January 10, 1901, the Lucas Well on Spindletop Hill erupted in a 150 foot gusher of greenish black oil and Texas economic life changed forever.
Memoirs of a Texan: Empire is the story of Texas’ emergence as a power in the rapidly growing United States whose army ultimately brought victory to the Allies in the Great War.
July – August, 1916
While driving back to the Escadrille’s base, I learned they had recently provided air support for the Verdun defense. As soon as we stopped, Thaw took me into the mess hall. He held up my hand and announced, “Here’s our latest recruit, Joaquin, Alaniz from Brownsville, Texas by way of Texas A&M.”
I felt proud, smiled, and nodded toward my fellow pilots. An awkward silence ensued. Bill Thaw nudged me and said, “Tell us about yourself.”
As I learned, giving your background was what new pilots did. It saved individual conversations and, if you did not last, at least they knew who you were. I thought a minute. Boasting was out of the question. Best just tell them what I knew and had done and finish humbly. So, I told them, “I am older than most college students. Twenty eight. I was on a polo team and worked as a stevedore before going to A&M. We bought a Jenny 4 and worked on it. Too bad it’s too slow to fight or I might be a senior pilot going in. I am pleased to join you and am here to learn as much as I can as fast as I can from a crack squadron.”
Each man stuck his hand out for a shake. The last, Raoul Lufbery, lingered awhile. I learned he was an American who was born in France. He dressed like a French soldier which he had been at one time. Heavy wool uniform, wrap leggings, and hob nailed field shoes. Not particularly impressive looking, but, I knew, from the news accounts, Lufbery was our top ace, way above the others in kills. This was the man I most wanted to know and emulate.
He grinned at me and said, “So you’re a mechanic.”
“Yes, Sir. I try to learn as much about the aeroplane as I can.”
Lufbery pointed back with his thumb and said, “Most of these idiots won’t go near their aeroplanes after they land. Some even think it makes them better pilots.” He smiled but I knew he wasn’t amused.
“You work on your aeroplane?” I asked.
“Oui, I started as a mechanic. Everything you learn about your aeroplane gives you an advantage and you need all you can get.” By now, Lufbery’s smile had faded. He looked at me intently and asked, “Want to join me in the maintenance hangar?”
“Don’t Sir me. I’m not your superior,” Lufbery said.
But he was the man who would teach me and, hopefully, keep me alive and maybe successful as a combat pilot. “What time?” I asked.
“Six thirty. Beakfast before you come and be ready to work.”
“Yes, Sergeant Lufbery. I will be there.”
As I had read about them earlier, I was not surprised by the two lion cubs that shared our quarters, like two overgrown, smelly, frisky cats. The older cub, Whiskey, had a bad eye. I learned one of the pilots damaged the cub’s eye when he smacked him with a cane while Whiskey chewed on a favored scarf. They had collected money from the Escadrille, including the one that hit him, for a glass eye. But, they had not yet found an oculist to put it in Whiskey’s eye.
Even at a front line station, the Escadrille Americaine ate well. Far better than the fare I had at Issoudun. I smiled a lot, answered questions, but mostly listened and observed. From the newspaper accounts, our legendary Escadrille was a well disciplined fighting machine. They weren’t.
They were a garrulous group, fun loving, and bold. Above all bold and courageous. But, not disciplined. I saw little evidence that their French commander, Captain Georges Thenault or his adjutant, Lieutenant Alfred de Laage, had any control of them. They seemed to go up when and where they individually chose. Sometimes in groups, sometimes alone, and sometimes, even, when Captain Thenault asked them to. Lufbery sat alone. Not antisocial, but not the “hail fellow, well met” of Bill Thaw and the others. I suppose Joaquin was too formal for our group and I, of course, became “Tex” the first day.
Despite the snoring I got a good night sleep and was up early. I ate breakfast and went over to the maintenance hangar thirty minutes before my appointment with Lufbery and I found him in a corner. He had a bucket of bullets examining each before he put it in a box.
