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Chapter 21

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The First Yale Unit

by
Ralph D. Paine

printed at
The Riverside Press
Cambridge (Mass.)
1925

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 23
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Vol. I
p240
Chapter XXII

Erl Gould and Key West

Instead of rolling across to France, Erl Gould found himself back among familiar scenes, the feather-duster palms, the white beaches, and the tropical weather of southern Florida. Key West was his destination. He could proceed no farther into exile without jumping into the Gulf. However, he had managed to keep up his spirits at Bay Shore and he would make the best of being marooned among the Cubans and negroes who dwell on this speck of an island linked to the coast by means of a railroad magically flung across miles and miles of coral reefs, cays, and lagoons.

He made the journey in no such ease and comfort as when Colonel Thompson's personally conducted 'Aviation Special' had moved northward from Palm Beach. In fact, Ensign Gould was ready to subscribe to the well-known dictum that war is hell. He was placed in charge of a train transporting ten officers, one hundred men, and machines and equipment. They were four days and four nights on the way. Dining cars? Not to hear them tell it. Mostly jam sandwiches and coffee. They were like so many dusty, famished wolves, in a temper to tackle a German regiment and give it the first bit.

When passing Palm Beach, Ensign Gould sighed as he took up another notch in his belt. He thought of the three square meals per day, with lunches in between and the Seminole Drug Store when more nourishment was craved. But the days of aviation de luxe were only a memory, and there was an interesting job waiting at Key West with manifold obstacles to overcome and novel responsibilities p241to assume. How Erl Gould handled them, youthful as he was, and the commendation he earned, is one of the notable stories of the Unit.

When he reached Key West, a few days before Christmas of 1917, he found an air station getting under way as one activity of an elaborately organized naval base. The plant consisted of one hangar housing five planes, officers' quarters, two barracks for the men, a mess hall, and a dirigible shed under construction. There was no beach equipped with runways and no machine shop. The officer in command was Lieutenant Stanley V. Parker of the Coast Guard, a licensed naval pilot who had been trained at Pensacola. He had about twenty-five men who were merely guarding the property.

Ensign Gould was immediately made senior flying officer. He had to create both a training school and an air patrol which should help to safeguard the Florida Strait, a crowded and vastly important highway of commerce. He had brought his personnel with him. The officers were youngsters like himself recently commissioned and eager for flying service. In the enlisted force were ninety competent machinists and riggers.

They went at it on the jump, in the spirit of the Yale Unit. Their special train arrived at daybreak. They unloaded it and began to put the planes together. A derrick was found that could drop them into the water and lift them out again. Before sunset of this same day, Captain Parker and Ensign Gould were flying over Key West. They had set a pace that was maintained right up to the Armistice when the station could boast that on one day only it had failed to have a plane in the air. And this was when a young hurricane threatened to blow the station away.

There were the serious handicaps that existed elsewhere — lack of machines and facilities in general — but the p242spirit of energy and enthusiasm overcame them. Erl Gould had much to do with this, but he gives the credit to his force. They were the goods, says he. His staff was quickly organized, George Evans as Executive Officer; Larry White, Works Officer; 'Pop' Coddington, Supply Officer; Boyd as Engineer Officer, and the rest of them flying officers. Several of the student aviators brought from Bay Shore had already spent some time in the air, so it was not long before they were beginning to solo.

More buildings were erected, more officers and men sent to Key West for training. The plant grew like a mushroom. As a naval base, the little island had not been so thoroughly shaken out of its drowsiness since the Spanish War. In its harbor and the open roadstead beyond was a fleet of cruisers, submarines, sub‑chasers, and gunboats under the flag of Rear-Admiral Edwin A. Anderson, the ranking officer afloat. Erl Gould recalls these impressions of him:

He was a very keen, alert man, extremely restless and planning something or other all the time. I think he must have been very much like Eddie McDonnell in his youth, and like Eddie he possesses the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was continually arranging maneuvers including the various vessels under his command and the air service. He made it a point to go up in the aeroplanes as often as he possibly could. He liked to fly and went up with me quite often. He permitted his chief of staff, Captain Kenneth Castleman, to spend considerable time with us, arranging war games and so on. Captain Castleman, who was of great service to us, later became Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Navigation.

