun there hung a mashed defective
cartridge and the jam was cleared. With luck, there were fifty or sixty
bullets left. Approaching me again was the leader, but where were the
other three? I glanced back—they were still headed to the right—they had
left the fight. Calmly I waited his onslaught. Boldly coming up with the
certain knowledge that I was still helpless and certainly his easy prey,
he came, for nothing but wonderful luck on our part and rotten shooting
on theirs had saved us so far. This time he did not fire until he had
dead aim, nor did I fire until I had dead aim. Following his approach
with extreme care and closest possible adjusted sights, I waited. When I
was sure, I pulled the trigger—I don’t know how many rounds he fired,
but only a few, for my aim had been true—his guns suddenly stopped—his
plane climbed steeply, even up beyond me, then tumbled over in a sort of
half loop and began to swish away helplessly to one side and then to the
other, like a falling leaf—at last it dived headlong and from its last
dive it never recovered.

My ammunition was gone, but to the greatest of luck and horseshoes, I
attributed the fact that the other three planes were also gone. In a few
moments more we again passed over Montfaucon and crossed the lines. The
balloons were just beginning to rise again. “Well,” I thought as we
passed them, “you seem to be safe enough this time, and I must say I
admire you for going up again so soon after such a narrow escape, but
for me—never again! I’m going to stay on the ground the rest of my
life.”

Of course, I often wondered why those other three Huns had left the
fight. Here is the solution of the mystery. At Christmas time, three
months later, I was in Coblenz, on the Rhine. The war was over and we
were a part of the Army of Occupation. Under the terms of the Armistice
the Germans had to turn over two hundred airplanes to the Americans and
were to send twenty German flyers along to test the planes in the
presence of competent American judges before they were accepted. Late in
the evening, after a joyous Christmas dinner, at which wine and
merriment abounded, an orderly came in and told us there were two German
officers to report. We found that they were two of the flyers detailed
by the German Government to turn over the planes. One of them was a lad
named Donhauser, who claimed to have shot down twenty-six allied planes,
among them Quentin Roosevelt; the other was a lad named Teske, who also
was an Ace. We invited them to join us, and during the conversation that
followed it was interesting to note the many battle fronts over which we
had fought against each other. Upon discussing the Argonne it developed
that Donhauser’s squadron was opposite the area in which I had this
fight on the twenty-eighth of September, so, I took occasion to clear up
the incomprehensible reason why these three had left the fight. I
casually asked him if at a certain hour, at a certain place, on a
certain date, he had a patrol, evidently bent upon attacking balloons,
diverted by a bi-place observation plane. He took out a little book from
his pocket and after hastily scanning the well-kept notes, he looked up
and said, “Was one of the Deutschen planes shot down?” I answered “Yes.”
“Do you know if it was the leader?” he inquired. I told him I thought it
was. He again verified the time and the place and then opened up. This
was his story:

“The leader, who was shot down, was an exceptionally good flyer and had
several victories to his credit. There was something queer about it—in
the squadron it was known as the ‘Mystery Mission’ for the reason that
three of the German planes left the fight when the Observation Plane was
absolutely helpless with jammed machine guns. They claimed that the
German leader had fired a signal rocket to them, which was their signal
for that day which meant for all the planes to leave the fight at once
as larger allied patrols were approaching.”

He explained that the German theory was that in obeying the signal the
three German planes had left the fight, but the leader, being a very
daring fighter, took a last chance, hoping to get away before the
reinforcements arrived, and in attacking the observation plane alone,
was shot down. He also said that this was the story the three had told,
who all claimed to have seen the signal fired by their leader. Even at
that they were threatened with court-martial for cowardice in leaving
the combat and deserting their leader, and they were only saved by
several German officers, who had also seen the same signal from the
ground, testifying in their behalf.

Thus—the mystery was cleared—the Very pistol had saved the day. It was,
after all, better that I had not set the leader afire with the flaming
rockets. Indeed, they had served a greater use.


What happened to Eileen? Naturally that should be explained. Well, it’s
this way: I had a lot to tell her, so, when I got to the airdrome I
hastened across the field to the Headquarters to find her.

“Lad,” I said to the orderly standing in front of the headquarters,
“have the pretty girls of the Y. M. C. A. gone yet?”

“Yep,” he replied, “that’s them goin’ down there now—to Souilly,” and he
pointed to a huge cloud of dust following the trail of an army auto a
half mile down the road, and in that cloud of dust, seemingly rising
into the sky, floated also my fond hopes and prospects of Eileen, for
conditions, in a few days, made it impracticable for me to follow her
movements for some time to come.

“Well,” I said, sort of sorry like that they had gone, “they were sure
pretty girls, weren’t they?”

“Yep,” he grinned.

“Especially the black-haired one,” I went on.

“Yep, she’s mine, Lieutenant. She’s been talking to me for a half an
hour this morning,” and again he grinned sheepishly, until his grin
almost became a smile, and we both looked longingly down the road where
the car was fast disappearing from view.

I looked at the orderly and the orderly looked at me. “Talked to you
half an hour, eh?” I questioned. “Yep, fully that,” was the proud reply.
I put my hands in my pockets and started to walk away muttering to
myself “how do they do it? how do they do it?”—for this soldier was
about the homeliest and most unattractive person I could imagine, yet he
had evidently put my hopes to rout in quick order. Then came an idea:
and I wheeled around and called to the soldier, “Hey, boy, what’s your
rank?” “Ain’t got no rank, Sir,” he replied; “I’m a buck private.”
Whistling a light tune I walked on. “I get it, I get it,” was my
soliloquy. “Eileen still following instructions on catering to the
junior ranks. She’s sour grapes.” And thus she passed from my life—but I
hope not forever.



                                  VIII
                          DOWN AND OUT AND IN


Eddie Rickenbacker told me a story while we were a part of the Army of
Occupation which about expresses my idea of this narrative, the fact
that I lived through it being what I consider my greatest
accomplishment.

“Rick” had in his famous 94th Pursuit Squadron, a hair-lipped pilot with
whom I was earlier associated in the equally prominent 12th Observation
Squadron. This lad was one of the few of our many airmen who realized
that the flyer at the front plays ninety per cent in luck and not on
good judgment. His flying was daredevilish and reckless, which, while it
might be considered good form in pursuit work, was such that it involved
entirely too great a risk for the two-place, or observation plane. So,
the kid was transferred to Pursuit where he made good right off.

It was the day of the Armistice. The boys were talking it all over,
reminiscing and the like. Several of the famous pilots of the 94th had
given accounts of some particular thrilling fight in which they had
finally won, naming it—their greatest accomplishment of the war. So, as
that was the topic of conversation, Eddie asked our friend what, after
all, he considered his greatest accomplishment. The boys all listened
attentively for the kid usually sprang something. The hair-lipped lad
puzzled for a moment, then answered with his inimitable impediment,
“Well, Captain Rickenbacker, the war is now over, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” replied Eddie, hopeful that this was the correct reply.

“——which means no one else will get killed, doesn’t it?” he added
solemnly, and Rick solemnly attested to this fact. “Well,” the lad went
on, “you see me; I’m still here.”

“That’s right!” said the great Ace of Aces. “What about it?”

“Well, Captain Rickenbacker,” replied the boy with evident surprise at
Eddie’s apparent density. “Look me over, Captain, I’m still alive. That
is my greatest accomplishment.”

And after all, I am sure that all of our fighting men who have done
actual service at the front—going through its hazards and dangers for
any length of time, will agree that their greatest accomplishment is the
fact that they came out of the thing alive; for while the code of
military ethics at the front taught that one’s own life should be
secondary to the accomplishment of one’s mission, yet there could not
help but be a justifiably selfish pride after the mission was
accomplished, that the participant was also alive to tell the tale.

The 30th of September was a terrible day—there was very little flying,
it was foggy and the clouds were low, irregular and uncertain, while the
wind was almost a gale. We had no business going out—our over-anxiety,
which the French say is the greatest fault of the American soldier, to
get our work accomplished was the only justifiable reason for the trip.

But even at that on the morning of September 30th the Flying Corps had
no reason for being in the air unless the mission was of grave urgency,
and fortunately ours was urgent for I was still adjusting our artillery
on important enemy moving targets. Here is how my greatest
accomplishment happened:

I arrived at the hangars shortly after daybreak and found Davis, who was
assigned to fly with me, ready and waiting. I had never flown with him
before, but I had heard of him and his reputation, and it was a relief
to know I was to get a genuine pilot, such as Lieutenant Raymond Davis,
whom we called “Uncle Joe Davis, of Danville,” since he hailed from the
same well-known town as Uncle Joe Cannon.

At first, the weather was impossible, so, we had to wait for the
atmosphere to clear a trifle and for the clouds to lift some, as a high
ceiling in heavy artillery adjustments is not only advantageous but
necessary. So, we hung around and hobnobbed and got acquainted. At about
eight o’clock we decided we would try it—for the importance of impeding
the retreat of the enemy as much as possible was imperative. The advance
through the Argonne was proving itself to be a hard enough tussle for
the doughboys, and we all felt that they certainly merited all the
assistance it was possible for aviation to give them.

Luck was not our way, for it was not until after trying four different
planes, all of which failed for one reason or another, that we found a
bus that would buzz. It looked like an off-day, for the gale was so
sweeping that we almost had a serious accident even in taking off. There
is safety in height, so, when we got up three or four hundred feet our
morale also went up a trifle. The ground station signaled that my radio
wireless was O.K., so I jokingly called to Davis, “All aboard for
Hunland.” He answered “Check,” and we headed toward the line for our
last mission of the great war.

I knew the wind was high, but I did not actually realize its true
velocity until I happened to look toward the earth and to my surprise
saw to our right the familiar ruins of the village of Montfaucon sitting
high and distinct amid the surrounding ruins and desolations. I had
never flown so fast, for a strong wind behind the airplane adds
marvelous rapidity to its speed. We were swept along like a feather in a
gale. In front, on the Bois de Beuges, there was raining a tremendous
artillery barrage, which we knew extended all across the Argonne front.
Almost instantly, it seemed, we were over Romange, which was Boche
territory, and hastily I picked my target. We would again pile up the
German traffic by adjusting our heavy artillery on their cross roads in
front of our own 91st Division, whose batteries were around Epionville.
We would repeat our previous successful adjustment and when the traffic
was heaviest, would call for fire. Imparting this information to Davis,
he turned the machine and we started back toward the line to call our
batteries and start the fatal ball rolling.

A favorite trick of the Hun’s anti-aircraft artillery, and our own, as
far as that is concerned, is to allow the entrance of observation planes
to a considerable depth within the lines without molesting them, closely
following it all the time with finely adjusted sights, and just as the
plane turns to go back toward the lines the artillery opens up with
everything available.

I knew it was going to happen as soon as we turned into the wind and
that in bucking the wind we would practically stand still in the air,
making us an easy target, especially since we were skimming along low,
heavy clouds upon which the artillery could easily get accurate data as
to range and direction. It happened. The Archies opened up. As luck
would have it they realized our position and had us in their deadly
bracket. One high-explosive shell burst directly under our tail,
whereupon the plane reflexed like a bucking broncho.

The airman is bracketed when the archies have bursts on all sides of
him, for in such a case he knows not what direction to go for one is
about as bad as the other. One thing was certain, we did not dare to
stand still in the air hanging on the propeller, as we were doing in
fighting the wind. We must slip the deadly noose of the bracket and do
it before it was too late.

Realizing the necessity for quick action, Davis sharply slipped the
plane into the wind, and amid a deafening applause of exploding shells,
we plunged to momentary safety behind the curtain of the low, dark
clouds with which the sky was filled. We were in the cloud, perhaps, for
five minutes and the wind was with us. I knew we were covering a great
deal of territory and in the wrong direction. So, when we emerged I
quite well knew we were completely off our course. I asked Davis if he
knew his location. He answered frankly that he did not—that it was away
off his map. I was in the same predicament exactly as to the location,
it being off my map as well, but fortunately I recognized the
bomb-shattered town nearby as Dun-sur-Meuse, as I had many times studied
it as a very prominent bombing objective.

“Head due south along the river,” I cried through the communicating
tube, “We’ve got to hit the lines sometime.”

Dun-sur-Meuse had been bombed very heavily in the drive and I am sure
the remaining inhabitants thought we too had that intention, for in
heading south they certainly let us know we were not welcome. This time
it was not only artillery, but machine guns in such a hail of fire that
we would have been brought down with little effort had we attempted to
fly a straight course. We didn’t attempt it. We answered by sharp
zig-zags, and it was the master job of my life to keep up with the
snaps, jerks, slips and dives of Davis’, in dodging the archies; and to
still keep our direction in mind. We attempted this for fully ten
minutes, but we were making no appreciable headway. The firing was too
heavy—we must get higher as we could not expect to live at nine hundred
feet at a very long period. We had been lucky to survive this long.

Davis headed due south by his compass which was east by mine. It looked
all wrong to me.

“Is your compass pointing south?” I asked feverishly, for it was a
question of life and death.

“Yes, due south,” he replied.

I knew one of the two was considerably off, but it might be mine as well
as his, so I decided to try his. A constant mist of rifle fire and
archies followed us in our ascent into the clouds, which fortunately was
not long—thanks to the climbing power of the Salmson airplane. We were
in and above the clouds for fully twenty-five minutes, and believe me,
those twenty-five minutes were prayers that Davis’s compass was
unerring.

Finally, considering the wind velocity, our probable distance from the
lines, and the speed of the motor, I was convinced that if the compass
were true we should be well over the French lines, so, hoping to
encourage Davis, I called, “Well, Davis, if that old pointer of yours is
right we are in La Belle France again. Let’s go down and see.”

He put the boat into a dive and we came out of the clouds in a long,
straight glide. In a jiffy I quite well knew we were not in France. A
German balloon with the Iron Cross was directly beneath us firmly moored
to its bed on the ground. Here we were at less than a thousand feet. The
excitement around that balloon bed could easily be imagined when out of
a cloud, in such terrible weather, a huge and awkward two-place enemy
plane unexpectedly dropped. I have been on the ground at our balloon
beds when they were attacked and know something of the awful fire the
attacking plane goes through in attempting to burn the balloon even at
the ordinary height, but it is many times worse when it is moored to its
bed, for the lower the plane must come the greater the hazard. It is for
this reason that most armies consider it a greater feat for an aviator
to destroy a balloon than an airplane. There we were like a great ghost
suddenly manifesting itself, and take it from me, if the machine gunners
were asleep on their work at our unannounced arrival, they mighty
suddenly showed signs of speed for almost instantly, from every angle
came the put-put-put, while we helplessly tried every conceivable
maneuver to dodge the many guns which were firing upon us at full force.
It is not strange that the airman does not worry much over the regular
steel ammunition of the machine gun, for like other similar dangers,
while they are the most fatal, they cannot be seen, so, he is oblivious
to their presence; but when the guns are using tracer and incendiary
bullets, the stream of fire is not unlike a miniature fire rocket and
behind each of the pretty fire rockets comes two silent, fatal ball
cartridges, for, indeed, the very object of “tracer” ammunition is to
show the path the bullets are taking. If there is anything that gets a
flyer’s wind up, it is tracer bullets from the ground. Our wind was up
and had been up for some time. But, Davis did the right thing and again
headed with the wind, while “tracers” saw us, met us and almost
conquered us. It certainly is terrifying to watch them come up at you
for the helpless part of it is that they come so fast you cannot even
try to dodge them. They were all around us; our right wing was perfectly
perforated with several accurate bursts and in the diving and slipping I
had been thrown around in the cockpit like the dice in a dicebox. My
seat had slipped from beneath me about three times, but the condition of
my mind was such that I was positive that it had been shot from beneath
me. The sharp turning with the wind left a wake of disheartening tracers
in our trail. It resembled a billion small rockets for the flaming
trajectories were easily followed. The Fourth of July was not in it. I
thought at the time that it was a sight well worth seeing, but
dangerously unhealthful. Soon though as we shot along we were again
greeted by the high explosive bursts of the artillery which was some
relief for they were considerably behind us and we were at least away
from the machine guns at the balloon bed.

The painful fact was that while we were going through the air at a
terrific speed, that speed was carrying us farther and farther into
Germany. The situation was becoming more and more serious. What could we
now do? We could not possibly fight the wind below the clouds and make
the long distance home, so I told Davis to go into the clouds again; at
least, we would not be such an easy target. This time we would try my
compass, for while it might be slightly untrue, if we went long enough
we surely could not fail reaching France at some point. He started to
climb and, well—those were long moments. The climbing greatly decreased
our speed, while the machine guns again played upon us most cruelly. But
that climbing was a most wonderful piece of work; poor Davis twisted
that boat in every conceivable manner, but the best part of it all was
that he continued the climb at all costs. There was nothing so dear to
me as those clouds—so near and yet so far. Anything to again get out of
that constant and swarming bee-hive of fire bullets. Then we penetrated
the ceiling. My heart was again almost normal for a few seconds. Here
was the supreme moment it seemed—truly to err was to die, or worse, to
finally land from shortage of gasoline and be made prisoner. Hugging
close to the compass, oblivious to all else, lest we deviate a jot from
its true south reading, I slowly and distinctly called the directions.
For fully a half an hour we followed this procedure—sometimes above the
clouds and most of the time in them, but never below them. At last I was
absolutely certain that we were well over dear old France again; at
least, somewhere between Paris and Nancy, so, after another three
minutes to be sure, I called to Davis again.

“This time we have sure foxed the Hun,” I said; “let’s go down and look
over the scenery.”

We had climbed quite a lot farther in the clouds than we thought, and it
took longer to come to light, so, in our anxiety to see France again he
put it into a steeper dip and soon we emerged in almost a straight dive.
Below us to the right was another balloon at its bed. It was our own
balloon line, of course. It could be no other for my compass had been
undoubtedly true and somehow the ground looked like France. Furthermore,
we had not been fired upon.

“Davis,” I said, “look out for a place to land and we’ll find where we
are, then after dinner we’ll fly on home.”

I had no more than gotten the words out of my mouth when a machine gun
started to fire at us, again using tracer ammunition. I was convinced
that it was all a mistake and that when they saw who we really were they
would quit, so, I told Davis to tilt the plane and show the colors of
our cocarde as the weather was not clear and any one might make a
similar mistake.

Our own aviation never, under any circumstances, approached our balloons
suddenly, for the reason that the Germans one time used some allied
captured planes in the Château-Thierry offensive, and with the French
colors on their cocarde, approached one of our balloons and, unmolested,
burned it. Since then all balloons had adopted the policy of firing on
any machine which came suddenly out of the clouds toward them. I was
positive that this was the case here. Suddenly other guns vigorously
began to take up the firing and by the time I saw the foreboding black,
German Cross painted on the side of the sausage, the whole balloon
machine gun crews had us well in hand. When we went down on the first
balloon I was pretty well convinced that it was all up with us, but this
time there was no doubt about it, for we had lost far too many of our
best pursuit pilots in attacking balloons at low altitudes for me to
even hope otherwise, and our pursuit planes were smaller targets, were
faster and more maneuverable. What chance in the world, I thought, has a
lubberly, two-place observation plane in a hole like this when few of
the pursuit planes even ever emerge with their lives?

Here I again hand it all to Davis, for with a bravery and grit that I
have seldom seen equaled, and a skill that was uncanny, he did
everything imaginable with that plane, but wisest of all he again headed
with the wind, our only chance to get out of the mess. That second in
banking into the wind was actually the longest of my life—the ground had
surely anticipated it for we were truly the apex of the cone of lead and
fire from the circular base of guns surrounding the balloon bed. The
plane was almost a screen where so many bullets had perforated it. I
heard a snap with a dismal twanging sound. One flying wire had been
already cut by the barrage, but Davis kept right on twisting the boat as
if nothing had happened.

We still had life—something for which I had almost ceased to hope. Like
persecuted souls weak from exhaustion, but strong in determination, we
went on, still with the wind unrelentlessly driving us farther into
Germany. Already we had been up about two hours and the thought occurred
to me that we would soon be out of gasoline. We could not take another
chance. My calculation, which later turned out to be accurate, was that
we were then about fifteen kilometers from the line.

The known splendid liaison of the Boche was already in action; this we
well knew and undoubtedly several German planes were already up after
us. The solution was simple. There were only two things we could
possibly do. We knew the wind direction when we left France, so, we
could pick up our direction from the smoke from locomotives, chimneys
and the like and fly below the clouds toward the line. At best the
condition of our plane would but permit elementary maneuvering and at
that we stood but little chance of getting through the continual machine
gun fire at such constant low altitude. Then, too, it was certain that
if we kept below the clouds on such a course we would soon have enemy
planes hot on our trail, although, personally, I thought we would never
get through two more minutes of the gun firing even with our plane in
the best condition. The alternative was to land, destroy the plane and
try to escape. It all ran through my mind like a flash. I thought of
Davis. I admit I thought of myself. One was justifiable life for the
reason that the destruction of the plane, at least, would be guaranteed,
while if we were shot down we would both die in the crash and the Boche
would get the salvage and design of the plane. The impelling fighting
chance of the second proposition was enough. There was no more
hesitation.

“Davis,” I shouted, “can you pick up the direction from the smoke on the
ground?”

He looked around doubtfully.

“I’ll try,” he more doubtfully replied.