Without looking up, Lufbery said, “The damn guns they fit us with jam. Most of the time with a misshaped bullet. Check out every bullet before you go up.”
I made a mental note. The first of many lessons I learned from our ace. I noted that Lufbery put aside several bullets and did not put them in the box. I picked them up before following him to a Nieuport 17 which had apparently been shot up. Lufbery examined it carefully and, with a piece of chalk, circled where a bullet had torn through the treated cloth covering. Then he went to the engine and started stripping it down. A 110 hp Le Rhone 9J rotary engine. It differed with the engine of my training Nieuport 11, but not radically.
Without invitation, I grabbed a wrench and joined in. We took out the spark plugs, cleaned them, measured the gap, and screwed them back in. Lufbery looked at each component of the engine, I think to make sure it had not been damaged, before going on to the next. Lufbery said little while we worked. After we reassembled the engine, Lufbery commented, “I’ll have the mechanics patch the holes,” and then, “This is your aeroplane for now. We’ll take it up this afternoon and let you taste a little Boche lead.” The way Lufbery said ‘little’, it sounded more like ‘leetle’. He had a hint of French accent even as he spoke American English.
“What time?” I asked.
“Two. They should have it patched by then.”
I told Bill Thaw, who I think acted as chief pilot, that I would take my first flight with Lufbery. Thaw nodded and told me, “Yeah, we take the new guys over a section of the German lines where they have anti-aircraft guns. You need to get used to what the Brits call ‘archies’ before you get into combat. Thaw did not say it, but I also appreciated an opportunity to fly a Nieuport 17 before I had to fight a German pursuit pilot and learn a new aeroplane at the same time.
My heart was in my throat, but I followed Lufbery up without incident. He pointed northeast and I followed. I looked down and saw a maze of wire and trenches and then we were over German lines. I did not have to look down. I heard ‘whumpf’ and then a burst of black smoke. The puffs came closer and Lufbery went up. I followed. The anti-aircraft fire rose. I concentrated on one thing – doing what I saw Lufbery do. If I had thought, I would have been scared. After fifteen minutes that seemed a lifetime, Lufbery waved his finger in a circle and we flew back to home base with plenty of daylight left. I landed without incident.
Lufbery treated me to a beer in what served as a base cantina. “What do you think of the 17?”, he asked after we were seated.
“It will fly faster than the 11?” I answered drily.
Lufbery took a drink from his beer, leaned back, and started what I hoped would be a lecture of how to fly combat. Instead, he asked, “What did they teach you about fighting Boche?”
“Get above them and attack with the sun at your back.”
“Good. That is the primary thing. Attack from above and with the sun in your enemies’ eyes. Do that and you will be ahead of most new pilots.”
“Yes. But, I know there is a lot more to it than that. What else can you tell me?”
“If you dive into a flock of them, make the first burst count. After you descend, you will have one or more of them on your tail. You are the hunted.”
“What do you do, Sergeant Lufbery, with a Hun on your tail?” I asked.
“Everything I can to keep him from getting a good shot at me.”
“Such as …” I asked hoping Lufbery would give me some of his experience.
“Don’t fly in a straight line. Don’t fly in a pattern. The Boche is evil, not stupid. Don’t help him kill you.”
“You mean diving and climbing, diving left and right?”
“Yeah, but remember what you are flying. The Nieuports do not do well in a steep dive. Push them too hard, rip off a wing, and you do the Boche’s work for him.”
Lufbery seemed increasingly disinterested with our conversation. I decided not to try and get everything from him in our first discussion. So I sat back, drank my beer, and joined him in solitude. Then Lufbery slapped the table and said, “Join me for a hunt tomorrow, Tex.”
“Get out of here at dawn. We’ll try to bag one early.” Lufbery got up and went back to his room.
