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Steve Russell

WWI US Aviator's French Medals - Who is he?

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The L?gion d'Honneur would have been bestowed on a foreign pilot of singular distinction who would normally, though not necessarily, have received a valour award of some kind from his own government. However, it could also have been bestowed upon an American who served with the French armed forces and who never received an American award. This would suggest the Escadrille Lafayette, formed on 16.4.1916 and disbanded on 18.2.1918. It shouldn't be too hard to find any Indiana-born members as just thirty-eight pilots served in the squadron. Nine of them were killed in action, narrowing it down to under thirty.

There again, 209 Americans received French pilots' brevets through the Lafayette Flying Corps training programme, of whom around 180 actually flew combat missions with French squadrons prior to America's entry into the war. Many continued serving with French squadrons despite pressure to transfer to the newly formed US Air Service. Sixty-five of the Lafayette Flying Corps "graduates" were killed in action, so you have around 115 possibles. Just thirteen of them were recognised as aces, which narrows it down a bit more as your man received the Croix de Guerre avec Palme, which means that he was mentioned somewhere in an Army level dispatch.

Of course, there are also the flyers of the 49th, 94th and 95th Aero Squadrons, as well as some of the other flying units created before the cessation of hostilities. But this man would appear to have flown in a French unit or a unit under French command. This might explain why he got the Croix du Combattant years later. It is unusual but not unheard-of for foreigners to receive the Croix du Combattant, particularly when they have served in a French unit or a unit under French command. A friend of mine, Peter Churchill, served with No4 Commando in 1944/45 and as this was essentially an FFL unit, he received a chestful of French medals and awards, including the 1939-1945 Croix du Combattant, along with his British campaign medals.

Regarding his L?gion d'Honneur, I would suggest that he was promoted to Officer within the order some years after the war. To pass to Officier, one must first be named Chevalier. Eddie Rickenbacker was appointed Chevalier de la L?gion d'Honneur. So I imagine that your man ended WW1 as a Chevalier. It usually takes a minimum of five years or so of dogged service or usefulness to the state or one's profession - whatever - to climb a grade. So, given that your man received a Croix du Combattant in the 1930s, perhaps we could work on the assumption that he maintained links of some kind with France and was promoted to Officier de la L?gion d'Honneur some years after the Great War.

This probably brings you no closer to your goal and maybe I'm teaching you to suck eggs, as it were, but it should at least provide you with a starting point. You could try getting in touch with Charles Woolley, who wrote Echoes of Eagles, with Bill Crawford, about the 95th Aero Squadron - The Kicking Mules - and whose father flew with the 95th. If you don't have any means of doing so, drop me an e-mail and I'll put you in touch with Charlie. If he cannot turn up a 95th Aero Squadron candidate - here's a squadron roster: http://www.us95th.org/history_roster.html[/url - then he might be able to pass you onto someone who could help you. After all, he spent forty years researching the history of American pilots on France in WW1!

Hope this helps in some way.

PK

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PK,

It does help and indeed I have already researched along these lines. Here is what I know so far:

I have been able to determine that 38 Aviators earned the Legion d' Honneur. Of these, 6 were killed in action. If you take away those that ended up higher than captain during the war, then the list is 32. There are three men that hail from Indiana:

CPT Thomas Gantz Cassady, 9 victories, from Freedom (Spencer), Indiana

Earned Legion d' Honneur in WWI and was later made a Commander for work in WWII with the resistance. As I understand it, each dgree is graduated, so this means he must have been made an officer at some point. He also served with the Ambulance Corps before joining Spa157 and Spa 163. He served later with the US 8th & 103rd Aero Squadrons and ended the war a Captain.

CPT Everett Richard Cook, 5 victories, from Indianapolis, Indiana

Earned the Legion d' Honneur in WWI and commanded the 91st Aero Squadron. He earned the Croix d' Guerre as well but I can find no record of French Squadron service for him in any type of squadron. He ended the war as a Captain.

1LT Paul Frank Baer, 9 victories, from Ft. Wayne, Indiana

He earned his Legion d' Honneur during service with N124 & Spa80. He later served with the US 103rd Aero and was shot down in the Spring of 1918 and made a prisoner for the duration of the war. He finished the war as a First Lieutenant.

All three of the above men earned the US DSC and Cassady earned it twice. They all had the Croix d' Guerre with Cassady having 3 Palms & 2 Stars and Baer having 7 Palms. Cooks number of Palms are unknown but one can assume at least one to get the award or at least a star.

This is what I have to go on. I believe the tunic shows the man served with the French as the US and Winged Prop are clearly the French design. As to their US awards, US awards were indivdually pinned on the uniform and were not put into groups until the 1930s as a general rule. Photos show this repeatedly. So the absence of US ribbons and decorations does not cause me much of a concern in that regard. They are just not pinned on this tunic.