In January, 1918, Captain W. B. Fletcher (temporary Rear Admiral) was transferred from service overseas to command the Key West base as headquarters of the Seventh Naval District. He had been sent to Brest to direct the operations of the American naval forces on the French coast. After the sinking of the transport Antilles p243by an enemy submarine, he was relieved of this duty and superseded by Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson. In time of war officers of high rank are held responsible for disasters which may occur beyond the range of their direct supervision. Other transports were lost later, but it was asserted that the Antilles had been inadequately escorted.

Whatever the facts may have been, Admiral Fletcher displayed no lack of initiative and ability in tackling the job at Key West.

He was, indeed, a charming gentleman [Erl Gould says of him] and certainly an inspiration to all of us who worked under him. When he took hold, the town was pretty much a den of iniquity, with a mixture of Cuban cigar-makers, Bahama niggers, and the better element of white blood which seemed unable or unwilling to clean up the place. We had a lot of trouble at night because of ructions between our gobs and the natives, and there was a shooting or stabbing affray now and then.

In three months Admiral Fletcher had reformed Key West and swept it with a new broom. Certain districts were restricted, crime almost wiped out. Patrols kept the sailors out of mischief. Key West was really a decent place to live in, with some new ideas about sanitation and order.

The Admiral interfered very little with our activities at the air station. I can't recall that he ever refused a request we made of him. He showed confidence in the heads of the departments or posts under him and was always cordially anxious to assist.

Key West never changes. In spite of the railroad, it is much the same, according to Erl Gould's description, as when the present writer knew it more than twenty-five years ago. Trouble between the gobs and the natives? This sounds like an echo of the Spanish War days and earlier than that, of filibustering with 'Dynamite Johnny' O'Brien in the notorious Three Friends that ran cargoes of arms to the Cuban rebels in '96. In a book of mine called 'Roads of Adventure' you will find a certain episode mentioned as follows:

p244 Dirty, ragged, unshaven, the two correspondents drowsed upon the schooner's deck while she ran for Key West with a fair wind, reaching there late at night. Down among the wharves a Cuban was luckily encountered and he was a cordial pilot to the restaurant of one Palacho who was deep in the plots of the Junta. In those days it was a Key West without a railroad, a lazy tropical town, much more Cuban than American, a little exotic island set far out in a sun‑bathed ocean. For us two refugees, it was easy enough to find cover in the Cuban quarter and to remain there safe against discovery.

Ah, it was superb to comprehend that we were heroes, brave men from the Three Friends which had defied the powerful navy of Spain. And while we ate, the Cubans surrounded the table and we refought for them the glorious naval action — tracing a map on the tablecloth, a salt-cellar as the Three Friends, a breadcrust as the disabled gunboat, a bottle as the Spanish cruiser firing her big guns down Cienfuegos way.

The restaurant of the kindly Palacho rang with cheers. What was intended to be a square meal and nothing more became an ovation and a celebration. It was a very late hour when two well fed correspondents rolled into bed at Sweeney's lodging house. They were disturbed by several drunken bluejackets who seemed to make a pastime of falling down stairs. One of them loudly announced, over and over again, that his name was 'John J. McCarthy, E‑S‑Q‑ with a period,' and he could lick any six Cubanos in Key West. After a while some annoyed Cubano hit him over the head with a chair and threw him out. His challenge came more faintly from the sidewalk, the last stand of 'John J. McCarthy, E‑S‑Q‑ with a period.'

You may remember the chorus of alarm, some of it foolish, that was raised when the venturesome German submarines raided the North Atlantic coast and sank a number of merchant vessels. It was surmised that secret fuel bases had been tucked away in the West Indies or on the Mexican coast. For this reason an air patrol was set in motion from Key West. It was a hurry call and Erl Gould and his staff responded without delay. This was a separate detail, in addition to the regular patrol of the shipping lanes in the Florida Strait. 'Pete' Hoagland p245was given charge of these special pilots and planes which flew East, South, and West from the base, sweeping as great an area as was found practicable. From daylight until dark this patrol was operated until the end of the war, all the way from the Dry Tortugas to Miami where the patrol from that base was met.