“All right, head into the wind again—beneath the clouds. This is our
last chance. Fly straight into the wind. We will have to scrap for our
lives, but luck is with us.”

Nodding his head with characteristic determination, he swiftly steered
the bus into the wind. For several minutes the combined fire of
anti-aircraft artillery and machine guns played upon us. I will not
attempt to describe the horrors of those minutes that seemed years—how
we lived through it I do not know. A piece of my tourelle was shot away
and my wireless reel was torn completely off. I could hear the plane
whine in its flight, the broken wires even dolefully singing our
requiem. Through it all the motor was not hurt—it was turning like a
top. Indeed, it seemed just like the last moments of the poor fowl
which, with its neck wrung, will continue to flop about. Veritably it
seemed we were flopping—it was the wonderful Davis doing his best to
dodge the myriads of deathly bullets coming at us from all angles.

Then suddenly all became quiet. The machine guns and the archies had for
some reason stopped their firing. I had been there before—I knew. The
time had come. Looking over to the right I saw what I expected—four
German Fokkers had already taken off the field and were coming up after
us. We could even see their airdrome and other planes ready to take off
if necessary. It was a sad day. I had been in scraps before but such
odds as these had not faced me. This was, indeed, foreign—ten miles from
home, about out of gas, with a bunged-up plane and yet forced to stand
there with hands on the guns and patiently await the seconds until they
steadily climbed up to get us. I wanted to throw up the sponge in the
worst way; it seemed but useless murder of the two of us, for there
could be no possible chance to live through it. On the other hand, we
might get one or even two of them, so it was the big game—the call of
chance. We must give combat—now to break the word to Davis. I laughed
hysterically.

“Davis,” I called, “have you ever had a fight?”

Puzzled as to the significance of this question he turned around and
answered, “No. Never.”

“Well,” and I again laughed for no reason in the world, “you are going
to have one now.” Of course, the airplane did a strange shimmy, after
which I continued, “There are four Boche coming up to the right rear.
Fly straight ahead, and don’t worry. Only keep me in a position to
fire.”

Davis said nothing, but turning around he calmly eyed the oncoming
Germans, then I saw his jaws set in fierce determination and without
another sign of emotion he directed his attention to the damaged plane.

While the Huns were in formation and at twelve hundred feet, I leveled
the guns and fired a burst of thirty rounds in order to scatter them for
I have found that the Boche is not half so bold when he knows he is
seen. It had the effect I wanted; they scattered and began firing at me
from about one thousand feet, hoping to get us by a chance shot, or
better, of frightening us into landing. They kept this position for
several minutes. I did not fire another shot; I could ill afford to
waste a single cartridge and ever hope to make the lines. Seeing that we
intended to fight to a finish they separated; one plane came from the
left, the other three from the right, and attempted to close in all at
the same time. At nine hundred feet they again began to fire, and
steadily close in. Still I did not pull the triggers. At my reticence
they became bolder and when the right three got to about six hundred
feet from me I carefully leveled my right gun and turned loose a
well-directed burst of about fifty rounds. To me the real fight had now
begun for soon they would be at close range where real fatalities occur.
The lad at my left required my attention so I swung the tourelle and
carefully laying the bead, I pulled the trigger. It did not fire.
Thinking perhaps the locking mechanism had been caught by the sudden
swinging of the guns, I reached down to pull it into place. The lock was
O.K. It was nothing else than a plain jam. I did not feel so bad for I
still had my other gun untried and there was sufficient ammunition yet
for a good fight. So, as the left plane closed in I aimed with unerring
accuracy; and I was sure I had him unless something unusual happened.
Something unusual did happen. The left gun fired about seven shots and
stopped. It was no time for child’s play—team work was the one thing
necessary to save the situation. Davis realized it, for the moment the
guns stopped firing he knew something was all wrong, and he took up the
fight by a series of remarkable acrobatics, in a vain effort to get his
own guns into play.

After many strenuous efforts, by brute force I succeeded in clearing the
jam. At least, I thought I did, although things happened so fast from
then on that the gun never had a chance. Amidst the violent jerking of
the plane I frantically attempted to aim, then there was no more
jerking—the plane seemed to be falling on its side toward earth and
glancing forward I saw flames. There was only one solution—they had not
only gotten Davis and we were rapidly falling to our death, but they had
also set us afire. There were but the fractions of a second, and then
the crash, for I was powerless—I did not know how to fly and,
furthermore, the plane was not fitted with a dual control. A
multiplicity of active and concrete thoughts took form in my brain in
that short space of time from the beginning of the descent to the crash.
I closed my eyes—the horror of it was too much for me. It was bad enough
to face certain death, but the thought of burning to death closed the
picture.

The plane struck and the next thing I knew we had stopped; at least, I
thought I knew it. To be perfectly frank I was so scared I did not know
whether I was dead or alive. But, looking out, I saw Davis already on
the ground; Davis, who I was sure had been killed. This brought me to my
real senses and in a second I was out of the plane and running top-speed
toward the crest of a hill which was directly in front of us. Fifty feet
to my left and running in the same direction was Davis. and swooping
down from the skies, at an altitude of from thirty to fifty feet, the
four Fokkers continued to fire upon us. This brought me still closer to
the realization that we were still very much alive, though how long we
would be I did not know. I would run along about five yards and then
fall on my stomach, then jump up and scramble on for another five yards
and slide, the idea being that the planes, sweeping down, could very
well judge our speed while running steadily, but when we stopped
suddenly they could not quickly dive their planes to shoot straight down
upon us, for in so doing they would crash headlong on the ground.

The hill was not steep, but at the same time it was not easy running. I
think I beat Davis to the top, even at that. As I got there I will never
forget the sight that met my eyes. Approaching us from the other side
was the proverbial mob, coming out to get us. There were officers on
horseback, officers on foot, soldiers, men, women and children with
every means of conveyance, from artillery trucks on down to the antique
oxen. There must have been five hundred of them. Of course, the fight
had easily been followed from the ground and I suppose they were all
anxious to come out to see what was left of us. Believe me, I had real
stage fright when I saw that crowd, so, I turned around and as I started
to run back down the hill to my surprise I saw that the airplane had not
burned.

There is one hard and fast rule that all flyers are taught to follow and
that is when shot down in enemy territory, their duty is to burn the
plane at all costs, for otherwise the enemy not only gets the airplane
itself, but also the latest designs, inventions and improvements which
are a hundred times more valuable.

“Davis,” I yelled at the top of my voice, as I started running toward
the plane. Instantaneously he saw and followed. It was a bad trip
back—the Fokkers, surmising our mission, came down to where they
practically skimmed the ground, absolutely intent upon taking our lives.

When we finally reached the plane I was puffing like a steam engine, for
my lungs were raw from exhaustion as I still had on this heavy flying
suit which covered my entire body. The Fokkers were able to very well
judge their shots for they made it extremely unpleasant.

“A match! A match! A match!” I kept calling, running around and not
knowing what to do. Davis hauled forth a box with about eight in it. We
had lost our heads absolutely for we were too excited to remember that
we had such a thing as gasoline on board. Jumping around like a pair of
ducks on a hot stove, we blindly tried to light the fabric on the wings
which through the expenditure of a million dollars on experimentation
had been made practically fireproof on the surface by the application of
noninflammable varnish. We were too dense to take any cognizance of the
fact that they continually failed to burn, so, we went ahead making
repeated attempts to light the wings. In a minute the last match was
gone. There was no hope. I felt like breaking down and crying like a
baby. The right side under the motor was still smoldering from the
flames in the air, which had been caused by an incendiary bullet
striking the carburetor, but had been extinguished by the violent
side-slipping of the plane, just as a match is smothered out by being
swept through the air. Then Davis had a brilliant idea.

“Hell,” he said, “We’ve got gasoline.” And he jumped up into the pilot’s
pit and broke the main gasoline lead and in a second gasoline was
spluttering all over the plane like a bubbling fountain.

“Look for another match!” I cried to Davis, and although he knew he had
no more, he began to throw things out of his pockets right and left.
Among these things there fell a smudge cigarette lighter. These
instruments were devised by the French on account of their extreme
shortage of matches. The gadget consists of a tiny steel wheel, which
strikes a piece of flint, which in turn ignites the smudge. The only
trouble with these things is that they do not always work. However, when
this fell before me, it was Heaven itself, for I made a high dive and
grasping it, began to strike the wheel. It would not ignite. Running
back and forth, trying to get the smudge to burn, I began to strike it,
pray over it, and do everything else. My kingdom, such as it was, for a
light.

“Soak it in gas! Use your bean. Let me have it,” cried Davis, and he
snatched it out of my hand and soaked it with gas, but still it would
not work. Disgusted, he threw it on the ground with a vehement oath, and
took his spite out by trying to kick the rubber tire off one of the
landing wheels. Snatching it up again I struck it sharply against a
piece of the metal cowling on the motor with the hope that by some
miracle this hasty remedy might help it. It was just luck, for something
did the work. Whether it was hitting it on the metal or not, I do not
guess, but when I gave it a brisk turn it bursted into flame, and my
hands also being covered with gasoline, began to burn, too. I dropped it
like a piece of hot steel and Davis snatched it up and threw it into the
gasoline soaked cockpit. Soon the $20,000 plane was a roaring furnace.
It was like the last act of a big motion picture—the criminals at bay
were fighting for time against the mob and like the hardboiled leader of
the villains laughs in the face of his pursuers while he goes to his
self-inflicted death rather than deliver himself, so I turned around,
knowing there was no escape from the mob, determined to die in the
wreckage. Already Davis was beating it across the field to the left,
crying “Come on! Come on!” and so, while I did not have much pep left I
started to run toward a sort of rude embankment over toward the left
center, which was not over two hundred yards away. Fortunately the
burning plane momentarily threw the crowd back, for they knew if there
were bombs aboard they would soon explode.

The heavy flying suit was causing me trouble, for I was stumbling
through the mud like an intoxicated elephant, but even at that I am
inclined, now, to think that I beat the intercollegiate record for the
one hundred yards dash. As I rushed around this embankment, I hit
something which landed me on the ground in a puddle of mud. What I hit
was a horse, which was one of five being ridden by four officers and one
sergeant, who had come from another nearby village to get us. These
horses stepped all over and around me, and I thought at the time how
ironical it was to have endured and lived through the hardships of the
morning and have my life crushed out by a horse’s hoofs. It was the same
disgustingly disgraceful death that I have always feared since the war,
namely of being hit by a Ford automobile on a quiet, country road after
coming through the war in safety. However, the horses showed true horse
sense and did not step directly upon me. Of course, I stopped. I was
already stopped—if not by this sudden impetus, then surely from sheer
exhaustion. I got up literally covered with mud.

The senior officer of the party was a true Hun, who had undoubtedly been
drinking, for I do not believe otherwise any one, regardless of
nationality, could have been so cold-blooded and terrible. He could not
recognize that I was American as my flying suit hid my uniform, so, he
spoke up in French:

“Qui de vous a brulé l’avion, et ou est votre comrade?” I quite well
understood his French, but I felt it would be better policy to say
nothing, so I looked absolutely blank. Again he demanded who burned the
airplane and where was my comrade, which ultimatum he sharpened by a
threatening “Vite! Vite!” I realized that something was necessary on my
part, for deafness would be a very lame excuse for any flyer, so, I told
him in English that I did not understand him.

“Ah,” he smiled in delight, finding his prize had been even greater than
he had expected, “then you are English or American. Which?”

He said this in perfect English, which upset my whole scheme of
reticence, for it did not occur to me that he spoke still a third
language. I said nothing, but looked at the ground, contemplating my
reply.

“American or British?” he demanded.

I was proud of my nationality, so, looking up, I threw out my chest and
exclaimed, “I’m American.”

I expected him to immediately recognize the strength of my citizenship,
just as the wise old Biblical character, whoever he was, got out of a
tight hole by saying that he was a Roman. I had a surprise awaiting me,
however, for he gave me a cynical laugh that gave him an opportunity to
divert from the subject in mind.

“So you are an American, are you?” he sneeringly went on. “Well, I’ve
lived in your America ten years, myself, and I know you all. You’re a
rotten bunch of lying hypocrites.”

Strange as it may seem I did not see fit to take issue with him under
the circumstances, so, he went on with another little round of abuse of
the Americans that made my blood boil, but again I failed to go to the
bat for my country. Thinking he had sufficiently riled me, he started on
the subject of more vital importance.

“Now, which one of you burned that plane?” he sharply demanded.

Again I said nothing, but I thought a lot, for since he was getting so
individualistic about it, I was convinced that we were in a pretty
serious situation; yet I knew I was going to have to answer that
question. I was hoping that if Davis was caught he would say that he did
it and I knew that Davis was human, and was hoping that I would say that
I did it.

He interrupted my silent study. “Are you going to answer?” he growled.

What would I say to get by? I decided to spar.

“It burned itself,” was my brilliant repartee.

“Don’t lie to me,” he hissed. “It might have been afire when you started
down, but we saw you go back and burn it.”

“Well, if you saw me go back and burn it, why did you ask me who did
it?” I unthoughtedly retorted, and then I was sorry for if at first I
thought him fierce, he had now become an irate demon.

“You did do it then, eh?” he said persuasively, as he slowly looked
around to his companions in order that they might bear witness to my
confession.

“What’s the use,” I thought to myself, so, I looked him squarely in the
eyes and said, “Yes, I did it.”

“Ah!” and he again looked around, shaking his head with intermingled
scorn and pride that he, the Prussian, had been able to bulldoze an
American. “Didn’t you know that the moment that plane hit the ground, it
became German property and that you wilfully destroyed German material?”

I most emphatically told him that I did not know it, for while I
convicted myself on my previous confession, I didn’t intend to sign my
own decree of execution. He assumed a slightly conciliatory attitude.

“Now,” he continued, “where is your partner, or comrade?”

I told him that I did not know.

“Oh, yes you do,” he argued, coaxingly.

After a little dickering dispute, I looked him squarely in the eyes and
said, “I do not know.”

Then he became fierce again. “Don’t lie to me,” he snarled in rage. “You
do know and you are going to tell me.”

I became pretty well convinced that my days were done for, so
consequences momentarily did not matter. It was more than I could stand,
for this was a matter that not only insulted my character as a soldier,
but my integrity as a man—that he should call upon me to divulge the
hiding place of my friend and my comrade-in-arms. In spite of the effort
to control my temper, it flared up like a tire-pressure indicator and in
a daring attitude, I exclaimed, “I don’t know and if I did know I would
not tell you.”

He flew into a white rage. “Is that so?” and he quickly reached back to
his hip and pulled out a Leugger, the most deadly German automatic
pistol, and with fiery eyes he put it right at my heart, the barrel even
touching my clothing. I admit I inwardly swooned; in fact, I almost
fainted for, while all the time I thought I was going eventually to be
killed, I had no idea that there was going to be any snappy action like
this. He meant business; there was no argument about that. His very
attitude and the decisiveness with which he drew out the gun and the way
he put his finger on the trigger convinced me that to spar was to die.
If there was any chance at all, it lay in silence. He must have time to
cool down or something else must intervene; so, like a weak sister I
looked at him, just hoping.

“Are you going to talk or not?” he began quietly and I have never heard
words uttered more decisively. I knew quite well that Davis had gone
over to the left. One thing was certain, while above all things else I
would not tell where he was, at the same time I was not exactly prepared
to die. Since I was to die some time it could just as well be later, so,
looking over to the right, in exactly the opposite direction in which
Davis had gone, I noticed a clump of trees about three hundred yards
away. In an attitude indicating that I was only telling to save my own
life, I pointed to the clump and breathlessly whispered, “Over there.”

He hastily gave some directions in German, and leaving me with one
officer and the sergeant, he and the other two officers hurriedly
galloped off toward the location I had pointed out. During this little
entertainment quite a crowd had gathered around and as the tenseness was
relieved, they immediately began ejaculating and mumbling in great
fashion, completely surrounding me. Looking through the crowd my gaze
was following the horses and surmising what my next move would be when
they reached there and found I had deliberately lied.

When they were almost to the spot I had designated, we suddenly heard
quite a noticeable scramble over to the left and looking over that way I
saw that they had caught Davis and he was being escorted toward town,
followed by a portion of the mob. Hearing the same noise, the arrogant
Prussian stopped his steed and wheeling around, saw Davis had been
caught in just exactly the opposite direction from that to which I had
pointed. He knew instantly that I had deliberately pranked him at
pistol’s point. In Western cowboy fashion he gave his horse the spurs
and drawing his Leugger back over his shoulder came madly galloping
toward me. I knew what was going to happen. There was not a chance in
the world; and the crowd around me also knew what was going to happen
because they made a clearing just as the gamblers miraculously disappear
when some one pulls a revolver in the game. Standing alone I awaited the
inevitable.

As the fatal moment approached—suddenly there came from somewhere a
sharp voice and from the crowd there rode forth another officer with a
flowing purplish-gray cloak about him, the kind German officers
sometimes wear when mounted, crying “Halte! Halte!” or something
similar. It was a voice of command. The onrushing Prussian, riding past
at his terrific momentum, dismounted and saluted. In a fast and furious
manner this superior officer spoke to him in a well-modulated voice, but
with a manner and expression, which, though I could not understand a
word of German, I quite well knew was nothing else than a plain
balling-out.

After about three minutes, in which our would-be assassin saluted ten or
twelve times, he put his gun in its holster, re-mounted his horse and
slinkingly rode away. Then this superior officer addressed something
generally to the crowd, in reply to which one soldier stepped out,
saluted smartly and after some directions by the officer, proceeded to
explain to me, in broken English, that the officer wanted to apologize
for the uncalled for conduct of the first German officer. After a little
hesitation, I was surrounded by a proper German escort and marched over
toward Davis—going where and for what I did not know—but trembling like
a cur dog with delirium tremens—too afraid to be frightened.



                                   IX
                          THE COURT OF INQUIRY


Like many other brazen Americans I felt throughout the war that in spite
of the loss of my friends all about me, and the precautions repeatedly
urged, that I was the one bird, who, alone, was exempt from mishap and
misfortune. Undoubtedly the good fortune that always attended me caused
me to adopt the viewpoint that my good luck was perpetual. Well, as a
matter of fact, I still think that way to-day.

Such a thing as my ever becoming a prisoner of war in Germany was
absolutely foreign to me. It had not even interested me, so, I had paid
very little attention to the reports on the treatment of prisoners and I
honestly did not know whether the prisoners were slowly starved to death
or killed for some act which they had or had not individually committed,
or what not. It was terrible at best. At any rate, I was convinced that
it was bad enough that one could well afford to be desperate in taking
chances to escape. So, when I finally, in spite of my confidence in my
continued good luck, was taken prisoner on September 30, 1918, I
immediately decided that I would escape no matter what the cost.

Upon being captured Davis and I were first marched down to a nearby
airdrome—the den of our captors. There they dragged out a German
automobile, which had steel, spring wheels. A very young and fat German
boy, who, by the way, was an officer, climbed in first and told us to
follow. Of course, we did; and soon we were off for somewhere. This
youngster was a genuine pighead—he tried to be a Hun but did not know
how and reminded me very much of a newly made Second Lieutenant. Like
all other German officers he had the Iron Cross, which he wore complete
and as he spoke a little English, I decided that the wisest move for me,
was to find out just how much.

I had a hunch that the kid had probably just recently gotten his Iron
Cross and might be glad to make a few remarks at the proper opening. So,
pointing to the Cross and speaking rapidly, I asked, “What does that
signify?”

He did not get me. His answer was a cool stare as if I had transgressed
sacred laws. So, I again smiled and tried this time very slowly, “What
is that?”

“Ach,” and his flabby cheeks shook like a mold of jelly on a frosty
morning, as we bounced along, “dot iss der Deutschen Iron Cross.”

“Oh, my! The Iron Cross,” and I smiled with evident pride at our
association. “You are very valiant.”

The youngster was flattered by my expression, though he did not grasp
the words. This was what I was after. I could now converse safely with
Davis, my pilot, if I spoke fast enough. So, turning to Davis I started
to talk, but the kid rose up in all his dignity of rank and called a
halt. In painful English he told us that communication between prisoners
was absolutely “verboten.” We, of course, acquiesced most gracefully. I
wanted to ask Davis especially if he had yet admitted burning the plane,
because I already had admitted that I did it myself and if there was any
one to be killed for the offense I could see no reason for both of us
dying. This was information so vital that it had to be gotten to Davis
in spite of any rulings of any school kid, German officer accompanying
us. At the same time it was not my intention to purposely antagonize our
friend at this particular time, so with a very sweet smile I turned to
this German and looking directly into his eyes as if speaking only to
him, I rapidly, but convincingly orated:

“Davis, while I’m talking to this distinguished young Prussian, looking
him straight in the eye, and I am talking so fast he has no idea what
I’m saying, I want to ask you an important question and I want you to
answer it right away and look at him as if you were speaking to him when
you answer it, for he can speak about as much of our language as a clam.
These Germans claimed that when that plane hit the ground it became
German property and that in burning it, we have wilfully destroyed
German property and the penalty is probably death. Now I’ve already
admitted that I burned it, so, if they ask you who destroyed it you must
say that I did it, in order that we may not both get stuck for the same
offense.”