Below are pics to help any with further research. I really would like to track this one down as you can see from the pics. Thanks, Steve

post-1220-1182977702_thumb.jpg

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Stunning! I did look at a couple of DSC listings when composing my response and my eyes lingered on Baer, I must say. There again, this wonderful tunic bears Captain's bars. Did Baer make Captain? I suppose he might have been upshifted a rank when he left the service.

I looked at Everett Cook too. However, Cook was born in Indiana but his residence is given as Memphis, Tennessee. Mind you, he was only 24 in 1918 and his family must have been in Indiana so his home town after the war could be irrelevant. He served with the 91st Aero Squadron and got the DSC for "...extraordinary heroism in action near Damvillers, France, September 26, 1918. While on a photographic mission in the vicinity of Damvillers which necessitated a penetration of 20 kilometers within the enemy lines, Captain Cook was attacked by seven enemy pursuit planes, and his plane was riddled with bullets. In spite of the attack he continued on his mission, turning only for our lines when his observer had secured photographs of great military value. In the combat one enemy aircraft was destroyed."

The uniform appears to have been worn in the 1930s if the Croix du Combattant ribbon is any indication. Other Indiana USAS DSC winners include:

1st Lt Edward Harold Greist, 3d Observation Group, for actions on 1.11.1918.

2nd Lt John W Jordan, 88th Aero Squadron (11.8.1918).

1st Lt George R Nixon, who was a balloonist.

1st Lt Karl Joseph Schoen, 139th Aero Squadron (10.10.1918)

Other USAS DSC winners from Indiana include: Harvey Weir Cook, Kenneth Smith Clapp, George C. Carroll, Glen A. Preston, George E. Goldthwaite, Kenneth H. Holden, Burdette S. Wright and Thomas G. Cassady.

Capt Harvey Weir Cook joined the USAS in 1917 and served with the 94th Aero Squadron, ending the war with seven victories, including four balloons. Many of the 94th's pilots had come through the Lafayette Flying Circus system. Was Cook breveted by the French or the Americans? He was killed as a Lieutenant-Colonel when his P39 Airacobra crashed in New Caledonia in WW2.

2nd Lt Clapp served with 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group.

1st Lt Carroll was a balloonist.

2nd Lt Preston was an artillery officer on attachment to 99th Aero Squadron as an Observer. Unlikely.

1st Lt Goldthwaite served as a pilot with 24th Observation Squadron. Now, he is listed with one aerial victory on 5.11.1918. This would tie in with the single palm.

1st Lt Holden served with 12th Aero Squadron and originally came from Michigan but lived in Indiana.

1st Lt Wright was an Observer with 12th Aero Squadron. He was a Vice-President amd General Manager of the Airplane Division of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation in the 1930s and during WW2. The company had a contract to supply a hundred P40B fighters to the French Air Force just before WW2. The Free French air force flew Curtiss-Wright CW-21 planes. Could Burdette Wright have been promoted to Officier de la L?gion d'Honneur through this connection?

1st Lt Cassady served with 28th Aero Squadron.

Anyway, food for thought, perhaps.

PK

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Thanks PK. I have pretty good files on DSC guys as well but not on the Ld'H. Baer was killed iin a flying accident in December 1930. Not sure if this could still be connected to him in some way but maybe. I cannot substantiate for him any degree above Knight for the Ld'H.

I could only find 3 dozen aviators I could substantiate in any source that received it the Ld'H. I have only been able to verify that CPT Cassady received a degree above Knight. When his officer's degree was conferred (if at all) unknown but his commander's degree was conferred I belive in 1944 for his resistance work. Many of these are N124 or Lafayette Flying Corps guys. The asterisks were killed in action, ruling them out. Those in bold are from Indiana. Here they are:

Name

Bach, Jules James

Baer, Paul Frank

Balsley, Horace Clyde

Baylies, Frank Leaman*

Biddle, Charles John

Boal, Pierre de Lagarde

Booth, William Vernon*

Bullard, Eugene Jacques

Campbell, Douglas

Campbell, Hugh Gordon

Cassady, Thomas Gantz

Chambers, Reed McKinley Chambers

Cook, Everett Richard

Crehore, Austen Ballard

Dolan, Charles Heave, Jr.

Dugan, William Edward, Jr.