Besides the daily routine, the experimental work was singularly interesting. Sketching it in brief outline, Erl Gould writes:

Thomas A. Edison spent about two months at Key West, working principally with his listening device for detecting submarines and developing other instruments he had invented. He came out to the air station several times and attempted to camouflage planes flying at fairly low altitudes. As I recall it, his theory was that as white is not a color and black contains all the colors in the spectrum, perfect invisibility could be obtained only by a combination of the two. The bottoms of the wings of a plane were striped black and white on one side of the fuselage in equal widths, about like a zebra, while on the other side there was twice as much white as black. From the ground it was interesting to note that when the plane was flying at a certain altitude one plane would be clearly visible while the other was not. And as the pilot climbed, the invisible wing would come into sight and the other go out.

The time of day also made considerable difference. When one wing was perfectly visible from an altitude of, say, two thousand feet, that same wing would be invisible at ten or eleven o'clock from the same altitude. If some sort of a shutter system could have been applied to aeroplanes, the experiments might have been of considerable advantage.

As a matter of interest, one day we decided to determine the feasibility of rescuing men from disabled aeroplanes by means of dirigibles. Accordingly Bill Humphreys, one of our squadron commanders, and Meyers Baker, Intelligence Officer, landed on the water in a plane about a quarter of a mile off the beach and signalled for the Blimp. Without difficulty the Blimp rested in the air directly over their heads and lowered a rope ladder 150 feet long. Humphreys and Baker couldn't quite reach the bottom rung so they both jumped for it at the same time, p246caught it, and were clear of the plane. The men in the Blimp instantly threw out ballast sand, but not enough of it. As a result the Blimp came sagging down close to the water while poor Bill and Meyers Baker disappeared beneath the surface.

In their anxiety to go up and so avoid drowning the two aviators, the crew of the Blimp threw over a whole lot more ballast, — too much this time. Up shot the gas bag and up from the bottom of the Bay came Bill and Baker, so darned fast that it looked like Jonah parting company with the whale. Baker had clawed around under water and secured another grip on the ladder so that by this time he was about in the middle of it, but Humphreys was still clinging to the bottom rung. There he stayed while the Blimp climbed like an express elevator to some fifteen hundred feet. At about this altitude they managed to get organized and under control. With a little fancy trapeze work, Bill managed to pull himself up and follow Baker safely into the fuselage. The stunt was duly reported as a spectacular success, but the heroes said no encores for them. There were plenty of other men who could qualify as amphibious acrobats if they liked that sort of thing.

Another interesting farm was tracking the course of torpedoes. The submarines held their torpedo practice at Dry Tortugas. Given a certain target, they tried to make hits with torpedoes from various angles and distances. We hovered in the air behind them until the torpedo was released and then followed its course by flying directly above it at a fairly low altitude. I received letters from two or three men participating in them who were later assigned to patrol, convoy, or bombing duties in foreign waters, and they said they had been greatly helped by the maneuvres at Key West.

Meanwhile the air station was growing bigger and busier week by week. It was not neglected in Washington. Captain Irwin and Commander Towers kept it in mind and, amid a hundred other demands, sent more and more personnel and equipment to Key West. The station was achieving results. It won official favor because of the pace it set and the record it made. The Bureau of Navigation and the Bureau of Steam Engineering did much to assist the program of expansion.

p247 On March 12th, Captain Stanley Parker submitted the following letter to the Chief of Naval Operations (Aviation):

I have to recommend the promotion to the grade of Lieutenant (j.g.) U. S. N. R. F., of Ensign E. C. B. Gould, Naval Reserve Flying Corps, now Squadron Commander at this station.

The progress made in the training of student aviators in seaplane work at this station has been almost wholly due to his efforts. He has worked indefatigably in the interests of the station and the corps and has a splendid personality for leadership. As he has under his charge a large number of officers it is believed that the promotion is in the interests of efficiency as well as being a reward for efficient service.

