Lt. “Billy” Schauffler, pilot, First Aero Squadron, is writing this story. His letters add a fascinating human perspective to historic events. Young men of the era, Billy among them, eagerly joined the “Great Adventure” in the air over the Western Front. It was not all flying and fighting. He writes of French hospitality, fine wine and knee-deep mud and prays on the eve of battle for the safety of his men and the day when the sky will be silent and nightingales sing.
Major “Billy” Mitchell and civilian “Billy” Schauffler were both learning to fly in 1916 at the Curtiss Aeronautical Station, Newport News, Virginia. Student pilot “Billy” Schauffler badgered student pilot “Billy” Mitchell about getting into military flying. Captain Thomas Milling, a fellow student pilot, told Schauffler to write a letter of application which he would carry to Army Headquarters in Washington, D. C.
Billy’s letter writing saga began.
The Army fashioned an application form based on Billy’s letter and Milling suggested that all five civilian student pilots fill them in. They did. And within a month they were in the Army.
Lt. Schauffler tells of joining America’s only operational “Air Force” equipped with eight underpowered Curtiss “Jenny” JN-3, biplanes on the Mexican border.
In France he writes with humor about flying obsolete “hand-me-down” French aircraft. He tells of Squadron camaraderie, “La vie en Escadrille.” A squadron visitor wrote, “The aviator at the front regards life in a lighter vein. When it is party time their high jinks have the elements of a Wild West Show. At mealtime it is a banquet without pretty girls.”
Behind the lines he delivered the first airmail to Army Divisions scattered across France. On the battle line he describes hedge-hopping, guns blazing, across no-man’s-land and enduring the muzzle blast of friendly artillery to deliver messages.
Billy was a pioneer pilot in the development of aerial reconnaissance. His letters, often written within minutes after returning from battle, stir the imagination. As he describes attacks we find meaning in the motto, “Beware of the Hun in the Sun.” You are there.
- AuthorHouse, November 2011
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