Hall, James Norman

Hartney, Harold Evans

Hill, Dudley Lawrence

Hinkle, Edward Foote

Hunter, Frank O?Driscoll "Monk"

Ingalls, David Sinton

Jones, Henry Sweet

Lahm, Frank Purdy

Lehr, Manderson

Lufbery, Gervais Raoul*

Ovington, Carter Landram

Parsons, Edwin Charles

Prince, Norman*

Putnam, David Endicott*

Read, Robert Emery

Rickenbacker, Edward Vernon

Rockwell, Kiffin Yates*

Rockwell, Robert Lockerbie

Sewell, Sumner

Sourbiran, Robert

Thaw, William

Turnure, George Evans

Willis, Harold Buckley

This is what I have so far. Any more Ld'H recipients that were US pilots in WWI would be greatly appreciated. And any other clues on anything with this uniform. Thanks, Steve

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I am most impressed with the research work already mentioned on this officer's French awards.

Looking at the tunic, one sees the chevalier (and not the officer) ribbon with the one palm croix de guerre (with 1918 reverse).

Three possibilities : either this officer served first with Escadrille La Fayette prior to the entry of the USA in WW1 (but he would have also been intitled to the Croix de guerre colours), and later with the US Air Service.

or he was an officer with the USA Air Service who received French awards (but why no American awards?)

or he was first with the French Air Force (hence the french awards) and then with the US Forces (but then why no Americans awards on an American uniform?)

In the first case, the Legion d'honneur + Croix de guerre with only one palm might simply mean that he was badly wounded in a gallant fight for which he could well have received both awards together (he would then possibly appear in the Journal Officiel). He would have finished the war possibly in hospital or taking care of his wounds and never seen combat again. The Croix du Combattant would have been earned automatically from his war experience. And he might not have served with the US Forces until after the war, receiving a commission with them after being fully recovered. This would explain why he had no US awards at all, the Victory medal being also french.

A final possibility : he was a Frenchman who served as an officer with the French forces and was badly wounded in combat during WW1, emigrated to the US and, becoming a US citizen, went into the US Forces and was commissionned. in the Air Service (possibly as an instructor).

His promotion to officer in the Legion of honor reflecting later services to France, as suggested in previous comments, not necessarily linked to war services.

Quite an interesting story to unravel. What next ?

Best regards

Veteran

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I am most impressed with the research work already mentioned on this officer's French awards.

Looking at the tunic, one sees the chevalier (and not the officer) ribbon with the one palm croix de guerre (with 1918 reverse).

Three possibilities : either this officer served first with Escadrille La Fayette prior to the entry of the USA in WW1 (but he would have also been intitled to fourrag?re with the Croix de guerre colours)

or he was an officer with the USA Air Service who received French awards (but why no American awards?)

or he was first with the French Air Force (hence the french awards) and then with the US Forces (but then why no Americans awards on an American uniform?)

In the first case, the Legion d'honneur + Croix de guerre with only one palm might simply mean that he was badly wounded in a gallant fight for which he could well have received both awards together (he would then possibly appear in the Journal Officiel). He would have finished the war possibly in hospital or taking care of his wounds and never seen combat again. The Croix du Combattant would have been earned automatically from his war experience. And he might not have served with the US Forces until after the war, receiving a commission with them after being fully recovered. This would explain why he had no US awards at all, the Victory medal being also french.

A final possibility : this officer was a Frenchman who served as an officer with the French forces and was badly wounded in combat during WW1, emigrated to the US and, becoming a US citizen, went into the US Forces and was commissionned. in the Air Service (possibly as an instructor).

His promotion to officer in the Legion of honor reflecting later services to France, as suggested in previous comments, not necessarily linked to war services.

Quite an interesting story to unravel. What next ?

Best regards

Veteran

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Thanks Veteran. I am still trying to unravel it. As tothe US awards, most of these were individual pin ons. Same goes for ribbons. Most period issue stuff ends up being individually pinned on. See it in photos all the time. The fact that someone stripped the wings leads me to belive the US medals were taken as well. He has 3 chevrons for 18 months in combat. That puts him overseas in 1917. No wound stripe so unlikely that he was wounded but still possible.

I am no researching the 'American Legionaires' a book from 1920 that tells all the American recipients. Will take some time but may help. Thanks for the continued comments. They help stir the brain and any clues or ideas are very welcome. Steve

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Veteran,

You state that this Ld'H has the Chevalier ribbon vice the officer. But I thought the rosette on the medal itself denotes officer. The rosette with silver stripe denotes commander, and gold denotes the highest class. Would the rosette not be an officer or higher? Steve

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Hello Steve,

I would not waste much time looking up an "American legionnaire". Those awards belong to an officer and, to my knowledge, no American served as an officer with that Regiment during WW1. What is significant with this group is the combination - chevalier Legion d'honneur + Croix de guerre with only one palm. This is typical of a Legion d'honneur given for extreme gallantry in combat. My own father received the combination for rallying troups who had lost all their officers, the day the French stopped the German onslaught on Verdun (26 February 1916), bringing them back to fight and stopping the ennemy attack. He lost his left arm during that combat and received Legion d'honneur + Croix de Guerre with palm as an immediate award. He was a "sous-lieutenant" with the 2e R?giment de Tirailleurs and this happened the day the Fort of Douaumont was lost. He later became a commander of the Legion d'honneur for other services.