Meanwhile I was making motions with my hands, shoulders, face, brow,
mouth, nose, and ears, and looking directly at the German officer, as if
I were performing for his benefit. The kid was dumbfounded—things were
happening fast. Davis played his part like a trained actor and began to
address this German, speaking very rapidly, and in a similar manner,
while the poor German was shaking his head and hopelessly crying, “You
are talking too fast; I do not hear you; I cannot understand what you
say.”

But Davis told me that I was a damned fool, that he had told them he had
burned the plane and that if there was going to be any suffering done we
would both do it together. Believe me, that boy’s actions all through
our experience endeared him to me forever, as a brave man and an honest,
genuine fellow. However, when we got that one across our first
custodian, I felt pretty much relieved for a great burden had been
lifted from my mind. After all, I guess, there is a great deal of
comfort in companionship even in trouble and misery.

We shot along those roads on that steel-wheeled bus at a remarkable
speed. Quite soon we were at Montmedy, which was the headquarters of the
5th German Army. Undoubtedly here we were to be interviewed and sure
enough we were taken into the large room in the front of the
headquarters building, but, to our great surprise we were left for a few
moments by ourselves as the force was out to lunch. I immediately threw
off my flying “teddy bear” and hastily ran through my pockets and in
spite of standing orders for flyers never to have written communications
on their person, while flying over the lines, I found one order which
would have given a great deal of aid and comfort to the enemy. I took
this order, which was on very thin paper, and rapidly folding it, taking
a match from the table I lighted a cigarette and then burned the order.
The few other things I had were not important, but at that I wanted to
destroy everything. I had thrown my map in the burning plane, so my
conscience was clear that I had done my duty all around as far as I was
able. We were quite sure that the room had audiphones so we said
nothing. As I was about to throw such other stuff as I had in the stove,
the kid came in. I simply slipped my hand in my pocket and looked
innocent. Then a very suave, English-speaking German Lieutenant came in
and told us that he had been a prisoner of war in Russia and had just
been released; that he felt sorry for all the prisoners of war, and
wanted to tell us not to believe everything we had heard about the
German atrocities and that since we were Americans we would be well
taken care of, fed, etc., for Germany wanted America to feel that
America and “Deutschland” were the best of friends. His line was so
smooth that I was sure that he told the same gag to everyone else,
regardless of nationality. This intelligence officer was a very smooth
article for instead of talking shop, he stated that if we would be so
kind as to give him such things as we had in our pockets there would be
no necessity to search us. By this time, he was welcome to everything I
had on me. Then he told us that he wanted us to be his guests at tea
that afternoon at five o’clock. We had no choice in the matter, so, told
him we would be very pleased to accept his kind invitation.

It was about one o’clock then, and the kid took us in our steel-wheeled
“lizzy” to the prison camp, which was to be our new home. I must say
that ostensibly they treated us lovely in every way, and outside of the
fact that our home was not in the same class with Riverside Drive or
Orange Grove Avenue, it wasn’t so bad. We were incarcerated without
ceremony and the kid left us after many assurances of his kind offices.
No one came in to attend to us, so, I finally pounded on the door until
some one did come. It was the interpreter, who informed us that we were
too late for anything to eat as only enough food was prepared for those
on hand and they did not know we were coming, whereupon Davis and I sat
down to wait until night for something real to eat, meanwhile
anticipating, with a great deal of pleasure our tea we were to have in
the afternoon.

As I sat there on that old bench I really had my first opportunity for
quiet reflection. In spite of the convincing environments I could not
bring myself to believe that I was actually a prisoner of war.

This camp at Montmedy was some place. It was a rectangular affair,
enclosing about an acre. Around this rectangle was a very heavy
barbed-wire fence about twelve feet high, and about four feet within
this was another big high fence and within this enclosure, at the four
corners, were four separate buildings, each of which was surrounded by
two huge wire fences, similar to those on the outside. In one of these
houses lived the lord of the domain, the Director of the Prison Camp, a
Sergeant in the German Army; in the second was the kitchen where they
prepared the luscious food for the prisoners, and in which there was
also located the quarters for the guards, where they lived, slept and
smoked their German tobacco; in the third building there were bunks for
enlisted men who were taken prisoners; and in the fourth were the
Non-Commissioned and Commissioned officers who were prisoners, and in
this last named building were Davis and I.

We had been so down in the mouth upon actually entering this prison camp
that we had little to say. Finally I arose from my old bench, shook
myself like a dog after his nap, and in a graveyard tone of voice said,
“Davis, we’re prisoners of war,” and we wept on each other’s shoulders
like sob sisters. When we got tired of that I walked to the door which
was solid, turned the latch and, since no one interfered, walked on
outside.

Walking about I took occasion to examine the heavy barbed wire
surrounding us. There was nothing else to do, so, I kept walking along,
glancing at the wire. It looked rather solid and was sunk rather deep in
the ground. It was not encouraging. Then I had a real treat for as I
walked along I saw a bunch of American doughboy prisoners, most of them
privates, part of them barefooted, being escorted by the camp guard.
Believe me, they looked good. I hollered to them and asked them how long
they had been in and they answered they had been taken only a few days
before, so, I told them I had been taken only that morning. In great
eagerness, they demanded to know how the drive was coming along.

“Oh, boy,” I yelled as they passed along, “we’ve sure got the Hun on the
run.”

About that time the German Sergeant Interpreter rushed out—“The Hell you
have,” he madly screamed. “Get inside.” I took orders from a Sergeant.

He came after me and I didn’t know whether he was going to browbeat me
or not, but I had a strong hunch that it would be an advantageous idea
to change the subject, so, I started to talk about what we were going to
have to eat and he again surely informed me that we were too late, that
they had not made any preparations for us and that we would not get
anything to eat until that night. That subject apparently didn’t
interest him. I tried another.

“Where’s the barber shop?” I asked

Here was a new field for him. He asked us if we would like to buy a
razor and some soap and some cigarettes. The old boy liked a little
money, that was clear. Here was a chance to eat perhaps, so, I
encouraged his mercenary inclinations.

“No,” I went on, “but I would gladly buy a ham sandwich.”

He was taken back aghast at my not knowing it was impossible to obtain
food for love or money, except as rationed by the Government. So, I
thought it would be a good idea to play up to the old boy, and smiling,
I told him, “Sure, I’ll buy a razor.” We gave him some French money to
get changed into German marks and after a while he brought our
purchase—a very small piece of pure, lye soap, which we used for both
shaving and washing, and which cost us exactly eighty-five cents. It was
about the size of the individual cakes of soap you get in a hotel. I
realized that the Germans must be quite short on soap for this stuff
left our faces in about the same condition as one might expect from a
massage with Dutch Cleanser—indeed, this was the real dutch cleanser.

[Illustration: A CAPTURED GERMAN PHOTOGRAPH SHOWING AMERICAN PRISONERS]

In a little while an orderly came around and brought us our beds, which
consisted of a couple of old blankets and one dilapidated mattress
filled with wood shavings. Then he brought some wood and made a fire in
the very heavy brick stove. We were so chilly that when he made the fire
I kept on feeding it in order to get warm. It was not very long until
the orderly came back again and we persuaded him to get us a little pack
of cards, whereupon Davis and I sat down and played Solitaire and
Casino, and meanwhile we took turns at getting up and putting another
little stick of wood on the fire. By about four o’clock we had used up
all the wood, so I went out and hollered to the orderly, but he did
nothing but shake his head. The sergeant came and I told him that we
wanted some more wood. It did not concern him, for he said that we had
used our allowance for twenty-four hours and could have no more until
noon the next day. I began to swear and asked him why he had not told us
that instead of freely putting it in there as if we could have all we
wanted. He admitted it might have been more prudent to tell us, but at
the same time he wouldn’t give us any more wood. After all he wasn’t a
bad old duck, for he wasn’t cruel—he was just over-imbued with this old,
German, military régime of austerity which believed in the letter of the
law absolutely. In other words, it had his goat.

A little while later on the same steel-wheeled bus came rolling up and
in it were three immaculately groomed officers with nice
shoulder-straps, purplish-gray cloaks, and everything. All spoke perfect
English, and as they were introduced they stood rigidly at attention and
gave a snappy salute. The leader spoke up in the most elegant English
and said perhaps we were not so unfortunate after all, as we would be
well taken care of by the Germans; that they were German-Americans who
had come to Germany at the outbreak of the war, long before America had
entered, and since they had not heard from their folks for a long time
they thought perhaps we might be from their section of the country and
could give them some idea as to the welfare of their kinsmen. This did
not sound fishy to me; at least, not so far as I could see, so we did
not lie to them—I told them that the German people as a whole were being
well taken care of in America, being interned in well-kept detention
camps, and that no harshness was permitted by the Government except in
cases of spies or traitors, in which case they were arbitrarily shot. I
did not know whether that affected any of their kinsmen or not, but at
the word “shot” they all looked at one another in a very sickly way.

After some remarks about the awful weather they started to leave, the
leader remarking that they just wanted to come out and pay their
respects and see that we were getting along all right, and that if at
any time we wanted anything just to let them know. My mind was not on
these empty formalities—it was on the fact that we had a chance to
provide for our own welfare, so I took them at their word.

“That is so kind of you,” I smiled. “There are several little things you
might do for us now. We would like to have some wood to keep us warm for
the rest of the night, we would like to have something to eat, we would
like to have some better blankets to sleep on, we would like to have a
better mattress and would like to have some fresh water, and if it would
not be too much bother we would like to have that slop pan outside
cleaned up so that it will not smell so bad—Oh, yes,” I went on, “we
would also like to have some exercise and some books or newspapers to
read, and I, personally, would like to write a letter to my folks.”

They looked somewhat dazed, so I ended my modest requests and said, “I
think that is all we need right now.”

They again looked at one another in a funny manner, as if to indicate
that I was not lacking in the power of expressing my wants. I thought
their parting sympathy was all bunk, but surprisingly enough they gave
instructions to the sergeant to give us some more wood and promised that
they would send us some newspapers. When it came to eats, they balked.

“Food is something,” they explained, “over which we have no control.”

“But, as a matter of fact,” the leader went on, “you really would not
have time to eat anything, as you are soon to go to headquarters to meet
the Staff, and you will undoubtedly have tea there.”

They left and after a while the tin-wheeled bus came again and under
proper escort we went back to Montmedy. There we had “tea,” which
consisted of tea, about which the Germans constantly reminded us that it
was exceedingly hard to get on account of the blockade, and that it was,
indeed, a decided luxury and that we should appreciate that we were
being served real tea. The rest of the “tea” was German war bread, which
the Intelligence Officer admitted was bad for the stomach and was much
better toasted, and then we had diminutive portions of confiture and
butter, served individually, and as a finale we had cigarettes and
sugar. They also offered us some liquor, which neither of us accepted,
for we realized that the time of our interrogation was at hand, and
since the usual trend of liquor is toward the tongue it was better not
to imbibe, for we didn’t want to talk any more than was absolutely
necessary. They did not insist on our breaking the water wagon vows, and
it’s a good thing they didn’t, for while I cannot speak for Davis, I,
personally, know that my nervous and physical condition was such that I
could not have withstood a great deal of persuasion on such sensitive
subjects.

In the midst of our “tea bacchanal” the door opened and we saw standing
before us a full-fledged German aviator, whose face was nicked and
scarred from the great German pastime of fencing. Although wonderfully
straight and well-built, with a face and jaw that spelled determination
and strength, his eyes possessed all the hellishness and heinousness of
a Hun. We were introduced, whereupon this young Flying Lieutenant
clicked his heels together and gave us a salute almost as perfect as the
world-famous salute of General Pershing.

After some sort of a framed-up conversation, the flyer sat down and the
Intelligence Officer explained to us that the flyers and the
anti-aircraft artillery and the machine gun crews had been in a
controversy as to who should have the credit for bringing us down and
that this Lieutenant had contended that the Squadron which he commanded
was responsible; and he wanted to find out who it actually was that
gained this victory. This did not seem to interest the other
German-American officers present, so they excused themselves and left.
The only remaining officer who spoke English was the Intelligence
Officer; the young, battle-scarred Lieutenant, to the best of our
knowledge, did not. So when the Intelligence Officer stated that this
Lieutenant was in one of the four planes that was firing on us when we
finally went down, Davis went to pieces and snapped out the impertinent
question, “And was he one of the four who fired on us after we were
already shot down?”

The flyer conceded that all four of them fired at us, but that they were
certainly not trying to kill us but were merely trying to keep us from
escaping. This was too sad an excuse to get by. Davis told him that he
didn’t care a hang who got the credit for shooting us down—we were down
and that was all there was to that subject—but that in the American Army
it was considered mighty poor to strike a man when he was already down.
The Intelligence Officer was surprised and scornfully asked me if the
Americans did not do exactly the same thing. Davis reared back like a
rattlesnake about to strike and with eyes flashing fire of indignation
and contempt told them that if an American Aviator was caught doing a
thing like that—firing on the enemy when he was already down—that the
Americans, themselves, would take their own countryman out and, without
giving him the pleasure of being shot to death, would tar and feather
him and hang him, for to an American, when a fellow was down he was
down, and whether we were fighting a war or not, we wouldn’t stand for
murdering any one in cold blood. I saw we were getting in Dutch, right
off, and so did Davis, for as the Intelligence Officer explained it to
the high-spirited flyer we could see his temples throb and his eyes
quiver from anger; and his jaws closed with hatefulness and scorn. The
Intelligence Officer, realizing that the conversation was getting into
deeper channels than was especially desired for the occasion, told the
German aviator something and without saluting or otherwise rendering
military courtesy, he left the room.

There remained only the Intelligence Officer, Davis and myself. The
court of inquiry was in session—the suave Prussian on the bench and two
obstinate American jailbirds in the pit. The German told us to help
ourselves to the cigarettes, and believe me, we realized that it might
be the last time we would have such a liberal invitation for, maybe,
many months to come. We accepted. Take it from me, we certainly
smoked—rapidly, but at the same time languidly. We consumed those
cigarettes like a Vacuum Cleaner takes up dust. When we had depleted the
supply of twenty the Intelligence Officer produced twenty more.

As a hard and fast rule a prisoner should never talk. In this way it is
certain that no information will be given out. Once in a great while a
prisoner can do some good by talking—I am sure that no American ever
told, deliberately, any true information, either voluntarily or under
pressure or even threat of execution; but a great deal of dope was
gained through subterfuge, or from the ordinary man who foolishly tried
to spar against the keen mind of the officer who has made a life study
of that particular work. Thus our case was different, for as an
Operations Officer of an Army I also was versed in intelligence work. At
least, I had an equal chance.

As usual, the first ruse of the German was to find the location of our
airdrome, for, since they found an identification tag on Davis, they
knew his squadron was the 104th. Of course, I didn’t belong to that
squadron, but I said nothing, for the reason that it would serve no
useful purpose to dispute this presumption. He showed us some absolutely
marvelous photographs of our airdrome taken by German cameras at
extremely high altitudes and also pictures of other airdromes close by.
I recognized them all right, but, believe me, I gave no signs of it.

After about thirty-five minutes of dickering with those photographs in
which he tried by every possible manner and means to catch a clue as to
the location of our airdrome, he pulled the very subtle change in
conversation from airdromes to the general feeling about the war. He
wanted to know what schools we had attended and what subjects we had
taken, and what Americans did for diversion in their colleges, whether
or not they fenced, and then he nicely asked us to explain a little
about football; in other words, perfectly harmless questions. We gladly
talked football, but kept on the alert lest we be taken unawares.
Suddenly in the midst of these immaterial questions and discussions
about our schools, customs and life in general, from a clear sky and in
a very nonchalant manner, came a new surprise.

“Oh, about your relatives and friends,” he remarked
sympathetically—“they will be very worried to hear that you have been
reported missing in action.” We both agreed to that, of course. “Well,”
he went on as if he had been inspired by a solution, “if you wish to
write a little note to some of your friends back in the squadron the
German flyers will very gladly drop the messages over the lines on the
next patrol, which will be to-night. You see,” and he cleared his throat
by way of emphasis, “by this method your parents and your friends will
not worry; otherwise, they may think you have been killed.”

I was surprised, really, at this ostensible kindness—it was attractive
enough to bear investigating. As a matter of fact, the recent illness of
my mother convinced me that she could not withstand the shock of my
reported casualty. I immediately decided that if it was possible to
adopt this expedient news service, provided I did not have to give any
military information, I would do so. Like every boy, I knew that the one
person in the world who loved me most was my mother. She had a right to
know. So, accepting his pencil, I wrote very rapidly:


  “To Any Allied Officer or Man:

  Kindly Notify American General Headquarters that Lieutenants Raymond
  Davis and Elmer Haslett, Air Service, are safe prisoners of war in
  Germany.”


He took it, read it, and in a business-like manner wrote something over
it by way of endorsement, which, he explained, meant “Censored,” and
handing it back to me I read what I had written to Davis. Calling a man,
who like all the other Germans we had seen so far, gave a smart salute
upon entering, the officer handed him the note and muttered something in
German, then hypocritically smiling, he assured us that he was sending
the message direct to the airdrome to be dropped over the lines by the
next patrol. His matter-of-fact attitude led us to believe that
everything was a matter of course, and the incident was closed. However,
after the soldier had been gone a few seconds the officer jumped up,
hastened to the door and called him back. The man handed him our note
and, hastily glancing at the address, the Lieutenant said smilingly,
“Oh, you know, you neglected to write on the note where you want it
dropped,” and handing me a pencil he continued quite concernedly, “Lucky
I thought of it, wasn’t it?”

I began to see the gleam and color of the snake in the grass. So I wrote
on it “France.” I knew he expected to see the name of our airdrome on
there, so after a cynical laugh he tried to look serious, although he
well realized that he was being outmaneuvered.

“Oh, you know,” he explained, “you must make it more definite than that.
Where are your friends? That would be the place to drop it.”

Whereupon I told him to write upon it “Paris.”

“Oh!” and he manifested complete surprise, “you have come from Paris?”

I laughingly told him that I had been there, and then he grew serious,
but did not show any anger.

“Now really,” and he looked directly at Davis, as if to solicit some aid
from him, “you should tell us your airdrome, for instance, which would
be the best place to drop it.”

Davis told him that we really did not know the name of our airdrome, or
its location. This was a good hunch, and backing Davis up with our
mutual ignorance, I told him that if he dropped the message anywhere
over the lines it would certainly be found, and while we, ourselves,
were not very well known in France, having been there only a very short
time, the American General Headquarters was well known and our names
were on record at Headquarters. He was nonplussed, for his last card had
been played and the location of our airdrome had not yet been divulged.

The Germans were, of course, anxious to find out the location of our
airdrome for the reason that if by collaboration of information they
found that several squadrons had been moved from other places to
airdromes opposite their own front they would know that the forces were
concentrating at a particular point and that something was likely to
pop. Thus, it gave them the opportunity to distribute their own strength
accordingly. He had failed on this, so he started out on new tasks.

“How do you like Rickenbacker?” he said very casually, by way of
changing the subject.

“Who?” I questioned disinterestedly.

“Rickenbacker, your greatest flyer—Squadron 94,” he added in surprise at
my ignorance, and corresponding pride at his own intelligence.

“New one on me—never heard of it,” I replied.

“Never heard of the 94th?” he ejaculated, even more surprised. “Well,
the 94th is your best chasse squadron and,” he continued, by way of
demonstrating his superior knowledge, “the 12th is your best observation
squadron, the 96th is your best bombing squadron and the 91st is your
best surveillance squadron. As a matter of fact, by following the
movements of these four organizations we pretty well know where your
main body of aviation is concentrated.”

A hasty reflection taught me that the old boy had the situation pretty
well sized up, for, indeed, he had accurately named our most famous
squadrons in their particular work.

However, I still professed ignorance.

“So you don’t know Rickenbacker?” he proceeded. “I can also tell you
something about him.” Whereupon he enlightened me by the statement that
Eddie was a German, born in Germany and educated while a boy in German
schools—all of which he pointed out as the reasons for Rickenbacker’s
superior skill and efficiency. But the Fatherland was completely off
with “Rick” in spite of their proud—but, by the way, unfounded—claim of
nationality. The Intelligence Officer told me that they considered him
an absolute traitor to the Fatherland.

Another potent reason, he explained, was that they emphatically believed
that Rickenbacker’s tactics of burning balloons at night was inhuman,
since the poor balloon observers did not even have a chance to get away
with their lives. It was at this time that Lieutenant Frank Luke was at
the height of his marvelous success of burning German balloons at night,
but they had blamed it all on “Rick.” In fact, it could easily be
gathered from what he said that Luke had the German balloonists’ goat so
well haltered that many of them refused to go up for night observation,
and naturally the command was worried.

As I told Rickenbacker afterward, there certainly would have been a
crowd around the fire if he had been shot down in Germany, for he was
the one man for whom they were all looking, for more reasons than one.

After again emphatically denouncing “Rick” for his “inhuman tactics” he
changed the conversation and asked me how many Americans we had in
France.

“That is a matter we do not care to discuss,” I said in a manner
indicating that while we knew positively the exact number we wished to
sidetrack the issue.

He momentarily permitted it.

“Your losses by our submarines must have been appalling,” he said, not
forcing the subject.