After Lufbery left, Ted Parsons overheard and walked over to my table. He sat down and told me, “You’re doing well. Old Luf does most of his hunting alone. He must like you.”
I nodded and replied, “I think he likes me well enough to try and keep me alive, at least for awhile.”
I got up early. I don’t pray much, but that morning I asked God to give me the courage, strength, and calmness to do my duty. I ate early breakfast and went to the airfield where Lufbery waited for me. He pulled me to the side and explained, “Don’t, under any circumstances, engage the Boche. You are an observer. If we come on a low flying reconnaissance aeroplane, I want you as a decoy. You go high. Make feints like you want to attack. Get the Boche pilot and gunner looking at you. I will slip off underneath and kill them while you have their attention.”
As we talked, the mechanics had our Nieuports on the field with the engines warming. Lufbery took off and I followed. But this time, he went much higher. Higher than I had ever been. They told me to dress warmly in the middle of summer and I was glad I did. The altimeter said 17,000 feet and I felt cold, very cold. I slapped my hands on my leg to keep the blood flowing. Breathing was difficult. I brought my scarf up over my face leaving just the slit under my goggles exposed. At the same time, I felt excited. My first combat mission even if Lufbery assigned me to work as a decoy. Again, I followed Lufbery and did what he did.
I was close enough to see Lufbery’s head turn slowly as he looked down, like a hunter searching for prey. After about thirty minutes, Luf pushed his aeroplane down and I saw what he had sighted, a two seat observation aeroplane with the distinctive German black cross markings – our prey. Lufbery pointed to me and then up. He pointed to himself and down. The game was on.
I got above the German plane and waited. Lufbery turned like he was going home, but I knew he would fly in an extended circle and end up under the kraut. I dropped down and cut speed so I was behind and above our prey. I started a dive for the enemy and waited for the gunner to aim and pulled up. I thought I heard the chatter of the machine gun, but I was not in range and hoped none of the bullets would hit my Nieuport.
I feinted again with the same result. On the third pass, the kraut gunner did not fire and I thought perhaps he knew I would not attack. Then I heard the tat-tat-tat of a Vickers gun, looked down, and saw Lufbery firing into the enemy. The heinies panicked. I saw the gunner try to swing his gun around to fire at Lufbery, but too late. The kraut pilot slumped over and his plane started a dive. Lufbery followed and pumped in a few more rounds. His kills went from nine to ten.
We watched as the kraut aeroplane crashed in a fiery ball. Lufbery came back up, pumped his fist, and pointed home. We returned to base in early morning and landed without incident.
Lufbery took me to the cantina for another beer. “You’re a good wingman, Tex,” Lufbery said. “Want to do it again?”
“Yes, but, next time, I’d like to take a few shots.” It was the first time Lufbery had complimented me on anything. He laughed and it was the first time I saw him laugh.
I flew more missions with Lufbery. As many as I could, as often as I could. I learned most just watching what he did. Lufbery was, basically, a hunter. He had patience and waited for the best opportunity to bring down the hated Boche. He did not attack when the odds were not in his favor. In the dogfights with multiple combatants, the fighting hectic and heavy, and it appeared his chance of being shot was as good as shooting down one of the Boche, Lufbery did not hesitate to break away and go home. He would fight another day when he had a better chance to succeed.
Lufbery told me, “Air combat is like boxing. You stand toe to toe and trade punches until one of you makes a mistake and gets knocked out.” I remembered his advice and ran whenever it appeared I had taken on an experienced German pilot.
For the remainder of the time we were at the Bar-le-Luc airfield, I flew with other pilots of the N124 squadron when assigned. I enjoyed their company and tried to blend as best I could. But, as often as I could, flew with Luf and, later, solo.
Other than Luf, I could not adjust to the mindset of our squadron. Courageous, determined, they had become daring and mostly skilled pilots. But, too often, I saw them as reckless and foolhardy.