Nevertheless, most officers who won the Legion d'honneur for war services would have several stars and possibly palms to their Croix de guerre to go with it, showing an accumulation of citations for bravery in combat before the Legion of honor would be awarded (an NCO or a ranker would have received the Medaille militaire under similar circomstances).

The presence of only French awards on that tunic is strange.

I

All the best

Veteran

Thanks Veteran. I am still trying to unravel it. As tothe US awards, most of these were individual pin ons. Same goes for ribbons. Most period issue stuff ends up being individually pinned on. See it in photos all the time. The fact that someone stripped the wings leads me to belive the US medals were taken as well. He has 3 chevrons for 18 months in combat. That puts him overseas in 1917. No wound stripe so unlikely that he was wounded but still possible.

I am no researching the 'American Legionaires' a book from 1920 that tells all the American recipients. Will take some time but may help. Thanks for the continued comments. They help stir the brain and any clues or ideas are very welcome. Steve

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Thanks Veteran. I am still trying to unravel it. As tothe US awards, most of these were individual pin ons. Same goes for ribbons. Most period issue stuff ends up being individually pinned on. See it in photos all the time. The fact that someone stripped the wings leads me to belive the US medals were taken as well. He has 3 chevrons for 18 months in combat. That puts him overseas in 1917. No wound stripe so unlikely that he was wounded but still possible.

I am no researching the 'American Legionaires' a book from 1920 that tells all the American recipients. Will take some time but may help. Thanks for the continued comments. They help stir the brain and any clues or ideas are very welcome. Steve

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Steve

I am sorry I did not anwer your second question. The Legion d'honneur on the tunic is clearly a Chevalier, which is the normal first award. The badge shown, with the rosette, is indeed an officer's badge. As someone else has suggested, this is the result of a second award, with advancement to officer of the Order for further "eminent services" to France, possibly not military.

In other words, he received the Legion d'honneur twice. But the war award is the first, most probably going with the Croix de guerre.

Hope to have answered your question.

Veteran

Veteran,

You state that this Ld'H has the Chevalier ribbon vice the officer. But I thought the rosette on the medal itself denotes officer. The rosette with silver stripe denotes commander, and gold denotes the highest class. Would the rosette not be an officer or higher? Steve

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Steve,

Veteran is pointing out the difference between the ribbon sewn on the tunic, which is the first grade of chevalier (since there is no rosette and no evidence of one) and the actual award on the bar with has the rosette and is therefore knight or officer class. His point is that the one sewn on the tunic would be the best guide for his war service. He would have received the higher award later and not gone back to resew a new ribbon on the tunic.

Hope that helps. Great thread. I look forward to a "clincher" moment.

Tod

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All,

I agree with Veteran that the lack of US awards is a key point. This tunic belonged to a man that DID NOT serve with US forces during any of the periods that WWI campaign or gallantry medals would have been awarded. This tunic seems to belong to a man that came back and, when needed after the war, was commissioned in the US forces based on his WWI experience and served in the Army. He probably was not an officer in the French Air Forces in WWI as Veteran pointed out.

Cheers,

Tod

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All,

I agree with Veteran that the lack of US awards is a key point. This tunic belonged to a man that DID NOT serve with US forces during any of the periods that WWI campaign or gallantry medals would have been awarded. This tunic seems to belong to a man that came back and, when needed after the war, was commissioned in the US forces based on his WWI experience and served in the Army. He probably was not an officer in the French Air Forces in WWI as Veteran pointed out.

Cheers,

Tod

Tod,

I have to differ slightly with your comment. The three French awards on that tunic point to an OFFICER in the French forces. Had he been an NCO or a ranker, he would have received the Medaille militaire and the Croix de guerre with the same palm, as well as the croix de combattant (third on row).

He was not necessarily an American citizen when he was decorated, and may have emigrated to the US, become a citizen and be commissioned in the US Army Air Force as such.

What do you think? His papers would certainly be interesting to read.

Cheers

Paul

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Paul,

Hmm, I see. I think I jumped to conclusions about his rank. Thanks for the correction. Well, it still seems strange to me that there would be an American tunic with no US awards. Is this tunic a WWI issue tunic worn in WWI, or is this a 1920s tunic. If it was 1920s I would think the ribbons would be there.

Cheers,

Tod

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