I told him that our losses by their submarines had not been nearly so
great as their losses by their own submarines. This was Greek to him, so
he asked me what I meant, and I explained to him that while their
submarines were causing us some damage all right, and a lot of worry,
yet they were also responsible for our being in France and that if the
American Army had not already caused them all the losses and all the
worry they could possibly withstand that it soon would. He was very
anxious to impress upon us that he believed that the policy of Von
Tirpitz was all wrong and he admitted that Germany realized that she
could not win with America in the war. “To Germany,” he said, “it is now
a proposition of defense.”

Then Davis calmly proceeded to tell him that if Germany ever wanted to
save herself she had better throw up her hands quick, because in 1920
the Allies were certainly going to give her a walloping blow from
Switzerland to the sea.

“Ah,” he said, “1920 is a long way off. How many Americans will you have
here in 1920?”

I looked at Davis, hesitated a second as if calculating, then said,
“Let’s see—we have three million five hundred thousand here now; we
ought to have seven million by that time.” Then I assumed a
sheepish-looking attitude, as if I had said something which should have
been kept secret. He looked at me a moment in amazement, then laughingly
said:

“You are joking. You have not three million five hundred thousand here
now.”

I nodded my head affirmatively, while Davis chirped up, “That’s right.”

“In France?” he gasped.

“Yes, in France,” I repeated.

“Oh, no. It is not possible. How do you know?” he exclaimed.

With a perfectly straight face I told him that the only way I knew was
that every man who came across was given a number as he sailed, and that
I had been in France only two weeks, and that my number was 3,246,807,
and I was quite sure that the difference had been made up. If he had
asked me to repeat those figures I couldn’t have done it to save my
life. He looked thoughtfully at the floor, which gave Davis and me the
opportunity to smile and wink at our little joke.

“How long do you think the war will last?”

I bowed my head and rubbed along my temples as if in deep thought, then
suddenly looking up at him as if some muse had given me a correct
solution of the problem, I told him that while it was very hard to tell
accurately, most Americans felt that it would be not less than three
years and not over five. The officer threw back his hands in utter
horror like a spinster at her first view of a t. b. m. production.

“Three years more of this Hell?” he said. “Ugh! It will be not more than
three months.”

I agreed with him entirely, although I did not say so.

“Three months?” I said in surprise. “Do you think you will win this war
in three months?”

“No, Germany will not win the war,” he sighed in apparent regret, “but
we will quit, for we cannot win. We lost our last chance when he failed
to get to Paris in July.”

Seeing that we were evidently interested, he thought that it was the
proper time to get down to the real subject of “intelligence,” but we,
too, were prepared.

“Do your aviators know everything that is taking place?” he asked.
“Yes,” answered Davis, “our aviators are very intelligent. The command
has great confidence in them”; “and,” I added, “in fact, aviators see a
copy of every Army order issued.”

“You knew, then,” he continued, “that you had attacked from Verdun to
Rheims and the French from Rheims to Soissons and the British from
Soissons to the sea.”

“Yes,” I said, “I know that the Allies have attacked all along.” And, as
a matter of fact, I did, but most of our flyers did not, and it was only
on account of the nature of my work that I knew this information. But I
also knew that for some time past Marshal Foch had been pulling a big,
strategic fake down in the Vosges mountains from Lunéville to the Swiss
border, a very quiet sector, by displaying an unusual amount of activity
in the parading of empty motor trucks back and forth to the front,
which, of course, could not have been unnoticed by the Germans and
necessarily caused them much concern. As a matter of fact, I knew that
those trucks were empty and were being paraded only to create the
impression that the Allies were getting ready to attack in that sector.
Intelligence reports that I had read previous to my capture stated that
the Germans were looking forward to this attack and that some of the
newspapers had even mentioned it. So, when he fired his next question I,
too, had my little pop-gun all ready, cleaned, oiled, primed, bored,
trigger pulled, cocked, aimed, set and loaded to the brim with T.N.T.,
triple forced dynamite, and I let him have it.

“Ah, if you are attacking all along here,” he said as he pointed to the
battle area on the map on the table, “you are pushing us north. Now, you
must attack from Verdun east or you are leaving your right flank
unprotected, so unless you do attack toward the east we will flank and
annihilate you.” Sweeping his hand over the big, broad map of France, he
assumed the air of a Napoleon.

I wasn’t worried about that flanking movement, for I was all fixed for
that; in fact, I was way ahead of him. I was doing my best to figure out
my location and the way to the lines so that if there was any chance of
my escaping I would know, at least, the general direction in which to
go.

“Oh,” I said, apparently without thought, “you haven’t the latest
reports, have you? Well, since it’s out I’ll tell you. Our latest
communiques this morning stated that we had attacked in the Vosges, had
surprised the Germans, and our troops will have taken Mulhausen by
to-morrow morning.”

I have never seen a man so happy as this Intelligence Officer—he was all
smiles. He had made certain a conjecture, for he had found out that we
were really going to attack in the Vosges, and he knew that it had not
yet taken place. I could see the gleam in his eyes as he visioned the
honor, prestige and the like he would reap as the reward for his
wonderful discovery. He apparently could not wait to get the news to
headquarters. Abruptly closing the conversation, he shook hands with us,
rang the bell and turned us over to a couple of officers who took us out
to the camp in our tin-wheeled bus, and in a few minutes we were again
in jail, where, relieved from the presence of German officers, we threw
off the cloak of dignified propriety and, giving vent to stored-up
jollity, we laughed heartily and long.

Indeed, we felt sure by the very affable manner in which we had been
released that the duck had been royally fixed. I do not know how true it
is, but I afterwards heard that this Intelligence Officer was so
convinced and enthusiastic over his discovery that the General was also
convinced, and in turn reported it to the Gros Headquarters at Treves,
and that the Supreme Command issued preliminary orders to take two
Divisions away from the Argonne Reserve for duty in the Vosges. This may
or may not be so, though I am inclined to think it is not, but it does
not particularly matter. I do know, however, that afterward, for some
reason or other, when I was transported by rail through Germany I was
honored with extra guards, who had in their possession a descriptive
card which honored me to the extent of remarking that I was a very
dangerous character, clever liar, and was to be especially well watched.



                                   X
                           BECOMING KULTURED


I was born in a small town, and I’m a small town guy. A small town
always gets the full advantage of propaganda, and as people in small
towns do not have a great variety of subjects to talk about when they
once get a good one it has a long season. The folks around the towns
where I had lived in the West and Middle West had been led to believe
that while the ideal environment for the ground work of stability of
character was to be found in the broad, open atmosphere of the country
west of the Mississippi, yet for further polish and refinement it was
necessary to seek the Eastern States, or better, to sojourn a while in
England or France. There was some discussion as to which was the better
of these two places. However, for the final graduation in culture, it
was an entirely different story—there were no two sides to the argument
at all that the post graduate course in refinement could be obtained but
at one place in the whole wide world. There was no alternative. It was
thoroughly agreed that if one aspired to become a finished product with
the proper veneer, that person must beat it to Germany and become
Kultured. Perhaps this feeling was the result of well-directed German
propaganda; at any rate, it was a firmly established belief where I
lived, at least.

This “Kultur” bunk had never interested me, for I always had felt that
the United States was good enough. A man who had good tips on the horse
races was a hundred times more interesting to me than a much vaunted
German Count who came from the wonderful country of Wagner, Goethe and
Schiller. At that, though, I had studied German a couple of years in
preparatory school, but I want to say here and now that the only reason
for my doing it was because the only other choice was Latin, which was
entirely beyond the possibilities of my mind. So when I finished the
laborious German course at school I promptly proceeded to forget it.

Now fortune had thrust upon me the opportunity for which many Americans
before the war had vainly wished—namely, a sojourn in Germany and a
course in Kultur, for, indeed, was I not being entertained as a guest of
the German Government—or was it the jest of the German Government?

Thus in spite of the fact that I never aspired to become Kultured, it
was certain that I was going to get it whether I wished it or not. It
was like the compulsory inoculations and vaccinations in the army—there
was no choice in the matter for the poor guy who’s getting it.

Perhaps the condition of my appetite had something to do with the
shaping of my observations as to the actual working of German Kultur,
for I was hungry when I was made prisoner and that empty feeling never
left me from the time I was shot down until several weeks after I was
released.

All during the first day of our imprisonment we had nothing to eat,
except the dainty “tea of bribery” at the session of the court of
inquiry in the afternoon, and the only effect of that tea was to whet
our already cutting appetites. So, having been returned from the session
of court, we sat down on a rude bench in our dingy abode at the Montmedy
prison camp to brood over our misfortune and to settle down for that
course in Kultur. We were thoroughly blue, for the only joys in life
during that day had been the facts that we had successfully lied to the
German Intelligence Officer and so far we had not divulged any military
information.

And here is a point that I noticed all through Germany from the officers
on down—with rare exceptions. A German will promise you anything in
order to appear affable and pleasant. It is commonly done, and they get
off with it for a certain time. From these continued observations of
unfulfilled promises I formed a definition of “Kultur.” In my mind it is
that superficial and subtle form of hypocrisy practised by the German
race and commonly accepted by them as justifiable and necessary in their
state of affairs, which permits of the affording of temporary
satisfaction in meeting the emergency in hand by giving indiscriminate
promises—which promises are never fulfilled nor intended to be fulfilled
at the time of making; and which further permits and justifies the
explanation of nonfulfillment of promises by the giving of more and
similar empty and insincere promises.

Our room was rather chilly, for in our absence the fire had gone out.
With the wood we had coerced from the sergeant the orderly finally came
in and built us a little fire. We used French economy, for we were quite
sure that it was going to be cold before the night was over, with the
limited covering they had given us.

I was getting as hungry as the snake which sleeps all winter, or summer,
whichever it is. So I put it up to the orderly, who politely told us he
would bring our food at once. I am sure we waited a full hour and a half
for that food and I was experiencing all sorts of sensations as to
whether slow starvation was about to begin. I remembered reading that
starving people were sometimes sustained by chewing shoe leather, so I
was wondering how long my poor shoes would last at a ration of a square
inch of leather to chew each day. This hunger was getting my goat. I had
heard of walking off intoxication and seasickness so I decided to try
walking off hunger.

I opened the door and walked into the surrounding boneyard, which was
hemmed in by several high fences of barbed wire. While most prison camps
are well lighted at night in order that there will be little possibility
of any one escaping without being seen by one of the many guards, this
was different, in that it seemed totally dark. Perhaps the reason for
this was its proximity to the lines, or it might have been that it was
too early for lights. I was just milling around aimlessly when suddenly
from somewhere without the darkness came a voice in German and so
gruffly that it almost took me off my feet. I realized that I was being
addressed individually, and while the words meant nothing to me, the
tone of voice in which they were spoken convinced me that it could be
nothing else than the familiar old “Halt! Who goes there?” Not being
well versed in the number of times a German sentry calls his challenge
before he fires, I took a chance on one of the few words I knew and
quickly answered “Freund,” for, as I figured it, “Friend” is a harmless
word any way you take it. The old squarehead only answered “Ja” and
quite unconcernedly walked on.

“Well,” I thought, “this is easy.” So, continuing my tour, I got around
to the side where I found that during the day some prisoners had been
working, probably digging weeds, for to my pleasant surprise I
discovered, perhaps for their own purposes, they had left their tools,
including a couple of spades. Such luck, for with those spades, on such
a dark night it would be easily possible to tunnel out. The big rub was
that the orderly told us that the door to the hut would be locked at
nine o’clock and that we could not go out of the house until seven
o’clock the next morning. It was then about a quarter of nine, so I went
in and told Davis, and he, of course, agreed to attempt to escape that
night. The big point first was to manage to get out of the house, which
could only be effected by crawling through a window. Davis was just in
the act of testing the strength of the window when the door opened and
the orderly came in with our sumptuous repast. In ravenous anxiety we
sized up the banquet—it consisted of a piece of hard, mealy, black
bread, dimensions two inches by three inches by three inches, and in a
pot was the rest of the dinner, which consisted of soup.

I never did like soup, but I’ll say this much in favor of it: I have
never enjoyed a meal in my life like I enjoyed that soup. We had two
nice tin pans in which to serve our soup. We put the pot on the stove to
keep it warm while I proceeded to dish it out, spoonful by spoonful, the
liquid coming first; then we divided the remaining vegetables—two
dilapidated looking spuds and three little samples of hard, gritty,
grimy meat. I gave Davis one piece and I took the other, then we matched
three times to see who would get the other piece. We matched, and the
first time I won; the next flip Davis won. Believe me, small and
insignificant as that piece of meat was, I was too hungry to lose it, so
I got cold feet.

“Davis,” I suggested, “this is damned foolishness. We’ll cut that meat
in two pieces. I’m scared I’m going to lose.”

As Davis was cutting it this hard, gritty, grimy, little piece of meat
slipped and fell into a pail of water which we had just lifted off the
stove. Like two South Sea Islanders diving for coins thrown by the
generous tourist from shipboard, we rescued the meat by diving into the
water with both hands, making a beautiful splash all over the floor.
Davis showed himself to be a religious sort of a guy, for he suggested
that since we had been so lucky in escaping with our lives that we make
a burnt offering of this meat. I didn’t know whether he was joking or
not about the burnt offering, so I took no chance on his not being
serious and told him we had already made one burnt offering that day in
burning up that airplane. Without further argument we sliced the meat
into two pieces and each had his portion.

I had eaten about half of my bread and was still so hungry that I could
have eaten puckery persimmons with considerable relish when I realized
that if we intended trying to escape that night we had best lay off
mincing that bread, for we would certainly need it the next day. We
talked it over, then viewed it from every angle, but since we were in
occupied French territory we decided that I could speak enough French,
and with Davis’s pathetic eyes we could sure win enough favor with the
“froggies” to get by, although they probably had barely enough to eat
themselves.

We crawled into our bunks without removing our clothes for the reason
that it was too cold to sleep without them and we also intended to get
out during the night. About two o’clock, after continued tossing and
tumbling, wondering just what process we would follow in the attempt, I
got up and awakened Davis; then I crept to the window. After a good
twenty minutes of tinkering with that window, cautiously moving it an
eighth of an inch at a time, I finally got it open to such a point that
we could get out—at least, so I thought. Directly in front of us was one
of those little houses so commonly used at garrisons in France and
Germany, known as Sentry Boxes. I figured the old boy would be in there
all right, but he would be fast asleep, so I stuck my head out, gave a
little spring, and as I brought my stomach up on the sill like a flash
from out the sentry box stepped this hardboiled Boche. He had a huge
flashlight and immediately I was in the spotlight. The window was the
stage and I the star. There is some humor in the situation, now as I
look back upon it, but believe me, there was none then. For when that
German began to excitedly ejaculate “Loze! Loze!” whatever that is, I
took my head to cover just like a tortoise draws his protruding
physiognomy into the secret confines of his shell.

“It’s all right,” I called as we hit for our bunk, “we’ve got to have a
little air.”

That night we almost froze to death, for we didn’t dare to close the
window, for we did not know the extent of the German sentry’s memory of
foreign expressions, and the fact that we left the window open all night
would be a good alibi for opening the window in that we did need air. It
was a hard result, but since it was our story we shivered and stuck to
it. Take it from me, we were icebergs the next morning.

Fortunately they served us an early breakfast, which consisted of some
hot German Ersatz coffee, which is no coffee at all. It is made from
acorns and it doesn’t go well as a substitute. In fact, you must train
your appetite and taste for Ersatz just as you do for olives. They
brought us a little confiture, which was also imitation and it didn’t
have any more consistency than a marshmallow. The orderly started to
walk away and simultaneously Davis bawled out, “Where is our bread?” The
orderly explained that they had given us our allowance last night for
twenty-four hours.

If this was to be our regular ration I could see ourselves starving to
death by degrees. It was useless to say that they had not given us
enough, for that line does not appeal to the German. If each of us
received a piece of bread, that settled the argument, but if the
allowance for both of us was brought in one piece there was room for
discussion. The orderly claimed he had brought two pieces of bread, but
I claimed that he had brought only one piece, so how did we know it was
supposed to be for the both of us. Finally I said that I was going to
tell an officer. This got results, for after conferences between the
Sergeant of the Camp, the Corporal of the Guard, the Orderly, the Cook
and the Keeper of the Official Storehouse they brought us in another
little piece of bread.

The next night they brought in a French pilot, who was supposed to have
been shot down the night before on a bombing raid. We suspected right
off that he was a German spy trying to gain our confidence, for the
first thing he did was to tell us in French how much he hated the
Germans and to give us addresses of people who could help us to escape
when we got to Karlsruhe, which, he said, was the place they sent all
prisoners. He said he could speak but little English and knew no German
at all.

After venturing a lot of information about the number of his squadron
and its location he asked me the number of my squadron. I told him the
number of my squadron was “2106” but that I had forgotten the name of
the airdrome, as we had only flown up there. Then he began to suggest
some of our prominent airdromes to assist my memory. I did not bite at
his bait, but rapidly changed the subject. Then he began to play
solitaire with our cards, at the same time paying very keen attention to
our conversation.

I decided to justify my suspicion that he was a German spy, so I made
the suggestion that since I was a prisoner it might help to know more
German, so as Davis had studied it more recently than I, I asked him to
give me a German lesson, as I especially wanted to learn some words that
might come in handy. So as I would ask Davis for the German words for a
number of ordinary objects he would give me the word and his
pronunciation of it. We worked hard for fully half an hour. The
Frenchman had said nothing, and as I noticed he was not paying very
close attention I indicated to Davis not to tell me the next word. Davis
did well, and I repeated, “Dog—dog—dog,” several times. Davis said he
did not know, and then the Frenchman, seeing us both puzzled, spoke up
and said, “Dog. Qu’est que ce ‘Dog’?” which in French means “What do you
mean ‘Dog’?” I told him in French that I wanted the word for dog in
German, and just as natural as could be he instantaneously replied, “Der
Hund.” He had fallen into our trap and we knew quite well then that he
was a German. It was too apparent for argument. After that Davis and I
said absolutely nothing. In fact, we had nothing to do with him
whatsoever and later that night the Sergeant of the Guard came in and
told him that he had been ordered to proceed to Karlsruhe, but that the
orders for us to be moved had not come. We afterwards found that this
same gag of French friendship had been pulled on several other
prisoners, some of whom were, unfortunately, unsuspecting.

In a couple of days we were taken over to Montmedy, or rather we walked
over, for after having once gotten our supposed information there was no
reason to be courteous enough to furnish us transportation. At Montmedy
we were to take the train for the big prisoners’ concentration camp at
Karlsruhe. Before we left we were given our traveling rations, which
consisted of some boiled meat and bread, and this was supposed to last
two days.

On the trip and at the station at Montmedy I noticed that the morale of
the German Army must have failed a good deal, for the discipline was not
what I had always supposed it to be. The proud Prussian officers carried
their own trunks while the enlisted men stood around, and I actually saw
a crowd of enlisted men push aside an officer who was trying to get into
the train ahead of them. I realized then that the statement of the
German Intelligence Officer that it was a proposition of not more than
three months was actually more accurate than I had been inclined to
allow myself to believe.

There was one real character on the train—a hardboiled Feldwebel, which
was the German name for Sergeant-Major, and corresponding pretty largely
to our First Sergeant of the line. He was in charge of our party.

Feldwebels are actually the backbone of the German Army. They are well
trained and highly efficient. This man had many decorations and
physically was a superman. He tried his best to be affable, and though
he did not speak good English he tried hard enough and we tried our best
to supplement his deficiencies with our rather scant knowledge of
German. With great pride he told us of all the battles he had been in
since the beginning of the war, and I must say he would be entitled to
many bronze stars on his service ribbon.

Finally the conversation drifted to the relative fighting qualities of
each Army. He said he was quite sure that the American doughboy was the
nerviest fighter on the front, although he was seriously handicapped by
lack of experience. He, himself, had specialized in bayonet fighting and
proudly stated that he was one of the best bayonet fighters in the whole
German Army, to which fact all the others agreed. He said that with his
blade he had whipped four Russians single handed; that unassisted he had
cleaned up on four Italians, and he pointed to a coveted ribbon as a
recognition of his feat; that at Arras he had gotten the better of three
Englishmen, and he pointed to still another ribbon; and that at Verdun,
in the early days, he had even bested three Frenchmen in a deadly
bayonet combat; and he had individual bayonet victories galore; “but,”
he said, throwing up his hands and laughing good naturedly, “an American
gave me this—a negro,” and he showed me a bronze button that he wore for
having been wounded in defense of the Fatherland. He opened his blouse
and shirt collar and showed us a long scar along his neck and shoulder.

I had heard conflicting stories as to the fighting qualities of the
American negro, so I asked him to explain how it happened. He said it
was during a raid near Verdun; the negroes were, undoubtedly, in
training with the French Foreign Legion in that sector. It started with
a regular bayonet fight in which he quickly knocked the bayonet and
rifle from the negro’s hands, but as the Feldwebel was just about to
give the final fatal stab the negro pulled out the proverbial razor from
somewhere. The scar was the final result. He dramatically summed it up
by telling us that he would willingly fight the Russians, the Italians,
the Englishmen and the Frenchmen at unequal odds, at any time or place,
but he was absolutely through with all Americans because they were
crazy; they didn’t care whether they got killed or not.

“The colored troops, as a whole, are poor fighters,” he said, in words
to that effect, “but the American negro is the exception—he fights, and
fights dirty.”