The recommendation was approved. The promotion was made effective from March 23rd, although notice was delayed until two months later. In July, 1918, Captain Stanley Parker was transferred to Rockaway. To the surprise of Ensign Erl Gould he was again promoted, to the rank of Lieutenant, and given command of the Key West Naval Air Station. It was a large position to fill. Additional hangars, barracks, shops, and other buildings were being constructed. This work went on until two large flying beaches were in operation, with housing for fifty planes, two dirigibles, and four kite balloons. The force was increased until it consisted of a thousand enlisted men, nearly a hundred officers, and about two hundred and fifty student fliers.

Key West had increased its population and was enjoying a season of lavish prosperity. Admiral Fletcher lorded it over the Navy Yard, the Naval Training Station, the Marine Corps base, and nominally the Naval Air Station. Admiral Anderson was going and coming with his vessels, using the Dolphin as his flagship. Besides all this, there was an army post at Key West.

Lieutenant Gould knew of tropical languor only by p248hearsay. It did not come into his young life at all, nor did he permit his large force to wilt in the well-known siesta. The station had a certain snap and vim that defied the climate. This was remarked by officers sent to inspect the work. The town offered few diversions. The men preferred to stay on the job. Mosquitoes were a curse. Sentries wore high boots, mittens, and nets draped from their hats while they sweated in temperatures of ninety to a hundred degrees.

With the greatly increased air force, Admiral Anderson was able to devise his war games on a larger scale. Erl Gould enjoyed them.

A few ships would be sent out on a cruise [he explains] and the submarines advised of their homeward course. Then the Air Station and the sub‑chaser base were given the probable location at dawn on a certain day. If the ships were due to come from the West, we sent two or three planes to Dry Tortugas the evening before the ships were due. At daybreak one plane went off to meet them; promptly two hours later another plane was sent to relieve it and so on. Our cruising radius was well out to sea, beyond sight of land, so considerable experience in flying by compass was obtained. By relaying planes we were able to convoy the ship from dawn to dusk, with the chasers escorting them on the surface.

Every now and then all the ships would stop their engines while the chasers listened in. If they detected a submarine, they sailed and assumed different formations of attack. When we sighted a submarine we went over it, looped directly above it, spiraled down and flew around it until the subchasers came up. So clear was the water that we could find the submarine almost every time. The observations were far more successful than in the dirty water of the Sound off New London. On only one occasion was a submarine attack made without detection from the air. This was done by a boat of the 'K' type.

The importance of Key West as a training school for fliers was by no means overlooked. This was, after all, the chief purpose. It was real luxury for Erl Gould to p249have all planes he wanted, plenty of motors and spare parts, and ideal flying weather. Almost every man in training could be sent up at least once a day and usually twice. This enabled them to learn with remarkable rapidity. It was exceptional if a student required as much as twenty hours with an instructor before he was allowed to solo.

After soloing for ten hours in N‑9's they were given a couple of instruction hops in F‑boats, H‑boats, R‑9's, and Aero-Marines. Then they soloed in these machines and so had a variety of experiences in adapting themselves. The instructors were all excellent fliers and before releasing their students gave them two stunt hops during which they looped, side-slipped, and did tail-spins. There were few accidents, considering the number of flying hours rolled up in a day. Students who found themselves in trouble were usually able to take themselves out again. It was an efficient system in all respects.

There was a glimpse of naval pomp and a touch of humor when Rear Admiral Winslow steamed into harbor on the Aloha while making a tour of inspection of the Atlantic coast stations. As the senior officer, he rated salutes and all the ceremonies laid down in the regulations. Lieutenant Gould had his men drawn up, all spick and span and as solemn as so many owls. This was going to be different from that undrilled, disrespectful mob that had greeted Eddie McDonnell's first inspection at Palm Beach. Admiral Fletcher had the Navy Yard and the Training Station all fit and polished to the last button. Admiral Anderson's ships were anchored at precise intervals with the saluting powder ready to burn. Bang went the guns, and then the Aloha went aground on the flats at the edge of the channel and there she stayed with Admiral Winslow striding the quarterdeck and cursing under his breath in the forceful language of the sea.

p250 However, Lieutenant Erl C. B. Gould found that the jinx had not touched him. This was one of his lucky days. Admiral Winslow finally came ashore and inspected the Air Station. Apparently he liked what he saw. Discovering that his aide, 'Fred' Eckhart, was a friend of Lieutenant Gould, the Admiral invited the young man off to the flagship to dine. When the Aloha was ready to sail from Key West, Lieutenant Gould was requested to accompany the Admiral to Pensacola and inspect the Naval Air Station there. 'I had another taste of the delightful life,' comments Erl, 'similar to that of commuting from New York to Huntington on the Whileaway, except that I had the blue plush room all to myself.'