The worst of the lot was Andrew Courtney Campbell, Jr, a Chicago playboy who wore a bellows-pocketed, long-shirted British officer tunic and, if anyone missed the effect, he also carried a walking stick. He owned a Stutz Bearcat and we talked about it, but it was all we had in common other than being Sergeants in the Escadrille Americaine.
Campbell handled his Nieuport like he said he drove his Bearcat along Lakeshore Drive – dodging, weaving, and speeding full speed to a stop just short of collision. But, he did not limit his pranks to the ground.
On return from a bombing run, Sergeant Campbell decided to see how close he could come in flying over the flight commander’s aeroplane. On one pass, he came too close and lodged his wheels in Captain Thenault’s top wing. It looked like he would crash both his and our commander’s aeroplane on landing, but, miraculously, Campbell pulled free at the last minute.
On another raid, we were ordered to land, taxi across the landing field, U-turn, and come back to the hangars after all our aeroplanes had landed. That was all of us, but Sergeant Campbell who saw his hangar, did a ninety degree turn, and headed for it. Aeroplanes landing behind him were forced to brake and turn. Several piled up.
To my knowledge, Sergeant Campbell was never censured for his dangerous, immature antics. If I did not know it before, I knew then that our French commanders had no control of the squadron. There was no discipline except for the self-discipline I saw Luf and, occasionally, some of the others exercise.
I knew the risks of flying temperamental, fragile aeroplanes to frigid heights with little oxygen to fight German pilots as good or better than us. I did not want to compound the risk by flying with unpredictable wingmen and never with Campbell if I could help it. As a result, I, like Luf, got the reputation of a loner.
The Germans protected their bombers and observation aeroplanes with fighters, mostly Fokker E Albatross C and D series aircraft, with more firepower and better speed than our Nieuport 17s. Often, they concealed their fighters and used their bombers and observers as bait to lure our fighters into ambushes. I did not have to experience an ambush to learn the lesson. Luf told me to circle around the prey and look for escorts before attacking. He told me, several times, “You only have one chance to make a mistake with the Boche.”
Even when I found a lone bomber or observer, it was not easy to bring him down. These aeroplanes had a gunner whose only duty, in combat, was to shoot me down before I could get a burst into him. I learned, from Luf, to save my ammunition until I could get in for a close shot. Shooting too far out wasted bullets and, worse, alerted the prey. You got in close by distraction, hiding in a cloud, with the sun directly in his eyes, or whatever advantage you could find.
My first kill came on my third solo patrol. I waited until late afternoon to get the best opportunity to blind the Hun with an attack from the west. Found nothing and started to turn back home when I saw a moving speck under me at about 2,000 feet moving west. I caught up and recognized a German Friedrichshafen G3, perhaps on a special bombing mission for a bridge or rail yard. This Hun bomber had a three man crew including a rear gunner. Three sets of eyes. If I got right over him, the upper wing would block their view of me. I was running out of fuel. I had to do something quickly or turn back. Then, providentially, I saw a small cloud ahead and over the kraut bomber. If I timed it right, I could drop down from the cloud and have a few hundred feet of clear air to get off my shot.
I should have been scared, but found I wasn’t and it pleased me. I was focused on what I had to do – fly into the cloud, count ten, and start a shallow dive. I still think it more luck than skill, but I came out of the cloud with my nose pointed directly at the bomber. I wasted no time in firing my Vickers gun until the bullets ran out. I was close enough to see fear in the eyes of the gunner who desperately wheeled his gun to fire at me. I saw him slump, then smoke come from the bomber’s engine, and then a dive toward the ground. At that speed and angle the bomber was headed, the wings would be ripped off before he hit, but I did not linger. Maybe I missed the escort fighters, but, in any event, I needed to leave and go home while I still had fuel.
