Relations Connecting a WWI Promotion to a Museum Today
It was on 1 September 100 years ago that Victor Parks was promoted to captain. Victor Parks had trained with the French, been a pilot, and later an instructor pilot and squadron commander. That gave him connections with a large fraction of all the US pilots, whom he introduced to his cousin Charles Parks, especially after the war. Charles' son James Parks grew up among these aviators and became fascinated with them, collecting their stories, and later, when they realized he understood the value of the memorabilia better than anybody else, their uniforms. That collection turned into the Vintage Aero Flying Museum under the direction of James' son Andy Parks.
Don't Bother Billy Mitchell Right Now
Eddie Rickenbacker, trying to recover as fast as he could from his latest ear problem, was eager to get back to the front, having heard there was going to be a major offensive at St Mihiel. Meanwhile, morale was low in the 94th Aero Squadron; they weren't scoring any victories and asked Rickenbacker to hurry back and get Billy Mitchell to put him in command of the squadron. From Rickenbacker:
As events later revealed, it was not the period to discuss a personnel change with Billy Mitchell. He was, those first days of September 1918, planning the first great combined air-and-ground assault in the history of warfare. Air-power theorists had postulated such a campaign; now the flamboyant, volatile Mitchell put it into effect.
We'll leave the details on that for next week.
Spies Wandering Around
As to why Rickenbacker knew there was a major offensive being planned - well, he knew and he was amused by the attempts to preserve operational security by discovering and arresting spies away from the front. From Fighting the Flying Circus,
These extraordinary precautions always seemed more or less ridiculous to men who had been close to the fighting lines during the war. The nearer one gets to the lines the simpler appears the matter of espionage. Doubtless scores of Germans crossed the lines every night, arrayed themselves in the uniform of dead American or French soldiers and mingled freely and unsuspected with our troops until they desired to return to their own side. As there are hundreds of our soldiers wandering about looking for their regiments a few extra wanderers create no suspicion. Yet if one of these should venture to Bar-le-Duc or any other city far away from the actual scene of activities - Heaven help him.
Moving Into Position
As September began, so did a whole new phase (and as it turned out the last phase) of the war. It had taken about a year since Uncle Sam officially threw his hat in the ring, to recruit, train, and move the US military a third of the way around the world. Then it took the summer of 1918 to get moving and get a feel for what this war was. Now the US was fully engaged. In the words of historian Jack Stokes Ballard, writing in The 147th Aero Squadron in World War I:
As the 147th Aero Squadron moved to the Rembercourt Aerodrome on September 1, 1918, a number of major changes were underway on the Western Front. First, the American military strength, both ground and air, had reached a level in which the U.S. began to take on a much bigger combat role. Over a million American troops were now in France. This meant that the French control declined, and the American operations and way of organizing and fighting would become more dominant, at least in the sectors assigned to it.
One might say that America's time as a superpower really began 100 years ago this month.
From the Point of View of the Infantry
One infantryman wrote later about what he was doing on September 1st, in Pont-a-Mousson, leading up to the St. Mihiel drive. (Possibly the way to tell German spies from Americans would have been to arrest whoever spoke with the best English grammar.)
When we entered the town this time we found that the French population had jes left before we arrived. Everything was left standing jes as it was. Even the tables were set and the food was still standing on the stoves. Some of us stole in and had the best food we done tasted for a long time. The beds were made; everything was clean and orderly. You see the French population had been done told that the drive was beginning, and they had lit out as fast as they could, only taking with them what they could tote in their arms. About this time the Germans started to send over some big shells. They done done a whole heap of damage to the nice little town and they done mussed up the orchards and done scattered the fruit all over the place. A little while later we heard the most awful explosion, jes as if an ammunition dump had been blowed up. We found out that our artillery done moved up some big naval guns. They were much bigger than tractors, and most awful long. They shore let the Germans have it. We could hear the big shells whinin' and whizzin' over our heads on their way to Metz, which was fifteen miles away.
This was the Great War from a sergeant's point of view...from his biography, Sergeant York and the Great War. More about him later too.
"Although we did not know it at the time, we were now on the last laps of the war." -- Eddie Rickenbacker, 100 years ago