After a more or less monotonous journey we arrived at Karlsruhe and were
just leaving the station when we heard a big brass band coming down the
street, followed by great crowds, and then a detachment of German
soldiers swung into view, doing their famous goose step. As they passed
we could see that they were just youngsters who did not look over
sixteen years of age. Clinging fondly to them and showering flowers in
their path were their mothers, sisters and other relatives. There might
have been sweethearts, but the boys looked too young for that. I was
convinced that Germany was getting into pretty hard straits when she had
to send that class of men. It seemed to me that the flower of her male
population had withered and that there were now only the upstarts and
old men left.

At Karlsruhe we were taken to an old hotel which had been converted into
a detention camp, and were put into confinement for a while. I was
fortunate enough to be put into a room with several Britishers who had
just been released from German hospitals. These lads had some food that
had been sent them from home while in the hospital. They were wonderful
fellows and if I had ever had any previous misgivings as to the
sportsmanship of the British they certainly were removed in short order
by the splendid and generous conduct of these boys.

The second day at Karlsruhe we were again called before an Intelligence
Officer and again interrogated. This time I gave more beautiful
demonstrations in the art of prevarication, for there were more
cigarettes at stake. The examination here was confined to technical
matters, while before it had been tactical. I became so interested in
the subject in hand that I told him about our new combination sound and
vibration recorder which did many things for us, even accurately
indicating the moment that the German airplanes took off from their
airdromes, what direction they were going, their altitude and the number
of planes. By this instrument we were able to follow their planes and
shoot them down very easily. It might have been a scientist’s dream, but
I blandly explained it all to him, while I rapidly smoked his costly
cigarettes, and the old boy took notes of my misinformation. But before
I left this camp he had also found out that I was a liar, so he too
tacked his little report to my already shattered reputation for truth
and veracity.

After a week at the temporary detention camp we were marched up, en
masse, about fifty prisoners in all, including British, French, Italian,
Portuguese and American, to the Main Prison Camp at Karlsruhe.

We had to have all our money changed into German prison money at a
terrible discount. I’ll say those Germans are thorough. For the fifth
time we were searched. They even made one English Captain take off his
wooden leg to insure that he did not have a compass or anything like
that hidden within it. They searched every stitch of clothing on us, and
finally tried to make us sign a little statement saying that we were not
taking anything in there that was forbidden and that we had read the
rules of war and would be guided thereby or pay the penalty. The solemn
word of an Allied officer did not mean any more to the German than the
ordinary word of a German meant to us.

Our money was exchanged at the rate of five hundred francs for three
hundred marks in prisoners’ money, which was really worth about one
hundred marks.

To search us they took us into a separate room, two at a time. As rumors
will naturally leak out of the most secret chambers, we soon found that
they were confiscating all leather goods, so in one accord everybody
began to cut their leather goods into bits rather than turn it over to
the Germans. I had my Sam Browne belt next to my skin and then my
undershirt, then a woolen O. D. shirt, and then my blouse. In addition I
had a pair of leather gloves. I intended to save them both and, if
absolutely necessary, to give them up only after a good fight.

Finally my turn came to go in. I took off my blouse and my woolen shirt.
The searcher demanded that I also take off my undershirt. I didn’t have
a lot of choice in the matter, so without argument I proceeded to remove
my undershirt, and of course he found my belt. He motioned for me to
take it off, for he spoke nothing but German. I balked and told him in
English that the belt was mine. We argued for two or three minutes, but
I refused to budge. He got real peeved at my stubbornness and called an
interpreter. The interpreter explained that all leather goods were being
confiscated on account of the shortage of leather in Germany and that I
would have to give my belt up. I told him to tell the German that I had
paid for that Sam Browne belt out of my own money and it wasn’t
Government property and was just as much mine as my trousers or my
blouse. He told this to the guy who was searching me, but he merely
shrugged his shoulders and mumbled something, so the interpreter told me
that it was ordered and not to talk so much and hand over the belt.

I calmly proceeded to put on my undershirt, but the searcher began to
lay hands on me, saying to the interpreter, “Nicht, nein, verboten,”
etc. The interpreter asked me to wait, he would request an officer to
come down. In quick order an officer arrived to find out about the near
riot. He spoke good English and explained to me that it was a ruling of
the German Government that all leather goods were to be confiscated.

This officer was very rushed and didn’t have the time nor inclination to
explain much, for explanations were not often made in Germany in those
days, and especially not to prisoners. He told me it was an order and
therefore had to be done and there was no use arguing about it. I
politely told him the only kind of orders I took were in writing, and I
had a right to see the written orders. I expected to see him order the
belt off of me by force, but to my surprise he sent up to the
Headquarters and got an order; at least, it looked like an order, for I
could not read it after he got it—so, after palavering around for about
five minutes I finally decided that the order was O. K. and I would have
to give up the belt. The officer immediately sent the order back and I
then demanded a receipt for the belt. We had another argument over this
and I insisted that the order had said that a paper receipt would be
given for all leather confiscated. I was trying to stall, but, true to
the traditions of German efficiency, they sent for the order again.
Hastily looking it over as if I read German perfectly, I begged his
pardon gracefully and told him that I guessed I had read it so rapidly
the first time that I had mistaken a similar word for receipt. In
considerable disgust at this uncalled for delay the officer left.

I put on my clothes and started out, taking my gloves with me. The
searcher came after me, calling, “Nein, nein,” and attempted to take my
gloves. Going back into the searching room, I told the interpreter that
they did me out of my belt, but they couldn’t have my gloves, for they
were not flying gloves—they were nice gloves, dress gloves, riding
gloves—and I had paid for them myself, and that while they could take my
belt under the provisions of the order, yet the order had not said
anything about gloves and if they wanted the gloves they would have to
send for that officer again and get those orders and show me. The
searcher was getting pretty indignant because there were a lot of others
waiting to be searched and if they overheard our conversation it would
set a bad precedent for the others, so far as he was concerned.

So he dispatched a soldier immediately to get the order for the third
time. After about a half hour it did not come and I was just sticking
around making a general nuisance of myself when along came the officer I
had previously dealt with.

“Why are you still here?” he demanded.

I explained to him that we were waiting for the order to see if it said
gloves when they were privately purchased, dress gloves. He must have
had a sense of humor, for he laughed outright and said, “Keep your
damned old gloves and get out of here.” Whereupon I walked out of the
room with a pair of big, black, leather gloves which came in mighty
handy on several occasions afterward and which I carried without further
trouble throughout my trip through German Prison Camps on the strength
of the precedent that they had been passed O. K. by the searchers at
Karlsruhe. The only trouble about retaining those gloves was that I had
a terrible time convincing the rest of the guys that I really was not a
German spy, for they could not otherwise account for ostensible
favoritism.



                                   XI
                             ESCAPED ALMOST


I have little sympathy for any prisoner who, having been so unfortunate
as to have been taken by the enemy, allowed himself to settle down to
prison discipline, practically a subject of the enemy, without standing
up like a man and at least trying to escape.

Around a prison camp one hears many, many big ideas of escaping, but
there are comparatively few actual attempts. In fact, this boasting
habit got on one man to such an extent that he was known as “Wild
Fugitive Bill,” for the reason that he was always concocting some new
and novel means of escape and yet never had the nerve himself to put it
through. Always at the last moment he would get cold feet and give up.

The real test of courage comes when mental plans end and physical action
begins. Some prisoners have even prided themselves upon being model
prisoners. I have even heard a Captain of Infantry call the Americans
together and suggest that some of us quit raising so much hell during
roll call as our actions were counted against all the Americans. I pride
myself on the fact that I “raised hell” at every opportunity from the
time I was made prisoner until I was released. The more trouble the
prisoners of war caused the enemy the more men the enemy must keep away
from the battle line to guard the disturbers. Not many prisoners
considered this a point, but I believe that as long as there is war the
enemy should be fought and embarrassed—inside and outside.

Karlsruhe seemed to be my ultimate destination, so after a few days to
allow me to catch up on food which was more plentiful here on account of
the remarkable contribution of the American Red Cross, I again began to
set my mind to escaping.

I talked it over with all the old prisoners and they said that no one
had yet been able to escape from Karlsruhe, so, in order to get the
advantage of experience I talked it over with everyone who had ever
tried it. It seemed that the camp was only for concentration, and as
statistics showed that the majority of escapes were attempted by newly
made prisoners, this camp was especially guarded in order to challenge
all comers and to discourage them early in the game. I looked over where
every previous attempt had been made and was told just how it had failed
to materialize.

The entire camp was certainly well guarded. It had one inner, high fence
of barbed wire and one outside fence constructed of wood, about twelve
feet high and on top of it was a quarter arc of steel extending inward,
heavily covered with barbed wire. They had several guards on the inside
and quite a large number on the outside, and both the inside and outside
fences were well illuminated with electric lights.

At one place along the high, back fence the guards had constructed a
sort of chicken house, which threw a shadow against the fence, making it
possible, providing enough assistance was rendered, to construct a small
tunnel. The bunch, which consisted of Oscar Mandel of New Jersey, a
couple of other birds and myself, got together right after the evening
meal and talked it over. After full deliberation we decided to try. It
was our intention to have it as secret as could be, and we planned there
would be only four of us in that escape—and no more; so, after we
pledged to one another that we would tell absolutely no one else about
it, we shook hands and started right away to make the preparations for
the dirty work. Of course, the big job at first was to construct that
tunnel for the man who should draw that job would get the real lemon.
The beat of one of the guards took him about every three minutes to
within about ten feet of the place, and of course, directly on the
outside was another guard whose movements would have to be largely
guessed at.

The approved plan was to put the “tunnel man” over the barbed wire
fence; station another man on the inside, walking back and forth,
whistling or something of the like to give the proper signals; then put
the other two men at different corners near the buildings close by in
order to signal the movements of the watchman to the man walking back
and forth.

Stepping into the light we got a deck of cards and made the agreement
that the man who got the lowest card would go over the fence and dig the
tunnel and the man who got the next would do the signaling. Mandel
shuffled and Blacky, a little English doughboy, drew the first card. It
was a Two of Diamonds. Mack, the second lad, drew a Queen. Mandel, whom
we called Mendelssohn as he was a wonderful musician and also a past
master in the art of escaping, picked an Eight of Clubs. I had a good
chance for I didn’t think it likely that I could get a lower card than
Blackie’s “Two,” so I snapped out a card just as unconcerned as could be
and hastily looked at it—it was the Ace of Hearts. Now the question was
whether the Ace was high or low. I had lots of queer sensations. We had
made no agreement about it before drawing, so, I said nothing until the
other two boys spoke up and said it seemed to them that Ace should be
high. Mandel suggested that in order to be fair that we draw over again,
it being agreed that the Ace would be high. This time I drew first in
order that all the high cards would not get away. I picked a winner—the
Three Spot of something—just what didn’t worry me for I knew the thing
was settled and that I would have to go and dig that tunnel. I was
picturing myself out there getting shot at when Blackie again saved the
day by pulling his same Two of Diamonds. Several sighs of relief were
registered by my heaving lungs for my draw assigned me as outer Watchman
where I had to give Blackie signals all the time. It was quite different
than being between two fences, guns all around me and no place to hide.

We agreed to start at once, so, instead of putting Mandel and Mack at
the outer corners of the house nearest the scene of operations, we
decided to station them at different windows in the house, so as not to
cause suspicion by having too many outside. All the blinds were drawn on
account of air raids, so we arranged that as the boys walked back and
forth in front of the door, that they should quietly keep me informed as
to the exact location of the guards.

My signals to Blackie were very simple: Whenever I whistled a tune that
sounded like ragtime he was to lay off; when I whistled a tune that
sounded melancholy he was to work for all he was worth.

“Do you understand thoroughly, old man?” I asked before he left to crawl
over the first fence.

“Sure, you don’t think I’m deaf, do you?” he answered in his
incomparable English cockney, as he shook my hand and started for the
fence.

Blackie got over the first wire fence with remarkable agility, but he
was hardly over when he remarked he had forgotten his little coal shovel
which was the only tool we had. Finally we found this for him and as
soon as I returned to my post Mandel gave me the signal that all was
clear, so I began whistling the army funeral march, and I heard Blackie
plugging away. In a few minutes when the boys signaled that the guard
was again approaching, I began to whistle “In the Good Old Summer Time,”
but to my amazement I heard Blackie still working away. Then, to get
something real raggy I whistled “Alexander’s Rag Time Band,” but still
Blackie worked on. The guard was fast approaching. Something had to be
done for if he kept on working he would sure be caught, so, stepping
right out in front of the Guard, who, of course, could not speak
English, I began to sing a very sad and mournful tune, with my own
lyrics.

“Blackie,” I sang, “this guard is right behind me and for the Love of
Mike, lay off.”

Blackie stopped; I kept on singing, and the old guard walked right on
by. When he was on the other side of the building I rushed up to
Blackie.

“Blackie, you damn fool,” I softly exclaimed, “can’t you tell ragtime
from a classic?”

“Ragtime,” he said in barely audible cockney English, “Why ragtime’s the
name of a song, and by the way, old fellow, if you don’t like the way
I’m digging this tunnel, come and try a hand at it yourself. It’s
beastly, you know.”

“Go ahead,” I argued, “but from now on I’ll whistle only when he is
coming. Get me?”

The next time the guard came around the corner of the building I began
to whistle. To my surprise Blackie kept on working. I began to whistle
louder than ever, but he kept right on, so, as the Guard approached me,
I stopped whistling and instantly Blackie quit working. As the guard
passed on I again went over to Blackie and said,

“Hey, you poor fish! Didn’t you hear me say to quit work when I
whistled?”

“Oh, you’re wrong, old chap,” he insisted. “You said very plainly to
work only when you whistled.”

I began to think Blackie had to have it impressed upon him, so, I said,
“All right, now. Forget it all and let’s start over. Next time remember
that when I whistle you work. See, when I whistle, I work; and when I
whistle, you work, too.”

He understood this illustration pretty well and we kept this going
successfully until about roll call, which was at nine o’clock. Then I
asked Blackie if the tunnel was dug plenty deep enough. He was quite
sure it was deep enough to get through, so, he crawled over the wire
fence again, and we all beat it to our quarters to pack up our few
belongings with the agreement that we would meet just outside the
assembly shack right after roll call had finished.

This escape, as I have stated, was to be between four of us and no more;
but I would swear, there were a hundred eyes on me at roll call. And
afterwards, not more than fifteen guys came around and wished me luck.

“Luck on what?” I asked one fellow.

“Why,” he said inquiringly at my question, “you’re going to try to
escape, aren’t you?”

So, my well-wishing friends all began to talk about how they wished they
had an opportunity to get away too, and all that bunk. I have concluded
that a bunch of prisoners are the worst gossipers in the world anyway.
Tell one and you tell all. This first experience taught me at a dear
cost, one of the most valuable lessons of my life. When you are going to
escape, or, in fact, try anything else which from its nature requires
secrecy, never, under any circumstances, take any one into your
confidence, and at most, if ever, only one trusted pal. I had heard the
same bluff before, so, I told them if they wanted to get out after we
had gotten away, to go ahead, they knew where the hole was, but not to
go around and cackle about it like a bunch of old hens; either to get
their clothes ready and try to escape or else to go to bed and let some
one else try it.

In escaping, the first man to try has not only the greatest opportunity
to escape, but also takes the greatest hazards in that if the plot is
discovered beforehand, the guards will be on the job waiting for him,
while if it is not discovered he has the best chance to get farthest
away before the hounds are given the trail.

It was the same old test of passing from words to action, and, so with
that bunch of twelve or fifteen who said they wanted to escape. When it
came down to the courage of action their wishes were merely words. Of
that number, including the four original conspirators, only two went
ahead with it. The other fellow who kept faith with me was Oscar Mandel.

Most of the rest of the men all beat it to their different bunks; some
hung around to see the fun, while Mandel and I stayed on the job. I took
all of my insignia off of my coat in order that there might be nothing
to reflect any rays of light that might strike us. Then, we mixed some
mud and blacked our faces and hands in order that they would not stand
out against the blackness of the night.

Mandel and I matched and it was decreed that I should go first and that
I would wait across the road for him. If I got caught I was to make a
lot of noise and, if he was also unfortunate, he would do the same.

An electric tram line ran right along by the camp and we felt that by
following this road we would, at least, get out of the town. So, with a
fond farewell to the camp, as the Guard went around his beat, I slunk
along in the shadows of the building. In the death-like stillness could
be heard beyond the other fence, the steady beat of the outer watchman.
Over to my right the guard of the inner camp was just stepping out of
sight. Could ever opportunity be better than this? The time had arrived.
I stepped up to the first wire fence, and threw my little sack over,
then getting near a post I began to climb over. I cut my hands a lot on
the barbed wire, but that was only incidental, and did not bother me. I
weighed too much to get over like Blackie. It seemed to me that every
wire I stepped on squeaked like the high “E” string of a toy violin.

I dropped myself within the enclosure and ran along, slinking in the
shadows of the fence, until I came to the tunnel. Here was a
disappointment. I could no more get through it than an elephant would
have a chance of entering a doll house. It might have been O.K. for
Blackie, but he miscalculated for me. It was not large enough for my
shoulders, so, peeping out I saw the other German sentry, not over
twenty feet away, and in his apparent unsuspecting demeanor I also saw
my first step toward liberty.

I realized it would be necessary to make the tunnel considerably larger
if I ever expected to get through it. Blackie had made a bum job of it
and worse, he had taken the shovel with him, and I had no implements
whatsoever, except an unusually large jack-knife. Whipping loose the big
blade I began to cut the frozen ground, taking a look around and then
chipping away like a beaver at a dam. I felt like a real criminal and
every motion picture play I had ever seen, of escaping prisoners, played
vividly on my mind. I was working frantically and getting along pretty
well, too, in spite of my rude implement, when all of a sudden I heard a
tremendous noise that made me think that I was knocking on the door of
Hades—it was a big siren blowing a warning for an air raid. Our Allied
bombers were coming over to pay a visit to Karlsruhe. Believe me, I was
for them. The reverberation of that siren was deafening, but I was
certainly taking advantage of its tremendous noise by chugging away with
all my might, when suddenly, not over a hundred and twenty-five feet
from me a huge 107 calibre anti-aircraft gun exploded. I leaped like a
squirrel against that fence for I felt sure that the gun had been aimed
at me, and furthermore, that I had been hit. Pulling myself together I
realized that it was heavy artillery instead of a short-barreled
shotgun. Immediately other huge guns began to fire and for a few minutes
there was a real bombardment going on around there—the whole earth was
shaking. I kept right on digging away for it was the chance of my life.
Of course, all the guards were frightened and confused and were chasing
back and forth, crying out strange ejaculations and perfectly good
German words of profanity, mixed with earnest prayers from “Gott Mitt
Uns” to “Teufel Strafe ’em,” for, believe me, they were acquainted with
the variety of bombs dropped by the Allies.

About this time everyone was out of the huts looking for the airplanes
in the sky, and the inner guards were making a big rumpus and causing
them to close the doors so the lights would not show, which, of course,
would give away the presence of the “enemy.”

In all this confusion and excitement I thought it was a good time to
duck, for while I did not feel that the hole was quite big enough, yet I
would try it anyhow because I probably would never have such an
opportunity again. So, I started out. After considerable grunting and
labor I got my head and shoulders through, and then my coat caught on a
nail on the bottom of the fence and in spite of every imaginable
maneuver from a wiggle to a “shimmie,” I simply could not pull through.
In twisting and squirming I shook the fence, whereupon the excited guard
on the outside noticing me, came running up at full speed ahead and with
pointed bayonet he frothed, “Loze! Loze! Vass is Dass?” He was more
excited over me than he was the prospect of a bomb dropping on the both
of us. He thought that Gehenna had surely been transferred to Karlsruhe
and that the whole camp was on the march. I thought he was going to take
me for a practice dummy and judging from his speed I decided that he
could not possibly stop until he had put that bayonet completely through
me. He must have realized that if he captured me alive he would get more
credit for it. Exasperated like a sick infant with the mumps, excited
like a school girl at her graduation, and worked up like a Hebrew at a
bargain, he cried out, “Commen sie aus! Commen sie aus!” making all
sorts of ejaculations and motions, indicating clearly that he wanted me
to come on out. He was making more noise than the archies.

About this time I began to feel my leg being violently kicked and some
one beating against the fence from the inside, also crying out, “Commen
sie in!” This old boy on whose beat I had escaped had real cause for
concern, for he knew that he would be placed in jail for allowing me to
get away should I get the rest of the way out. No wonder he had an
interest in the matter.

In a jiffy the two guards were in a dog fight over a bone—yours truly
being the bone and the bone of contention—one was kicking me and the
other pulling me—one anxious to get the bonus for capturing me and the
other trying to save himself from jail. I was not only under the fence,
but I was on both sides of it. I was afraid if I went on out the guard
on the inside would shoot me, and if I backed in I knew I would be
punished and I did not know but that the guard on the outside might
become real excited and stick me. So, while they were fighting between
themselves, one pulling and the other tugging at me, I decided that if I
did go on out I might have a chance to hit this other guy on the bean
and take a run for liberty. The guns were firing all the time and things
were getting good and hot around there. The boy on the inside was about
as scared of the guns as he was of my escaping, so, I began to tug and
with the help of the other sentry was pulling myself through. Then the
old boy on the inside administered his trusty bayonet blade to my leg,
and while I cannot describe the particular motion through which he went,
I can certainly testify that he gave me one mighty persuasive jab. For
believe me, I sure did back in at the rate of a mile a minute, for I had
no further inclination whatsoever to go on out. I realized that duty
called me at the camp, and while it had taken me fully five minutes to
get my anatomy that far out—well, this little flying machine had a
reversible propeller, that’s all.