I say first kill, but it was not official. An official kill required confirmation. I caught the kraut bomber before he crossed our lines. There would be no one on our side to confirm. I did not care. Others in the squadron, even Lufbery, were caught up with personal kills. But, my mission was to do my duty and stay alive. Each time I went up I realized how little I knew and that any mistake could be my last. I began to think each day would be my final day. I wished common sense had overruled passion; that I had stayed at Texas A&M and completed my degree. Too late now.
September – December, 1916
GQC assigned us to protect a mission that would bomb the Mauser rifle factory at Oberndorf on the Neckar River well behind German lines. It would be a joint operation of British and French bombers with British fighters and the N124 squadron for cover.
We had an immediate problem in carrying out our assignment. We only had four operational aeroplanes. Bill Thaw went to Bar-de-Luc to find more Nieuports. He did, but not in time for the Oberndorf raid. It would be de Laage, Luf, Norman Prince, and I to fly the available aeroplanes. Norman Prince was one of the N 124 Escadrille founders. Our second problem was we took off forty miles behind the front. That much less fuel and time to protect the bombers. As it was, we accompanied our flock to Ettenheim, five miles beyond the Rhine River, before returning for refueling.
The British brought new Strutter bombers and Sopwith Camels to protect them. The French, by contrast, assigned slow, Farnons and unreliable Breguet-Michelin bombers and our four Nieuports for protection. Even at that, we could not accompany our bombers on into Oberndorf and back.
We could, and did, refuel quickly to get back to action and found a melee in progress when we returned. No time to analyze the situation and look for advantages.
After dropping their loads, our bombers came back up to 6,000 feet where they got protection from the Sopwiths whose primary responsibility was their Strutters. The kraut Fokker E3s went for the easier targets – our bombers. We came on four of them attacking a Farnan. De Laage dove right in. The fight was on.
I ducked and came up under a Fokker and had him in my cross-hairs – a sure, confirmed kill. But, my engine sputtered and then failed. I looked down at my fuel empty fuel gauge and realized a bullet had nicked my fuel line.
I dived and hoped I would not be pursued. When I looked back I saw the same Fokker I had in my gun sights earlier. He was on my tail ready to do to me what I had planned to do to him. This time I knew I was a dead man.
Luck, providence, whatever decides who lives and dies in a shootout was with me. The kraut pilot made a classic mistake. In his haste to bring me down, he overshot and came up right in front of me. I unloaded my Vickers gun into him and he went down. A likely confirmed kill as there were plenty of possible witnesses. I had no time to think about it. I had to glide down over the barbed wire into an open field.
I cleared the first line of wire and then the second with only a few feet of clearance. A cratered field came up. I dropped my flaps, landed, and came to a stop with my Nieuport intact. Rather than staying in the cockpit as a target for sharp shooters, I jumped out and ran to an observation post. They took me in, fed me, and gave my something to drink as we watched kraut artillery destroy my Nieuport.
Next day, I worked my way back to Luxeuil. No one knew if the raid had succeeded. We did know we lost over a quarter of our aeroplanes, mostly the antiquated French bombers. And, tragically, we lost Norman Prince.
Prince, Luf, and de Laage came back with kills and low fuel. At dusk, Luf found a small emergency field at Corcieux, landed, and waited for Prince. Prince cleared the trees, but failed to see a tree high tension cable which caught his wheels and flipped his Nieuport into a crushed heap. Prince survived the crash with two broken legs. On the ambulance ride, a clot formed, went to his brain, and killed him after he arrived.
I wondered, at the time and later, why French high command set us out forty miles back with too few aeroplanes to guard our slow, obsolete bombers. Among the casualties were Norman Prince and two of our four Nieuport 17s. Might have been worth it if we had crippled German rifle production, but that was never a confirmed result of the raid.
As the weather turned bad, we flew patrol assignments looking for German incursions in our air space. It seemed the krauts did much the same – patrolled their skies looking for us. We saw little of them and they saw little of us. The thrill of flying had gone. We were bored and listless.
Before mess, Captain Thenault announced leave for the squadron. He arranged an army convoy truck to take us to Amiens for a night on the town and the next day to sober up. He accompanied the announcement with a lecture on temperance, that we should not associate with loose women.
His timing was perfect. We needed time off and diversion to clear our minds. With the constraints Thenault had in handling his American volunteer squadron, Bill Thaw was unofficially but effectively our leader. Nevertheless, I always thought Captain Thenault a good man and good officer.
We piled into the truck and took off for Amiens, Charley’s, the bar at the Plaza Hotel, and whatever earthly delights we could find. Even on a weekday night, Amiens teemed with servicemen and loose women. I have never seen more of either at one time and in one place.
I sat in the bars and drank, with Luf until he was enticed by the most beautiful whore I’d ever seen, the kind that got ten or twenty dollars an encounter, not like the one dollar working girls. Luf wasn’t much for looks or conversation, but even the prostitutes read newspapers and knew Luf was our ace. I had numerous opportunities to indulge with one or more of the ‘ladies’, but I refrained. Not because I didn’t want to or was particularly moral, but I worried about having to explain the clap or syphilis to my family and the girls back in Texas after the war. I just nursed beers with whiskey shots until we left.
We found a Scot soldier, probably from one of the Highland regiments, face down, passed out beside our truck. Rather than leaving him unconscious and cold, we hoisted him, kilt and all, into our truck. When he sobered and woke up next morning, he convinced himself he had been carried off and captured by Germans although it was difficult to tell. Hard for anyone south of the Clyde River to understand what he said.
As we hunkered back down for drafty, cold winter operations, a new surprise came. We had to change our name. Ever since the Escadrille Americaine formed, Germans and German sympathizers objected that neutral America provided flyers and funding to the French cause. French and American newspapers wrote glowing stories about our exploits often enlarging on the truth. As I came to see more French and British squadrons, I did not think we were better. No. The primary use of the Escadrille Americaine was to influence public opinion in France and in America.
In France, morale was sinking. Three years, millions of casualties, and billions in debt accumulation. And what did they have to show for it? They had staved off defeat but the Germans kept pressing. The French Army had virtual mutinies until reforms were implemented. France looked on the United States for salvation. If America came into the war on France’s side, maybe then they could defeat the hated Boche. As a prominent vanguard, they had the Escadrille Americaine – a group of colorful, courageous young American men fighting for France in France. No wonder Captain Thenault could not control us. We were heroes and saviors in France, too valuable for ordinary discipline.
In America, young men longed to get to the field of battle. They wanted to do the feats of daring they read about us. They wanted to join the Escadrille Americaine. Many, including me, got on ships to France to do just that.
But, as much as we pleased France and America, we displeased Germany and German supporters. Our sponsor, Dr Edmund Gros, an American working in Paris with Vanderbilt backing, decided we should have a less inflammatory name. He suggested Escadrille Volantaires.
October 19, 1916 – January 26, 1917
The ‘Escadrille Volantaires’ name lasted twenty days. None of us liked it. I think the French Consulate in Washington came up with ‘Lafayette Escadrille’ which everyone immediately liked better than what we had. We already had a squadron emblem – an Indian Chief head we found on a Savage Arms box. I wrote Larry when I found out where the Indian head came from.
From the onset, the American volunteer aviators had private funding and support. As result, we ate well, had winter sweaters, and other comforts our French cohorts did not have. One such gift was a shotgun for each of us. Our benefactor was convinced, if all else failed, we could bring down German aeroplanes with scatter shot. Our benefactor had not wrestled with a control stick, rudder pedals, and a balky Vickers gun inside a Nieuport cockpit piloting a temperamental aircraft while being shot at by the same Germans. No room for a bulky shotgun that was at best useful at short range. We found better use for the gift – fresh rabbits and birds for our squadron chef and we had a chef not a cook.