The old boy on the inside was terribly sore, because in climbing the
fence after me he had torn his nice, new, green pants, yet he was
over-delighted that he had saved himself from jail. As we walked up to
the fence I attempted to climb the wire first, whereupon the old boy
said, “Nicht! Nein!” and menaced me again with his bayonet. Needless to
say—I unhesitatingly obeyed. I had hoped, should I have gotten over the
fence first, to run immediately to my bunk and fool the foxy old boy,
but when he flashed that bayonet on me it was the halt sign of my new
fraternity. A little blood was beginning to trickle down my leg and I
began to feel pretty much like a stuck pig, so, in courtesy, I let the
old boy climb over first and I went after him.

On the way to Headquarters, I realized that I had a compass and a map
and knowing what it would mean if these were found on me, as we walked
along, I carefully slipped my hand in my pocket and crumpled up the map.
I then began to cough violently, whereupon I took out my handkerchief
with my left hand and put it over my mouth, and in so doing I managed to
put the tiny map in my mouth; then I chewed it up and swallowed it. I
didn’t know what gag to pull with that compass, and I didn’t dare to
swallow it. The old German who was taking me along didn’t feel any
sympathy for me, but kept poking me along in spite of my overemphasized
limping. Finally I deliberately stumbled and fell, but as I fell I threw
that compass a good twenty yards away, and into a section of the lot
where it was not likely to be found. Then after considerable moral
persuasion, I got up and went over to the headquarters with the feeling
that in spite of the worst I had saved myself, at least, two weeks in
jail.

In a very cold room, at Headquarters, they summoned the Commander of the
Camp, the Officer of the Night, and the Officer of the Guard, and all
the Sergeants and Corporals at the camp. Then the joint board was in
session. They gathered around and proceeded to cause me a good deal of
embarrassment because they took off all of my clothes and did not leave
me enough in which to feel modest. Like a poor, belated, half-soaked,
blind owl, after an April shower, naked from head to foot, with my face
and hands covered with mud, I stood there waiting for them to finish
searching my clothes, before I could once more become a respectable
looking German prisoner. I also was patiently awaiting the announcement
of my penalty. It was my first attempt and I expected almost anything
from shooting to hanging.



                                  XII
                      THE PRIVILEGES OF PRISONERS


A serious old philosopher once said that every man had his price. That
may be true but I don’t agree with it in principle. My early training
taught me that the man who offers a bribe is a lower parasite than the
man who accepts it and experience has not altered my views. But, a more
serious old philosopher came forth expounding the doctrine that
everything is fair in love and in war. According to my way of thinking
this second boy was on the right track.

So, when my German captors took me down and with a lot of ceremony,
deposited me in the camp calaboose, a hasty examination of the barred
windows and the tremendous lock on the door almost convinced me that my
only hope was to experiment with that philosophy of price, as my biggest
asset happened to be a pocket full of prison money, which, if acceptable
at all, would have to be disposed of at a discount. At any rate, I was
determined to get out—the means might require bribery and it might
require lies. Whatever was necessary to effect my state of freedom, so
long as it was honorable, was in my mind the privilege of the
prisoner—for it was fair in war.

The cell was not so bad; in fact, it was much better than the quarters I
had in camp, except that I was alone. I had a German orderly who took
care of me, which convenience was something foreign in the regular camp.
First appearances were so attractive that I thought it unfortunate I
hadn’t discovered it before. In the morning the interpreter came around
to see how things were going along. I told him “Fine, except that I
wanted something to eat,” an habitual complaint among prisoners. There
was the rub, for he informed me that when in solitary imprisonment in
jail you only receive a portion of German food and that under no
circumstances are you allowed any supplemental food from the Red Cross.

So, about nine o’clock this orderly brought me my breakfast which
consisted of a bowl of Ersatz coffee and that was all. Believe me, the
scarcity left a funny empty feeling in my stomach that decided the
question at once—bribery it would be.

In the afternoon, when one of the calaboose corporals came around on his
hourly inspection, I figured that he was a pretty good guy to play up
to, so I knocked the old boy sick by offering him a pipeful of my real,
American tobacco, which had been given me by a fellow prisoner,
Lieutenant Shea of the 26th Division, who handled the Red Cross supplies
at Karlsruhe. Shea was a real guy; he was fearless and while under very
strict German regulations, he always allowed his staunch Americanism to
be seen by Germans and Americans indiscriminately. This German Corporal
had a whopper of a pipe for he made a big hole in my already slim sack
and tobacco was as scarce as desert icebergs. How his eyes sparkled when
he lighted it. These Germans had been smoking ground cabbage leaves for
almost four years and were getting mighty tired of it.

“Sehr gut, sehr gut,” he ejaculated many times, sniffing the old time
aroma.

Then, he warmed up and we got to talking. It finally dwindled from the
war generally to our own family histories. He was in great distress. He
had lost four sons in the war, and what he considered much worse, his
two daughters would probably never be able to get husbands, for so many
men had been killed. I thoroughly sympathized with him and agreed that
it was all wrong to require such a sacrifice of him. Then he told me
what his army pay was—it was very small—and he said he had been in the
war five years. I told him how much the American soldiers received,
which surprised him very much and seemed fabulous.

His understanding was that only the poor people had gone to war for
America—the sons of the rich men stayed at home; and further, that
practically all Americans of German descent had absolutely refused to
take up arms against the Fatherland. I refuted this latter remark as
well as the first—I told him that both my father and mother were German,
having both been born in Berlin, and that my father was a very wealthy
man, but I had to go into the service because all the young men had to
become soldiers—the rich and poor alike had gone into the war and it
didn’t make any difference whether they were German-Americans, or just
plain Americans, they had all gone. So, he asked me what I did before
the war, and being a pretender for the purpose I had in mind, I assumed
a thoroughly shocked attitude at such a question, and informed him that
before the war, my father being very rich, I didn’t do anything except
go to college as “dad” came across with twenty thousand marks a year for
spending money alone. The old boy’s eyes popped open to the size of an
owl’s. He thought such an allowance fabulous and criminally extravagant.
I filled him full of a lot of this hot air about the war, and especially
my own financial stability, for I expected to sooner or later establish
my credit with him.

We parted the very best of friends and to cinch it I gave him another
pipeful of tobacco. The next morning the rather expected happened; he
came to talk some more and to further test my depleted supply of Red
Cross tobacco. Our second conversation ended with my parting with
seventy-five marks cash, and a promissory note for seven thousand five
hundred marks, payable three months after the war, in consideration for
which the old boy was to leave the outer latch open that night and slip
me a screw driver with which to manipulate the inner latch, and, at my
request, he arranged a guard and that afternoon I went out and took my
first exercise. The guard was a measly, withered-up shrimp, who spoke
quite a little English, as he had been in America. His knowledge of
American people and of American customs gave me a new field of activity.
He told me that he was on guard that night around this same area, about
eleven o’clock, so I cautiously sounded him out as to whether he was
particularly scrupulous or whether he might accept a little bribe.
Laughingly, he told me that like all other men in the world he supposed
that he had his price, but that it was high enough that it could not
possibly interest me.

“Well,” I said, manifesting surprise, “you’ve heard of my father,
haven’t you, since you’ve been in America?”

“No,” he said.

“What!” I ejaculated. “Oh, you certainly have heard of J. P. Morgan,
Haslett & Co., of Wall Street.”

Of course, he understood the first and last parts and the old boy stood
still in his amazement, for that “J. P. Morgan” and my connection
therewith had simply hypnotized him. Suddenly he became cordial to the
extreme. After blushing in honest modesty I got down to business.

“You’ve been in America long enough to know what notes are, haven’t you?
If you give your note it’s as good as gold, any time, any place, any
where.”

“Ja,” he affirmed, nodding his head. “I know that.”

“Well,” I went on, “all that is necessary is a little cash consideration
given with a note and it is good. Just like a contract.”

He agreed perfectly.

“Well,” I said, feeling like a street-corner politician, “name your own
price.”

After considerable hemming and hawing around about it, he surprised me
by naming five thousand marks, which then was about one thousand
dollars, one hundred marks to be in cash, and my note for the remainder.

He agreed to buy me a map and compass, to bring them in, and leave them
wrapped in an old rag at the foot of an iron post which he pointed out;
and he agreed that as he was to be on duty that night about eleven
o’clock he would not see me as I went over the fence on his post. He
told me the exact spot where he would be standing between eleven and
eleven ten, so that I could avoid him.

As to the financial arrangements he was to take me to the jail and then
go over to the canteen at my request to buy me some paper, which
purchase was approved. In the meanwhile I was to prepare the note and
dig up the coin.

As he came in the Corporal came with him as no one was supposed to enter
the room without the Corporal, but just as he laid my purchase on the
table the telephone rang and the Corporal had to step away temporarily,
which gave me the opportunity I needed. I handed the guard the piece of
I.O.U. paper and a hundred marks in prisoners’ money. The deal was
closed.

All the remainder of the afternoon I carefully laid my plans. This time
it looked like a clean get-away, but there is always something to take
the joy out of living, for about four o’clock the interpreter came
around with the prison paymaster, who told me to turn in all my money
for which they wrote me out a receipt. I decided that I had been
double-crossed by the Corporal; the other guard would not have had time
since the act.

“You had more than this the morning after we had you searched,” the
paymaster said after perusing a big ledger.

“Yes,” I stumbled, “but I sent some of it back to one of my friends to
whom I owed some money.”

Then they put all my fears to rout by telling me that I was leaving at
five o’clock with a transport of prisoners, going to a permanent camp.
This was simply hard luck, because as I figured it, it was absolutely
impossible for either the other Corporal or the weazened-up old guard to
give this plan of mine away. Furthermore, they would not have dared.

Well, that was finished for me, so, I asked the interpreter where we
were going, and about my sentence. Like all other Germans he pulled the
Kultur stuff by telling me that I was being sent to a fine, big camp and
that my penalty here was finished. So, he and the officer left and the
door was locked behind.

Immediately it was again unlocked; the old German Corporal came in,
highly excited because he thought the visit of the officer meant that
they had gotten something on him. I told him I was going to leave at
once for a permanent camp.

“Oh,” he whispered, really surprised, “then you will not escape
to-night.”

Upon affirming this statement that I was really leaving, the old fellow,
to my utter surprise, looked around to see that no one was looking in
the window, then closed and bolted the door behind him and handed me
back my money and my note. Here was a real, decent old guy. I believed
in his sincerity, and German or not, if I ever have a chance to do
anything for that old fellow I’d do my best to do it, for he was
absolutely honest, no matter what one might say as to his patriotism. I
gladly gave the old fellow the last bit of tobacco I had and when I left
we parted real friends.

But, the other old fossil—of course, I didn’t have a chance to see him,
and my one hundred marks, together with my large note, was gone to the
devil. Of course, I didn’t worry about the note; I never intended to pay
that any way, if for no other reason than the fact that it would
bankrupt me even though the mark is not now worth much at all.

I marched down to the train with the rest of the transport, and here
again they sent a tag along with me, telling of my bad record. They
honored me with several guards personally assigned, while the rest of
the party had about one guard for every four prisoners. We traveled for
about thirty-six hours in third-class coaches and were, indeed, tired
and worn out and sleepy. But, in spite of German efficiency and secret
service, within a few hours after starting we all knew by well founded
rumors that we were going by way of Münich to a place called “Landshut.”

At Münich we were taken off of the train and given some food, which
consisted of powerful limburger cheese and a little piece of dog
sausage, with a hunk of dainty potato bread. In spite of their intense
hunger, some of the boys could not possibly go that cheese so, showing
resourcefulness, I made a collection of it for I thought it might come
in handy later on. I gathered so much that I was a human cheese factory;
I had that cheese stuck in my pockets, I was carrying it in my hands and
I even had some of it securely put away in my blouse, and all the way
from Münich to Landshut, Bavaria, as I had nothing else to do, I ate
cheese. Believe me, people knew I was coming a mile away. When that
stuff began to get a little tepid, I was a man hated among men;
extremely unpopular for a strong reason.

We were turned over to a new set of guards at the Landshut station and I
noticed that they had lost my identity since I was not being given
special attention, so, I mixed right in with the rest of the prisoners;
that is, until they got a good whiff. The new sergeant, after lining us
up, walked along the lines calling the names and checking up the
prisoners. Standing directly in front of me, with his face about two
inches from mine, he gruffly called, “Oberleutnant Haslett.”

“Here!” I bellowed, whereupon the German, getting the full benefit of
the cheese, staggered and moved on.

I went up to the old abandoned estate known as “Traunitz,” which was a
very beautiful and historic old court. However, we did not live in the
castle. I think it was the servants’ quarters we had, for there were
twenty-five of us in one room.

Landshut, itself, was a lovely little town; in fact, one of the most
beautiful I have ever seen. The feature was the variety of church bells.
They were ringing day and night, and the sounds ranged several octaves.

At this camp they took away our American uniforms and gave us old
Russian prisoners’ clothes, with a big yellow stripe down the back of
the blue uniform. I don’t know whether that “yellow streak” was supposed
to have any real significance or not, but anyhow it was there.

At Landshut was imprisoned Captain Jimmy Hall, the James Norman Hall who
was prominent for his “Kitchener’s Mob” and other books, and a very
famous member of the Lafayette Escadrille. “Jimmy” was quite a character
as he hobbled around the place—we all liked his wonderful democracy.

We had only been there a day or so when they began to inoculate us for,
I think, every known disease. A big, fat, German Major stood there and
in apparent delight, pumped serum into us like a baker fills creampuffs.
The worst part was that he stuck us right in the chest. He was a good
natured old duck who didn’t seem to take things seriously. Not only did
he vaccinate us for smallpox, but he gave us shots of typhoid,
para-typhoid, triple typhoid, typhus, tetanus and cholera, and what else
I do not know. We were to have five jabs of the stuff, but when I took
my first one I decided then and there that when I took the next it would
be when I was held and given it by force. I never received another jab,
for every time afterwards I went in with the in-going line, and after my
chest had been painted with iodine by the Assistant to the Doctor, as
the old boy would turn around to fill his needle for the next man, I
would quietly step over in the outgoing line, and with many apparent
indications of pain, passed to my bunk.

Immediately after this first jab was given and before the pain and fever
had a chance to take effect I was mixing around with the boys, having a
good time, when in came a Sergeant who, amidst considerable pomp and
display, stated that the Captain commanding the Camp wanted to see
Oberleutnant Haslett at once. I asked him what the officer wanted to see
me about, but he didn’t know and I’m sure I didn’t, although I had a
good strong hunch. As I still had my yellow-striped uniform, I put it on
and went over. On the way over the Sergeant sympathetically ventured to
tell me for fear that I did not know it, that the German officers were
terrible men, very strict and stern and it was to my advantage to be
very careful and to be absolutely military and courteous.

After considerable palavering around, the Sergeant ushered me in. Seated
there at his desk was this potentate, the Commander of the Camp. I
hardly knew how to figure him for he was a hard looking customer with
the squinty eyes of a Chinaman, the pugnacious pug nose of a bull dog,
and the mouth and jaws of an ape. However, he was groomed to the
extreme. Take it from me, he was some little fashion plate all of his
own. This was a combination, to my mind, extremely difficult to tackle.
To be perfectly frank, he almost had my goat to start with. The thing
that bothered me most was the charge.

I was a soldier the day war was declared. The day before I had been a
hard plugging law senior in the University of Southern California—just
counting the days until I could realize my life’s ambition—to stand
before a court and plead a righteous cause. While like all other young
Americans I was happy to serve my country, yet at the declaration of
hostilities the thing that hurt me most was the fact that my perfectly
good legal education had all gone to the rocks for, as a soldier, I
could not see where my law could possibly serve any useful purpose.

It was Lincoln, I think, who said to be prepared for the opportunity so
when it knocked it could be accepted. Well, regardless of who said it,
my life’s ambition was before me. I had always wanted to plead a
righteous cause before a court—but I had never calculated that the
righteous cause would be my own. This was nothing more than a court and
I was to be the culprit appearing in my own behalf.

The proceedings had all the environment of a rural police court with the
solemnity and dignity of the Supreme Court of the United States. So much
pomp and red tape I never saw before in my life. The Sergeant went in,
clicked his heels together, saluted smartly and proceeded to babble away
in German. The Prussian officer looked up from his desk and snarled,
whereupon the Sergeant saluted again. Then he faced about, walked four
paces toward me, saluted and said with great feeling, “The Captain
commanding the camp commands your presence.” I wasn’t a soldier in the
true sense of the word. I was an aviator. I was a real snappy soldier
once, having been graduated from the New Mexico Military Institute; and,
having had some training in the line on the border and in the early
training camps. Since my judge seemed so strong on display, I decided to
compete for the prize, so I drew my shoulders back, put my chest out and
pulled my tummy in. As if by command and, by the numbers, I marched four
paces forward, clicked my heels together and in perfect cadence brought
my hand forward in a salute. Instead of bringing it down in the ordinary
manner, I pushed it straight forward and let it slap loudly against my
trousers. It sounded like the snapping of a champion bootblack’s cloth
as he finishes the job. The Captain stood, saluted and immediately sat
down. I thought he would ask me to have a chair, but it wasn’t being
done by the Prussians in those days so I stood there strictly at
attention looking directly at him like a tiger ready to spring. In a few
moments he got up again, holding a document long and engrossed. Clearing
his throat like a Chief Justice about to render an opinion, he proceeded
to babble, “Der Deutschen, etc.” After one mouthful, he turned to the
Sergeant and the Sergeant stiffened up even more rigidly and began to
interpret. I cannot repeat it verbatim, of course, but it went something
like this, not vouching for the accuracy of the names: “Whereas, I,
Antonio Mark Snicklefritz, Captain of the Imperial German Army, duly
appointed and ordained by the Imperial German Government through
Wilhelm, Emperor of Germany and Poland, in his own name, am entrusted
with the command of and authority over this Prison Camp at Landshut,
Bavaria, including all allied prisoners of war therein, do officially,
on behalf of the Imperial German Government, inform you, Oberleutnant
Elmer Haslett, Amerikaner, an Officer of the Air Service, that the
General of the Imperial German Army, Otto von Beetpots, commanding the
37th Army Corps of the Interior, has decreed, ordered, directed and
commanded that you have at Karlsruhe, Baden, on or about the fifteenth
of October, at night, disobeyed, disregarded and broken all rules
pertaining to prisoners of war in that you did wilfully, maliciously,
deliberately, and with malice aforethought, attempt to escape the
confines of the Prison Camp of the Imperial German Government; and that
in so doing you wilfully and maliciously destroyed and otherwise damaged
official property of the Imperial German Government in that you dug or
otherwise excavated earth from the confines of the Prison Camp of the
Imperial German Government. Whereupon, for these acts you were duly
sentenced to serve a period of solitary imprisonment, upon which
imprisonment you entered and which sentence and imprisonment have not
been completed. Therefore, the General von Beetpots, commanding the
forces of the Imperial German Government, and of the 37th German Army
Corps of the Interior, commands that you immediately, without delay, be
placed in solitary imprisonment for the unfulfilled period of your
sentence.” This was interpreted in twenty different relays and I
swallowed it all and was getting pretty tired of standing at attention,
so, as the officer spieled, I would stand on one foot and rest but when
the Sergeant started to talk, I would stiffen up and look directly at
him for the judge had his eyes focused on none other than the prisoner.
During this entire ceremony, the Justice of the Peace did not make one
gesture with his hand, simply holding the documents in his hands,
standing constantly at attention. He was more like a marble statue
holding a scroll.

Then, like most other courts, came the question, “Have you anything to
say?” My inoculation was beginning to take effect; my lips were hot and
my brow feverish, but, best, my brain was stimulated. I didn’t intend to
go to jail without a fight so I pitched my voice as low as possible and
sounded off slow and deliberately for I was not talking for time. Indeed
it was more than that. The sound of my voice gave me the moral courage I
needed. Looking straight at the Prussian and attempting to improvise a
proper form for my defense, I started out with something on this order:
“I,” and I threw out my chest an extra inch, “Elmer Haslett, First
Lieutenant Air Service, Army of the Democratic Republic of the United
States of America, having been entrusted as an officer of the Democratic
Republic of the United States of America with the duties, rights and
responsibilities of an accredited officer am, of course, entitled to all
the reciprocal courtesies of captured officers of belligerent nations;
and, therefore, as the officially authorized and duly accredited
representative of the Democratic Republic of the United States of
America I have the honor to submit to the Captain as the officially
authorized and duly accredited representative of the Imperial German
Government, the following answer to the matter he has just officially
communicated to me: That I, Elmer Haslett, First Lieutenant, United
States Air Service, do admit that part of the facts of the case stated
by the General Commanding the 37th Army Corps of the Interior are true,
especially in that I was captured in the act of escaping and had dug a
tunnel, thereby indirectly destroying the property of the Imperial
German Government, for which I was imprisoned at Karlsruhe. That during
this imprisonment, the officially authorized and duly accredited
representative of the Imperial German Government was a Feldwebel named
Schneider whom I, of course, had the right to presume was vested with
the authority of the Imperial German Government for he had given me
commands in the name of the Imperial German Government which I, of
course, did not hesitate to obey; he had given me privileges which I did
not hesitate to accept and when he made any statements or promises, I
took them as authorized and final statements and promises of the
Imperial German Government. Now, may it please the Captain commanding
the Camp to know that on leaving Karlsruhe for this camp, this same
Feldwebel officially informed me that I was leaving for a new camp and,
furthermore, that my penalty was complete for the reason that
misdemeanors against prison camps are local, which, in law is known in
Latin as the lex loci, and since my offense had only been an offense
against the prison camp at Karlsruhe, the penalty could not be imposed
or served in any other camp; therefore, the penalty for my offense was
absolutely completed. Therefore, since I, as the representative of the
United States of America, had dealt with no one officially except this
one representative of the Imperial German Government, I had just as much
authority for going to jail at his command as I had for leaving for this
new camp at his command and just as much right to believe that no other
sentence could be imposed for the misdemeanor committed. Now, may it
please the Captain, in view of these statements made to me, if any other
penalty is now imposed upon me, it will have to be for acts against the
German Government which I have committed at this Camp and unless the
Captain representing the forces of the German Government can point out
the offense I have committed at Landshut, under his jurisdiction, which
warrants my further imprisonment, I, Elmer Haslett, as the duly
accredited representative of the Democratic Government of the United
States of America, do consider the imprisonment as being without cause
and, therefore, absolutely illegal. Therefore, if the Captain as
representative of the Imperial German Government cares to imprison me
under these circumstances, I here and now protest very firmly before him
and request that an opportunity be given me to use the kind offices of
the high plenipotentiary minister of Switzerland, the high
plenipotentiary minister of Holland, the high plenipotentiary minister
of Spain, or other neutral representation in order that efforts may be
exercised in my behalf before Wilhelm, the Emperor of the Imperial
German Government. And here and now, I request to be put on record
before this court that I have claimed these rights under Article 26,
Geneva Convention, Article 23, London Agreement, Article 88, Hague War
Clause and Section 41, Article 12 of the International Treaty of Paris,
all respecting the rights and privileges of prisoners of war. This
concludes my answer and I wish to thank the Captain for his kind
courtesy in hearing this official protest.”

The old boy was taken off his feet. I couldn’t have pulled an improvised
spiel like that in ten years had I not been keyed up with the high,
raging fever and when I finished the reaction left me weak. But I was
sure that the Captain commanding the camp was fully convinced that I
knew what I was talking about. In fact, I felt that I could see it in
his very attitude. The Sergeant then told me that the Captain would
consider the proposition and let me know his decision. Of course, I
could not wait to get back and tell the boys how I had foxed the
Germans. I was just in the act of repeating and acting my long spiel to
them when the door opened and in came the Sergeant again. “Well,” I
thought, “the old boy has come to tell me that I do not need to serve my
penalty.” “Oberleutnant Haslett,” he called before everybody, “the
Captain commanding the Camp has decided that you will go to jail at
once.” Well, believe me, I could have been knocked over with a hair of a
feather. The boys gave me the merry titter and the royal ha! ha! I tried
to argue with the Sergeant but he evidently had my number. “Come on,
pack up,” he said, “and don’t try to pull your line on me. I’m acting
under orders.” So amidst considerable personal embarrassment, I picked
up my few belongings, which consisted of a note book, a wooden back
toothbrush and a quarter loaf of bread, and the Sergeant walked me over
to the guard house. Here he assigned me a hard looking guard who,
menacingly, loaded up his rifle right before me which, admittedly, had
the moral effect intended; and then, followed by every boche youngster
in the whole town, I was in military fashion marched down through the
old village and lodged in the town jail.

It was a whopper of a jail for a small town. We went up to the third
floor back, after locking three steel partitions behind us. We finally
came to the cell rooms and the guard rang for the key. After a time, a
hoary relic of the Napoleonic days shuffled in and with great ceremony
produced the fatal steel and turned the lock. Whereupon I entered and
automatically the door was closed behind me. This cell was about five
feet wide and eight feet long. The bed, or rather the bunk, folded up
against the wall and was locked. It couldn’t be opened, although I tried
many times. The walls were blank and bare and at the rear was a high
barred window with a slanting projection which made it even impossible
to look out. The door was massive steel and one look at it convinced me
that I was in a real cell in a real jail and I was a real jail bird. Not
having had a great deal of experience with jails, I naturally thought it
was a horrible place, although I am told it was really a very nice jail,
as far as jails are concerned, but at that, it was damp, musty and cold.
At the door was an electric push button and since there were no
telephones or servants in attendance, I naturally supposed this was to
call the attendant. Practically exhausted from my fever and the long
walk, I sat down on a wobbly old stool and stared at the wall, gradually
getting physically weaker, but seemingly mentally more alert. In a
moment I began to chill and I realized that I would have to lie down.
The bed was locked. The cold stone floor was not inviting so I tried to
ring the buzzer and I buzzed intermittently for about five minutes.
There was no response. It was a desperate situation. I had to lie down
and still I must have some covers, so I wedged a match in the buzzer in
order that it would keep on buzzing until some one answered. Then from
sheer exhaustion and faintness I fell to the floor. This continued
buzzing soon brought the attendant up and, believe me, he was very, very
peeved. He came in, snatched the match from the push button and began to
swear and make some furious ejaculations which I couldn’t understand and
it wouldn’t have made much difference anyway. In reply to my insistent
demands that he unlock the bed at once, he did nothing but say, “Nein,
Nein, Seben Heur,” that is, “No, not until seven o’clock.” I asked him
to send for the prison officer but he insisted that the officer would
not come up. I told him that I was an officer myself and that I was sick
and had a right to see an officer. He did nothing but slam the door in
my face. Something told me I was on my last leg and I must soon get out
of that place or something would happen that I would never remember. So
summoning every ounce of my remaining strength, shivering and chilly, I
took my note book and wrote an official protest couched in language not
proper for publication, addressing it to the Spanish Minister. It was a
last hunch. When I finished, I again put a match in the buzzer. This
time the old boy was certainly fierce but he had nothing on me. I was in
the same condition myself. Like two tigers we came together. He
cautiously opened the door for he knew from my previous attitude that I
was liable to make a jump at his throat. Reaching his hand back to his
hip so that if I started anything he could draw his gun, he demanded to
know what I meant by ringing the buzzer again. Insane with rage and
raging fever, I shook my fist in his face and said, “For the Officer,”
whereupon I madly slapped myself on the chest and said, “Ich bin ein
Officeren Amerikaner,” which, if correct, is to say, “I am an American
Officer and must be treated as such.” Reluctantly and disgustedly, he
took the paper and started to pull the door shut again. I staggered
forward to impress upon him the fact that I needed medical attention at
once. Too late, the door was closed. Whether from pure anger or from
actual exhaustion, I don’t know, but for some reason I simply went down
to take the count.

I was awakened by some one shaking me. Dazed, I got up. Three hours had
elapsed. With head swimming, I looked around. Before me was the prison
attendant, the Sergeant interpreter of the Camp and the Commanding
Officer of the Camp with whom I had had the set-to that morning. It was
another court but this time the ceremony on my part was lacking for I
sat on the stool. The Captain straightened and again stood stiffly at
attention, while the Sergeant interpreted: “I, Antonio Mark
Snicklefritz, Captain Commanding the Prison Camp at Landshut, am
directed by the General Commanding the German Military District of
Münich to inform you, Elmer Haslett, Oberleutnant, Air Service, American
Army, that the General has decreed that you be released from solitary
imprisonment until further orders.” As expected, the “further orders”
never came.



                                  XIII
                              “COMING OUT”


The modern débutante looks forward with no little anxiety to her “Coming
Out.” It is naturally quite an event for, veritably, she is imprisoned,
as it were, by the conventions which do not permit her to take her place
among the friends of the inner circle until she has been formally
presented by her “coming out.”

So, the prisoners of war, even after the Armistice, were withheld from
their friends until the “coming out,” which consisted of the formalities
of turning the prisoners over to their friends. Naturally, it was quite
an event. But, believe me, no débutante could possibly anticipate her
“coming out” with the keenness and anxiety that the American prisoners
of war could theirs. We, too, had planned it all—of course, not so much
as to the clothes we would wear, but more especially as to the things we
would eat.

Several days previous to the signing of the Armistice, we heard that the
people of Bavaria had revolted, and that the will of the “Soldiers and
Workmen” was paramount. Although locked in the confines of a prison
camp, the proverbial little bird told us that something was in the
air—indeed, one felt it in the atmosphere—for, if a new republic was
formed, they were certainly not the enemies of the United States, so we
would indeed soon be “coming out.”

The regulation cap of the German officer and soldier is adorned by two
buttons in the front center—the top and larger button having the colors
of the Imperial German Government in the form of a miniature cocarde,
while the lower and smaller button is made up of the colors of the
German State from which the officer or soldier hails. Thus, all the
soldiers at our camp had the large German button and the smaller one of
green and white, the colors of the State of Bavaria.

One day, around the first of November, we noticed that all the officers
and soldiers of the camp, including the hardboiled Prussian Captain, had
taken off the prominent German button. Then there was a definite
certainty that the revolution was on. We did not know how loyal to the
new Government the soldiers were going to be, and we were rather
concerned as to what the attitude of the new Bavarian Republic would be
toward us, for we had heard nothing about our release. All sorts of
rumors began floating around that camp—some to the effect that the
soldiers and workmen were coming up to mob us for being Americans,
others, more popular, that they were coming up to release us, others
that we were going to die of slow starvation on account of the shortage
of food, and still others that we were going to be sent to Switzerland
for protection.

With all these things before us, a vigilance committee was formed, and
we all got together and had a meeting. “Jimmy” Hall, being the senior
officer present, automatically became chairman. So, the big question was
“For whom would we declare?”—the old German régime or the new Bavarian
revolutionary party. Naturally, on such a momentous subject, we had
quite a number of bursts of oratory, and a lot of arguments were laid
down on both sides of the question, but, at the same time, neither of us
knew anything about either of them. We viewed it from an economical and
military phase, but most of all, for the present at least, we looked at
it from the standpoint of “things to eat.”

But judged by the solemnity and seriousness of the conference, the
destiny of the world was seemingly at stake, so we asked one bird, who
was sort of a jay, what he thought about it. “Mr. Chairman,” he said
seriously, “I make a resolution that we declare that we are for the
party that gets us out of Germany the fastest, and we don’t give a damn
which one it is.” At that, the meeting almost ended in a riot, though in
my mind the jay had absolutely the correct solution. Finally, it was
decided that we would leave our fate to the council of three—the three
most influential prisoners in camp, the controllers of the food supply,
namely, the Red Cross Committee.

Shortly, conditions began to get real tense around there, and we
actually didn’t know what was going to happen for, about our camp, the
prison authorities had hoisted the red flag of Socialism. The few days
during which that flag stayed there were the only days of my life that I
have not been a Republican—I was a Socialist like all the rest of our
boys, from force of circumstances.

Amid all this excitement, we were summoned together, and the official
representative of the new revolutionary party came up to address us.
Amid the quietness of death, the great man announced to us that he was
now the great representative of the Great Revolutionary Party, and that
the Great People of the Greater State of Bavaria had had a greatest
revolution—not a bloody revolution like the Russians, but a quiet,
orderly revolution, for realizing that the old government had failed to
take care of the needs of the common people, the soldiers and the
workmen of Bavaria had gotten together and had overthrown the monarchy.
The outcome had been the ideal democratic form of government—a
Republic—and the revolution had been entirely successful, for the
soldiers and workmen were in complete authority and command and the old
régime had been entirely displaced. “Indeed,” he said, “everybody
realized the inevitable and made no attempt to stop the onward movement,
and such a thing as mob violence or shooting has been unheard of.”

He had just started on his next sentence when, down in the town, a
machine gun sputtered. We had been hearing pot shots occasionally for
some time. So we all began to laugh. It was a rather embarrassing
situation, and the old boy immediately modified his statement to the
effect that in rare instances there had been a little shooting. Then he
went on and blabbered about fifteen minutes more as to the aims of the
new Government, what it had in mind, how it wished especially to be the
friend of America and the good things it was going to do for the
prisoners, and, as a Republic, the prisoners would, of course, be
released. Here was the one thing that interested us, so, at this with
one voice the prisoner colony responded, as if to a yell leader, “When!”
The great man was almost taken off his feet by the anxious débutantes
anticipating the “coming out.”

“Of course,” he went on graciously, “those are details that will have to
be arranged later.” Our release may have been simply regarded as a
detail to him, but we held it much more important. In fact, the
situation looked so serious to us that only the continual talk of the
general armistice kept the bunch from attempting a wholesale “coming
out.”

Finally, the armistice came, and that day was the greatest of my whole
life—not so much for the reason that I would soon be released, but
because I was in a position to observe the Germans in absolute misery. I
have heard a lot of people say that their arrogance was not affected by
the armistice, but that is all bunk. They were humiliated to the
extreme—they whined around like a pen of stuck pigs—they thought the
terms of the armistice were terrible, inhumane, and impossible. As
usual, they blamed it all on England. I could have stayed there for
months just enjoying their misery in crying over the terrible terms laid
down.

I was getting good and sick of the Germans, as such, for they had worked
some good gags on us at that camp at Landshut. They took all our
clothes, including shoes, to have them fumigated in order, as they said,
to safeguard the health of the camp, and, as a substitute, they issued
us old Russian prisoner uniforms. For shoes, they gave us some toy paper
bedroom slippers, which could be bought in an American novelty store for
a dime. To our surprise, in a few days these clothes were returned to
us, unfumigated, in fact, untouched except thoroughly searched. It was
the typical shell game under the guise of Kultur, for, at the end of the
month, we found that we had been charged three dollars for the said
shoes, and, since the Germans controlled the prisoners’ exchequer, the
transaction would not permit of any argument.

Another time, I was soaked outright. The officer at my previous prison
camp at Karlsruhe gave me a receipt for my fast dwindling purse. When I
presented this receipt at Landshut, the authorities stated that they had
no record of it, but that, if I would turn over this receipt to them,
they would send it to Karlsruhe for verification. Like a boob, I turned
the receipt over, and I have never seen it or the money since. I
demanded the money several times afterwards, but demands, when a
prisoner, do not carry a great deal of pull.

Shortly after the armistice, the orders came for us to be taken to
another camp, preparatory to our “coming out.” Our Red Cross food supply
had been running short for some time, and, just the way things always
happen, a carload of food arrived for us the day we started for the new
camp. On our trip, they sent the customary number of guards along,
including the sergeant interpreter of the camp, whose name was Kapp, and
who was in charge of the party. The railways were congested, as they
usually were in Germany, so Herr Kapp sat in our compartment, and his
presence eliminated the necessity of the objectionable guards.

Herr Kapp was a well-to-do German of the middle class, an artist by
profession, well educated, and about forty years old. The only objection
I had to Kapp was that, like most other Germans, he was an habitual
liar. However, he tried to be a good fellow, which was decidedly in his
favor, and there was one other good thing about him—his unusually good
sense of humor.

Realizing the uniqueness of our position, which happens only once in a
couple of centuries, namely, being a member of the victorious army about
to pass from the hands of the enemy, I sought to engage Herr Kapp in
honest, frank conversation, since there could now be no reason for
deceptions. After a while, he opened up, so I asked him when he
considered the German cause was at its best. He said that it was
undoubtedly in the early part of the War, when the Germans were at the
gates of Paris. I asked him when he thought the tide had turned, and he
said that the German people realized, on July 18, 1918, when the Allies
attacked between Château-Thierry and Soissons, that thereafter Germany
was fighting the War on the defensive.

“What,” I asked, “was the attitude of the German people toward their
prospects of victory when America entered the War?”

“Well,” he calmly replied, “to a large number of the common people who,
of course, read the Governmental propaganda, they only considered it as
a big bluff, for they reasoned that it would be impossible for America
to transport her army overseas. You see,” he went on, “the reports of
the sinking of allied ships by our submarines had been greatly
exaggerated, and the general public honestly thought that America could
do no more harm as a belligerent than she could as a neutral, for she
was so unprepared that, before she could possibly raise an army, the Von
Tirpitz U-boat warfare would have brought the Allies to their knees.
But,” he continued emphatically, “to us educated and thinking Germans,
we quite well knew that, when America declared war, it was all over for
us unless we succeeded in capturing Paris, which, of course, would
paralyze the French Railway System, and cut off the Allies’ means of
transportation and supply to the front. This was the reason for our big
spring drive. It was a last hope, and we banked everything on its
success. America won the war for the Allies.”

“Herr Kapp,” I said, “do the German people realize that America entered
the war from purely unselfish reasons—only as a matter of principle—and
that they expect to gain nothing materially?”

“Oh,” he laughed sarcastically, “how could any nation make the sacrifice
that America was prepared to make and yet expect to gain nothing
material from it. That is not to be expected. But,” he continued, “the
truth of the matter is this. Your President had made us so many
promises, so many speeches in which he stated that he was the friend of
the German people that, when it came to the worst, we took him up—for
the German people expected that he would make good on some of his
utterances, but, when the terms of the armistice were made public, they
knew that either Wilson had been overruled, or that the German people
had been a bunch of suckers and had bitten the wrong bait.”

“But at that,” he emphasized, “the Germans feel no natural animosity
toward the Americans, but they hate the French and despise the English.”

Kapp told us that our destination was Villingen, which was a prison camp
in the State of Baden. The journey was very slow on account of the
congestion, so the day before we arrived there, as we were sidetracked
at one town, Kapp left us to call Landshut on the long distance. When he
returned, we knew that something was terribly wrong—he was as pale as a
ghost. Poor old Kapp! I never saw a man so nervous and upset. He acted
like a rooky after being bawled out by a drill sergeant, and he fidgeted
and twisted like an old maid about to say the words “I do.” Finally, I
summoned enough courage to ask him what it was all about, for I thought
perhaps that hostilities had been resumed.

“Anything wrong, Herr Kapp?” I asked.

“Wrong!” he ejaculated bitterly. “Hell, everything’s wrong!”

“What do you mean?” we all anxiously asked, for his attitude was just
cause for alarm.

“Well,” he went on, “I have just called Landshut and they are
demobilizing the camp to-day, and the men are all going to their homes.”

“What’s the matter with that?” I inquired, for this was to my mind the
natural thing to do.

“Oh, my,” he said, surprised at our lack of understanding, “That car of
Red Cross food arrived for you prisoners, and the rest of the camp
officials will hook it all before I get back to get my share.”

All the way on the journey, Kapp had talked about the very nice girl he
knew in Villingen, and that he was surely going to visit her for a few
days before he returned to Landshut. So, as we were pulling into
Villingen, I told Kapp that I certainly hoped he would have a pleasant
visit with his girl friend at Villingen.

“Visit nothing,” he came back emphatically, “I’m going to turn you
prisoners over to the authorities here and take the first train back to
Landshut. There may yet be a little of that Red Cross food left.”

Villingen was a real prison camp—believe me it was, compared to those we
had been in. They had real spring mattresses, a prisoners’ orchestra, a
couple of pianos, a library, a tennis court, hand-ball court,
basket-ball court, nice place to walk in, and a nice kitchen where
prisoners could cook their own recipes, and best of all, they had quite
a lot of Red Cross food, even butter. I regretted a plenty that all my
prison life had not been spent at that camp, for it was the best I had
seen.

When we got to Villingen, we received a fresh supply of rumors as to
just when we were going to be released. With all this anticipation, the
days were unusually long, for every day was filled with added promises
which the Germans never fulfilled. So, after we had been there a few
days, I began to think we never were going to get out if we waited for
the help of the Germans. So, I decided to have my own “coming out.”

I tried to escape for three nights straight, even getting so far as to
breaking the lock on an abandoned gate and cutting the barbed wire
enclosing the windows, but something always went wrong. Every time we
had to run on account of being discovered by the guards. The fourth day,
an American Artillery colonel, who was the senior officer of the
prisoners, called a meeting and stated that the Germans had turned the
government of the prisoners over to him, and, as commanding officer, he
forbade any more attempts to escape. I thought then and I think now that
the Colonel was entirely without his rights. The armistice did not
affect our status of prisoners, for there was still a state of war, and,
as long as there is a state of war, to my mind there is a corresponding
duty on the part of all prisoners to return to their own forces; and no
superior officer, regardless of rank, has the right to excuse the
failure of any prisoner to perform this duty, and certainly not to
forbid even attempting the performance. This Colonel stated that, as
commanding officer, he had given the parole of all the prisoners. This
was again absolutely the assumption of rights not his own. This
assumption of our personal privileges as men and soldiers was the only
thing that kept several of us from again trying to escape, for a man’s
word of honor is too serious a thing to permit juggling with, even when
given away without his consent.