Compared with the previous comfort we enjoyed, our quarters were horrid. Everyone dressed in and went to bed in multiple layers of clothing. Our barracks stove had two distances – too close and too far. Depending on your proximity to the stove you were too cold or two hot. Luf took to sleeping with our smelly lion cub mascot.
The worst part of the 1916 winter, one of the coldest in recent years, was our flight conditions. Our rotary engine Nieuports were not easy to take off and land in the best circumstances.
On an icy runway, they were hazardous. Lieutenant de Laage came out early each morning to evaluate the weather and field conditions. Most times he muttered, “Non, c’est affreux,” and went back to bed.
Regardless, we were pilots and we needed to fly. If the krauts could fly, so could we and the bastards came by periodically and dropped bombs on us. We had to get up at least often enough to defend ourselves. When the field was not impossible, we went up in solo flights scouting for enemy bombers.
On my day, an attendant whispered, “C’est l’heure, monsieur. Il fait beau temps” in my ear at 4:30 am. I swung down from my cot into my fur lined boots, zipped up my flight jacket, visited the latrine, and went to the hangar. Our hangars were flimsy cloth covered structures that kept out rain, sleet, and snow but not cold. The mechanics lighted fires in the hangar to heat the castor oil drums. Otherwise we could not start the engines. That morning, the fire had died down to embers. The hangar was cold.
We pushed my Nieuport to the runway. It took six tries to get the engine started and then it sputtered awhile before running smoothly. I climbed into the cockpit and put my right hand on the control stick and slapped my left hand on my legs to keep blood flowing. I signaled the attendant to pull the blocks and started forward. Despite having a frozen hand, I needed a light touch to keep the aeroplane moving on a straight path. I got it off the ground and started climbing, but the aeroplane felt sluggish. After two or three minutes and several miles from our base, the engine sputtered. I turned slowly to return and the engine quit. The altimeter read 450 feet. I did not have enough altitude to glide back to base.
I looked for an open field and saw nothing promising. My Nieuport was falling. I had to make a quick judgment with no good options and settled on an open patch on the truck trail. Maybe I could straddle the tire track ruts. I touched down with my wheels outside the tire tracks and briefly thought I made a safe landing. Then I saw a log jutting out to the road. Too late, the right wheel caught on the log and my aeroplane dove nose first in ground shattering the propeller. That is the last thing I remember.
I awoke in field hospital with casts on my left arm and both legs all the way up to my pelvis. I felt my head covered in bandages. I closed my eyes and went back to sleep. When I woke again everything ached. I opened my eyes and saw Luf and Bill Thaw standing beside the bed. Still half conscious, I groggily asked, “Wha happened?”
Thaw grinned and told me, “Tex, you’re now one of us. You wrecked your first aeroplane.”
I looked at them stupidly trying to remember.
Luf added, “We got you out before it exploded.”
A lot of missing details, but, I knew enough to realize I was fortunate they weren’t standing over my coffin.
“You lucked out,” Thaw said, “I pulled some strings. You will recuperate in the Vanderbilt Hospital,” and pausing for effect added, “in Paris.”
Luf too started grinning and said, “You’ll knit your bones in a nice, warm hospital while we fight the Boche bastards here in the tundra.”
Thaw slipped me a pint of whiskey before they left. That night, I drained it which did more to ease the pain than the pills the nurses gave me. I learned both legs, upper and lower, were broken. Same for my left arm. But, the most serious injury was a laceration when my head went through the windshield. Someone thought to wrap my head in a blanket and compress it before the ambulance took me to the field hospital. I needed to find that someone and thank him for saving my life.
Apparently fuel spewed out to the heated engine, caught fire which backed up to the fuel tank. Little left of the Nieuport after it exploded. No one knew what happened, but my best guess was ice formed in the fuel and clogged up the fuel line. I told Bill and Luf what I thought and suggested we ensure the hangar fires stay lit and fed.