Finally, the orders came to leave, and one bright morning they assembled
us, the Air Service officers being last—probably because that was where
we stood in the estimation of the American Artillery colonel. The German
officer in charge of the camp came out and made a speech about the great
friendship of the German and American people, in which he said that the
Allies and Germans were both victorious—Germany’s victory being in that
she had found a new Republic. But it was not a time for speechmaking—it
was a time for action for us, and, like a bunch of race horses, we pawed
the earth to get a head start for that train.

To our surprise, they had first-class coaches to carry us out of
Germany, although they had taken us in and moved us around in everything
from cattle cars to third and fourth class coaches.

We got to Constanz, on the border of Switzerland, and, of course,
expected to change trains and go right ahead. To our disappointment, we
found that the Americans had not made any preparations to carry us
through Switzerland, and we had to wait at Constanz a couple of days
until the Americans showed some speed. Believe me, I damned America
right, left, laterally, and longitudinally for their lack of
preparation. I afterwards was very sorry and found that it was not the
fault of the Americans at all. But I was mighty peeved to be forced to
eat “Bully Beef” in Germany on Thanksgiving.

I think it was about five o’clock, on the morning of the thirtieth of
November, that we crossed the border, and believe me I never want to
hear such pandemonium again as those two hundred American prisoners gave
as we were pulled out of Germany, and were actually again in the hands
of friends. We had shaken hands with our hostess at the “coming out,”
for I didn’t see a single house along our railroad all through
Switzerland from five in the morning until midnight that did not have
the American flag waving. Everywhere were men, women and children madly
waving handkerchiefs and flags as that train went by.

I felt as if I were in heaven. It was wonderful of Switzerland, but, of
course, it was the fact that we represented the Great America which
caused the demonstration as they had a sincere respect for our
friendship.

At Berne, the ladies of the American Red Cross met us and served us hot
roast chicken. Take it from me, it was good. Everyone had a ravenous
appetite. When we were filled to the brim, the boys got together and
appointed me yell leader, and we gave fifteen “raws” for the Red Cross,
the Y. M. C. A., the Salvation Army, Switzerland, Berne, the Allies, and
the U.S.A. The natives thought perhaps that we were lunatics, but those
who understood America knew it was the only immediately available way we
had of expressing our appreciation. So we repeated our performance at
Lucerne, and at Lausanne, and at Geneva.

Hours meant nothing to the austere Swiss on that night, for when we
pulled into Geneva at 11 P. M., there was the same tremendous crowd,
with American flags, good cheer, and things to eat. All the way along,
even from the first, it was the same. At one little town where we
stopped for the engine to get water, there was only one little store
near the railroad, but the Swiss man who ran it gave us every bit of
wine he had in there, which was about thirty bottles, and then began to
feed us cookies. He could speak nothing but German, which was “Alles for
den Amerikaner,” meaning “Everything for the Americans.” And he seemed
pleased to have the opportunity to do it. In that part of Switzerland,
they speak German, but, of course, around Lausanne and Geneva, French is
the common tongue.

But it was a real “coming out.” In fact, it was Cæsar’s Triumphal March,
Woodrow Wilson’s entrance into Paris, and Pershing on Fifth Avenue, all
combined, for we were the King Bees when it came to Swiss chocolate, and
they certainly handed it out. I became so ill that I could barely
navigate, but it all seemed so much like a dream that I continued to
consume chocolate whether I wanted to or not for fear the dream would
end.

On the morning of December first, we crossed the border at Bellegarde.
There was a big hospital train waiting to meet us, but, for some reason
or other, their orders would not permit them to pull out before six or
seven that evening. Our destination was some hospital near Dijon. That
didn’t sound interesting to me. I was tired of being confined, and I
felt that it was my duty to join my organization for the war was still
on. So, I took some of my most valued friends into my confidence, and
relieved them of every cent of money they had, from pfennigs to
souvenirs, which I finally got exchanged, and got enough French money to
get a third-class passage to Paris.

So, when the Geneva-Paris express pulled in, I took my seat. My clothes
must have been awful, for I noticed the poor peasant women taking
unpleasant sniffs at me. However, my pride had long since ceased to be
on my sleeve, so I sniffed right back at ’em. Just before we left, I was
sitting back there in that third-class compartment, packed up in a
corner like an oiled sardine, when, outside in the companion way I
noticed a distinguished looking man, well dressed, with a big diamond
flashing. Certainly he belonged in a first-class compartment, and I
wondered what he was doing back there among us common peasants. As he
stood there a newsboy came along, hollering “La Liberte,” and since the
sight of a well-dressed man had recalled to my mind the fact that I,
too, had once been more or less of a gentleman who could afford a
newspaper, I stopped the boy. “Garcon,” I said, “donnez moi un journal.”
That is, “Give me a paper.” The lad handed me a paper and also his hand,
and so I reached in my pocket and realized that I had spent my last sous
for that railroad ticket. Quite embarrassed, I handed the paper back and
told him I didn’t want the paper after all. This man on the outside
looked in, and to my great surprise spoke up in English. “Well,” he
smiled, “you look like an American.” “Yes, sir,” I replied, “I am an
American.”

“Well,” he continued, offering his hand, “I’m an American too. Boggs is
my name.” I extended my fist and said, “My name is Lieutenant Haslett.”

“Lieutenant?” he said, with surprise, looking for my insignia of rank.
“I must say you look more like a buck private.” Whereupon I found it was
necessary to explain that I had been a prisoner and had just gotten out.
He bought the paper for me from the anxious news kid and came across
then and offered to give me money or anything else I needed.

Modestly I responded that I really didn’t need it; that I would be all
right, for when I got back to Paris the next morning I would soon be
fixed up. Mr. Boggs insisted that I come up to the first-class
compartment to meet some very charming American women and some French
countesses. I must admit that, even though I did have a lot of
self-pride in not wanting to make my appearance under such
disadvantageous conditions, yet the opportunity to talk to a real
American woman sounded like soft music to my ears.

I was on the point of declining when he pulled out a real Havana cigar,
which certainly would have cost him a couple of dollars at the Café de
Paris or “Ciro’s.”

“Here,” he said, handing it over, “you must want this, since you have
probably not had a real cigar for a long time.”

I could not resist this invitation, and when I put my teeth on that
cigar and took the first puff I condescended right away to permit the
charming ladies to be presented to me. The first thing the ladies did
was to offer me a piece of chocolate. I would not have touched chocolate
for a thousand dollars, for I had had so much of it in Switzerland that
it was almost obnoxious. However, I could not tell them that I had been
fed up or they would not have had so much sympathy for me, for what I
especially craved was sympathy and what I most especially desired was to
be petted. So I told them that I was very sorry that I couldn’t accept
their chocolate for the reason that the doctor had told me not to eat
anything at all until I had gone to the specialist at Paris to see if
anything was wrong with my stomach.

I soon realized what a bonehead remark I had made, for shortly
afterwards Countess B—— pulled out some lovely club sandwiches. There
were tears of regret in my eyes as my mouth watered like a spring—but
that doctor gag was my story and I had to stick to it.

We talked quite a while and I smoked another one of this American’s good
cigars, and then, by means of my olfactory sense, I realized that my
clothes were making the air a little uncomfortable in there, so I
excused myself and told them that I wished to go back to my compartment,
as I felt awfully embarrassed looking so poorly among such lovely and
refined people. Of course, they insisted that I stay in their
compartment the remainder of the night, as there was plenty of room and
I could stretch out and rest my weary bones while they should, like good
angels, watch over me. This sounded real, but I knew from a personal
standpoint that my welcome had expired as soon as they had seen the
curiosity, namely, the prisoner of war, and that it would be more
comfortable for all concerned that I hie me back among the peasants.

I had been to Paris quite a number of times. The old saying was that
“all roads lead to Rome,” but the new one of the American Army was “all
Army orders read to Paris,” it being an unwritten law that all army
travel orders were via Paris. So in my visits I had naturally learned
the customs and rules with respect to reporting to our Military Police
of Paris.

The old rule upon entering Paris was that if you intended to stay over
twenty-four hours you must go to 10 Rue St. Anne, which was the
headquarters of the Provost Marshal of the American Military Police, and
register, stating your hotel, the nature of your business, when you were
leaving, and the time. If you did not intend to stay twenty-four hours
or over you did not need to register. Of course, I generally managed to
stay twenty-three hours and fifty-nine minutes, at which time I was
generally broke and had to leave. But this morning, when I arrived at
the Gare de Lyons, I was confronted with a tremendous and complete
surprise. Preceding me was a line of about fifty officers, ranging in
rank from Colonel to Second Lieutenant, and on down to privates, and in
front of them was a big desk and two bigger M. P.’s presided over by an
officious looking Second Lieutenant, and above them a sign:


  “New Regulations, G.H.Q.—No officers or enlisted men under the rank
  of Brigadier General will be allowed to leave this station or enter
  Paris without first registering here, giving authority for travel,
  hotel, nature of business, and when officer or man will leave the
  city.

                                       “By order of General Pershing.”


Stunned and shocked, I stood on the side lines and watched. Every one
who passed this desk showed written orders and was given a little blue
check which the M. P.’s seemed to honor. Things sure looked both black
and blue for me. I had no insignia whatever—from appearances I was a
private and my uniform was as dirty as a coal scuttle, but at the same
time they could tell I was an American. I certainly looked like the last
rose of summer after the first winter frost. I figured the small chance
I would have of talking my way through that Lieutenant Provost Marshal.
Just as sure as could be they would take me up to 10 Rue St. Anne and
quarantine me, fumigate me, and hold me for orders. It was the old Army
game of waiting for orders, and, believe me, that wasn’t the object of
my visit to Paris. I realized that if I once got to my hotel I could
spend a couple of days there without even being seen or known and could
eat to the limit of my bank account. I felt that under the circumstances
General Pershing would bear me out, provided I could get that high up in
presenting my case.

So I decided to make a reconnaissance of the station, hoping for better
luck. I sauntered around, by every exit, and there was either a
Frenchman there who wouldn’t let me by or there was an American who, of
course, wouldn’t budge. I thought of getting on an outgoing train and
being pulled down to the yards and leaving by that way. So I began to
walk down the tracks. Finally I found an open gate where the tracks
enter for the freight depot.

“Well,” I thought, “this will be easy!” I started to walk through when I
saw standing in the sentry box a hardboiled buck private—an American. In
his hand he had a regular New York billy stick. He saw me, and it was
too late to turn back. He walked out and stuck out his jaw, like a
bulldog, and said, “Hey, guy, where you goin’?” Of course, he couldn’t
tell me from a private, so I got just as hardboiled as he was and stuck
out my jaw and said, “Hello, Buddie! What are you doin’?” “Where yuh
going?” he demanded gruffly. “Damned if I know, Bud,” I growled. “I’m
getting tired of hanging around Paris. I’m tired of it. I want to get to
the front or where the front was. You know, Buddie, they told me when
they drafted me into the Army I’d get to the front. I’ve never even
heard a gun fire. I’ve been stationed in the rear all the time, and now
the blamed war is over, and I ain’t never seen none of it. I’ll go back,
and my girl will say, ‘Reuben, tell me about the war; what were you in?’
And, Buddy, won’t I feel like the devil when I have to ’fess up and tell
them that I was a soldier in Paris?”

I looked at his arm, and I saw that he had a wound stripe. “Looky
there!” I snapped out proudly. “You’ve got a wound stripe, ain’t yuh?”
“Yep,” he replied, equally proud. “Gosh, you’re lucky,” I said
assuringly. “You’ve been to the front; tell me about it, for I ain’t
never had no chance to talk to a real red-blooded guy what’s been to the
front yet.”

This was the prize stroke, for he broke loose and told me his whole
story. He said he had been at Château-Thierry, in the Second Division,
and was sore because the Marines got all the credit for it, while, as a
matter of fact, it was his own regiment that did all the dirty work. He
himself, according to his story, had attacked a machine gun nest alone,
had got ten prisoners, and, incidentally, got wounded in the hip. I
impressed upon him how lucky he was to have gotten through it alive;
then I glanced at his chest and I saw upon it the green and yellow
ribbon meaning Mexican Border Service.

[Illustration: COLONEL BRERETON, MAJOR HASLETT AND OTHERS BEING
DECORATED AT COBLENZ]

“What decoration is that?” I asked, curiously, “the Medal of Honor?”
“No,” he said, boisterously putting his finger on the ribbon. “You know
what that is, don’t you?” “No,” I affirmed, “I ain’t never seen no
decorations.” “Well,” he said, realizing he had an easy one, “why,
that’s the Croix de Guerre.” I gripped him by the hand and slapped him
on the shoulder and told him he was the most interesting man and the
bravest man that I had ever met and that I sure wanted to meet him
again, but that I had to browse on to-day and we would get together some
night when we got paid and go to the Folies Bergère and see the theater.
So the old boy offered me a chew of tobacco, took one himself and again
proudly shaking his hand I passed on.

I had to walk all the way up to town because I didn’t have any money to
hire a taxi, nor could I even pay my carfare. Finally I got up to the
Place de l’Opera, where I went into my American bank and wrote out a
check for about two hundred and fifty francs, as I still had a little
money on deposit there. As is the custom with those very shrewd and
careful French bank clerks, the Frenchman took the check back to consult
the books to see if I had that much money on credit. When he came back
he looked at me suspiciously over the top rims of his spectacles and
said accusingly, “Where did you get that check?” “Well,” I replied,
surprised at his attitude, “where do you suppose I got it. I just now
wrote it.” “Be careful,” he answered sarcastically, “don’t lie.” “Where
do you get that noise?” I demanded, thoroughly insulted. “Well,” he
insisted, “we won’t cash that check. That man is dead.” “Who’s dead?” I
asked sharply. “Well, you see,” he explained, “our books report that
Elmer Haslett was killed in action September 30, 1918.” “Well,” I
laughed, appreciating the joke, “I’m the guy—been a prisoner of war and
have just gotten back and, as is to be expected, I’ve got to have some
money.” “All right,” he answered, as if about to accommodate me, “you
prove that you are Elmer Haslett.” “I’ve no papers on me, of course,”
and I puzzled for a second. “You see, I’ve been a prisoner of war, but
just compare my signature with any previous ones.” That wasn’t
sufficient evidence for him, so I asked him to suggest the means of
identity. “It is very simple,” he explained. “Get the Military Police at
10 Rue St. Anne to state that you are Elmer Haslett.” Of course, the
prospect of appearing at 10 Rue St. Anne was out of the question, for
reasons stated. I must try new means to obtain the wherewithal. With new
hopes, I walked over to the Hotel Chatham. They had changed clerks there
and so when I asked for a room the clerk told me very politely that they
had none. I knew then they simply considered me as an undesirable guest
on account of my appearance, but I also knew that if I had a chance to
get a room in Paris at all on my present appearance it would have to be
at the Chatham, where I had previously been known. I told the clerk that
I had been at the Chatham many times and that they certainly knew me,
that my name was Elmer Haslett. “Oh, yes, yes,” he said politely, “we
know you, Mr. Haslett, but we simply have no rooms.” I asked to see the
proprietor, but he wasn’t in. Things looked rather bad, when along came
the dignified old concierge. Just as big as could be, I walked up and
extended my hand to the concierge. “How are you, Henry?” I said, about
to embrace him. He drew back in amazement, looking at me like a powerful
judge looks at an overfriendly bolshevik. But I had his hand, so he
couldn’t get loose. “Well, sir,” he said sternly, “I don’t think I’ve
ever seen you before.” I thought of all the woes of poor old Rip Van
Winkle—I too had actually changed. But I couldn’t give up. “Come on,
Henry, come on,” I said. “You know me—I’m Haslett, who used to be here
with Len Hammond.” “Oh,” he blustered, equally shocked, “I know
Lieutenant Haslett, but you’re not Lieutenant Haslett.” “I beg your
pardon, but I am,” I replied, getting a little heated. “I’m getting
tired of having people tell me I’m not. Now what I want, Henry, is a
room, and the clerk says he has no rooms, and I know damned well he has.
I look like the devil, I know. But listen,” and I whispered in his ear.
“Don’t tell it, but I have just gotten back from Germany, where I’ve
been a prisoner of war, and I don’t want the newspapers to know it
because I want to have a few days rest. You go up and tell him I’m all
right and want a room. You know me, Henry. I’ll fix it up right with
you.” The prisoner sympathy stuff did not have the pull with Henry as
the magic little words “I’ll fix it right with you.” That seems to get
by everywhere. So the old boy went over and fixed it up and assigned me
to one of the nicest rooms they had. For the rest of the morning I kept
two servants busy bringing me food and charging it to my bill. Then I
wrote a check, dating it before my capture, and proceeded to send it to
the concierge. He cashed it and then life was a little more easy.

Just as I was leaving the hotel I ran on to some of my friends—the first
boys I had seen since I left Germany, and, of course, they wouldn’t let
me leave, but took me up and bought me a big dinner. They took me to the
Café de Paris and, believe me, I was some sensation, for while I had
been eating and had eaten plentifully those few days, I still had a lot
to make up for and I had a huge appetite. In fact, it was a continuing
appetite. The bill at the Café for the three of us was something like
$45.00, because I ordered everything they had, which, of course,
included the necessary emoluments, and fixtures, and all the dainty and
choice things both in season and out. Finally I tore loose and took a
taxi down to the Gare de l’Est, where I found practically the same
situation as at the Gare de Lyons, only that you had to show orders
before you could purchase a ticket. My train left at 3:00 o’clock and it
was now about five minutes before time for the train to pull out. I knew
it would be impossible to go through the red tape of getting a ticket O.
K.’d, for I had the big chance of being held. I rushed up to the ticket
window and asked for a ticket to Bar-le-Duc. The lady shook her head and
tried to tell me in English that it was impossible to sell tickets to
the Americans without a purchase authorization check. With apparent
surprise I demanded in French that she speak French or Belgian. Thinking
that I was making remarks about her rotten English, she proceeded to
tell me the same in French. “Ha! ha! ha! Madame,” I laughed. “You make
me laugh very much. That is very funny. I am very pleased at your
compliment. Do you think I am American or Belgian?” I had almost
forgotten my French, but it came in very good play, for she fell for it,
demanded my pardon most profusely and immediately forked over a ticket.
It was just about time for the train. I knew I couldn’t pull any smooth
gag on this hardboiled M. P., so I started to rush through, handing him
my railroad ticket. “Hey,” and he grabbed me, “where are you going?”
“I’m going to take this train for Bar-le-Duc,” I replied hurriedly.
“Well,” he demanded, “where’s your yellow ticket?” “What yellow ticket?”
I said, surprised that such a thing even existed. “You’ve got to have a
yellow ticket before you can pass through this gate,” he said,
emphatically and not permitting argument. “Here, here’s my railroad
ticket,” I repeated nervously, casting my eyes on the train. “I don’t
care,” he said in a voice indicating that his patience was about gone,
“where’s your yellow ticket?” “I haven’t got one,” I replied. “I didn’t
know I had to have that.” “You go back there,” and he pointed to one of
the windows and explained in detail as to one who was good and dense,
“see the M. P. and get your orders stamped and he will give you a yellow
ticket, and you can’t get by this gate until you do.” “Oh, Hell! Come
on, Buddy,” I said, “I can’t do all that. I’m just coming back from
leave. If I do all that I’ll miss my train. Come on, Bud, let me by.
Why, I’ll get K. P. for a week if I don’t get there to-night. It’s my
last chance. You wouldn’t hold up a buddy that way, would you?” and
believe me, I looked appealingly. He looked at me a moment. The
conductor was already blowing his little whistle signal and then he gave
up. “Go on! The war is over,” he said. It was the example of the
American soldier and the big soft spot they have for their buddies. He
couldn’t resist the chance to help a pal. So I passed the gates and got
on the train and went to Bar-le-Duc. On the train I ran onto a guy I
knew and we talked over old times and I got to Chaumont-sur-Aire, which
was the old headquarters, and I ran in and saw my old friend, Philip
Roosevelt, who was then the Army Pursuit Operations Officer. Then I got
on the telephone and called Brereton, who was then up at Longuyon
preparing to move to Treves with the Army of Occupation. He was Chief of
Staff for General Mitchell, who was then commanding the Aviation of the
Army of Occupation. “Is this Major Brereton?” I said from force of
habit, for he was a Major when I knew him last. “Yes—Colonel Brereton,”
he corrected. “This is Lieutenant Haslett,” I called. “WHO?” he fairly
yelled. “Lieutenant Haslett,” I replied. “Who do you mean,” he
demanded—“Elmer?” “Yep,” I said, “that’s right.” “Lieutenant Hell!” he
called in old form, “you’ve been promoted for months and I’ve been
waiting for a month to be decorated with you for Château-Thierry.”
“Well, let’s not argue over technicalities,” I answered. “How am I going
to get up there?” “How are you going to get up here?” he repeated, very
surprised. “Yes,” I replied, “how am I going to get up there?” “Well,
Elmer,” he said, in his same grand old voice, “you’re going up in the
King’s carriage.” So he immediately sent one of General Mitchell’s cars
all that distance, and after traveling practically all night over those
terrible roads, the next morning at breakfast I had my “coming out.” I
was back among friends—the dearest friends that man can have—those who
with you have upheld the flag and who with an unfaltering trust have
faced the common enemy.


                                THE END

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES


 1. Silently corrected typographical errors and variations in spelling.
 2. Retained anachronistic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings as
      printed.
 3. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.





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