So accustomed was the amiable Lieutenant Gould to consorting with these two‑starred potentates that one takes it as a matter of course that he and Admiral Anderson should have been flying over Havana now and then. Perhaps it was to discuss locating air stations on the Cuban coast, or some other topic, with the Minister of Marine. They were rather pleasant excursions. On one of them the Minister of Marine, who was a hospitable gentleman, insisted on entertaining his guests after the business was finished. There was food, not too much of it, for the influence of Mr. Hoover had pervaded fair Cuba, but there was no restriction on liquid nourishment. The afternoon slid past on ball bearings. Instead of starting back for Key West at five, Admiral and the Lieutenant tarried until dusk to toast Cuba Libre and the glorious republic of Estados Unidos, likewise to hell with the Kaiser! Another plane had been waiting to fly to Key West as an escort, but the motor was balky in starting. This caused more delay. Finally the two machines soared the ninety miles' flight across to Key West.

Fifteen miles out from Havana Harbor, the escort plane made a forced descent to a sea which was roughened p251by a strong wind. Erl Gould scribbled on a pad and passed it to Admiral Anderson, asking whether he desired to return to Havana or proceed to Key West and send out sub‑chasers from there to stand by the crippled seaplane. 'Use your own judgment' was Admiral's reply. It was for the aviation commander to do the worrying. This was his job.

In the darkness they flew around the disabled machine once more. Luckily its motor consented to go to work and it lifted itself from the threatening sea. Off they went again, the two planes together, and nosed it through one heavy squall after another. Lieutenant Gould was in a state of mind. Key West was not a wide mark to hit in a thick, windy night and it would never have done to wander around the Gulf of Mexico with an admiral on board. By edging up the coast, and keeping an eye on the compass, the anxious pilot picked up the American Shoals Light and knew where he was. Thence it was an easy jog straight home. The Admiral was not at all perturbed. He was perfectly willing to pay another visit to the genial Cuban Minister of Marine, but thought it advisable to say adios by daylight.

In his large mechanical force, Gould had one of the old crowd from Huntington. This was 'Bob' Truman.

After we disbanded [says Erl] Alphy Ames and Albert Ditman arranged to get him over at Bay Shore and I managed to have him included in the draft sent to Key West. Bob was remarkable at lining up planes. He remained at Key West all the time I was there and proved himself to be one of the greatest assets of the station. He superintended the erection of new planes and repaired all those that could be repaired. He and I together always gave each plane its first flight. And before long he could do the stunt as well as any one there.

The other members of the Unit will find it difficult to imagine Bob Truman, or myself, for that matter, in the rôle of lecturers. p252Nevertheless lectures were given twice a week — on flying, lining up planes, different types of construction, etc., and aerodynamics as Eddie McDonnell had given it to us. On the day when I lectured, the class would flock to the beach en masse as soon as I finished and ask Bob Truman please to explain to them what I thought I had been talking about. In a word, he did more than anybody else to instil and keep going the old pep which had been so notable in the Unit. Near the end of the war he was made a warrant officer, although he had been recommended for promotion several months earlier.

As the officer in command of a station as extensive as this, Erl Gould had very many problems put up to him. He appears to have handled them with tact and courage — the steel fist in the velvet glove, or words to that effect. His position demanded executive ability of a high order, but he could also listen to the grievances of his men and maintain their morale. Justice was dispensed and advice bestowed in a truly parental manner. For instance, there was the distressed lady who addressed the following letter to 'U. S. Navil Station, Key West, Florida':

Mr. Captain:

On the 31st of October, Mr. Mason Fortner was home on his furlo and visited us. And he took my engagement ring off and never returned it. I rote him asking him to please return it but never rec'd any answer. My friend is in France in the service. And I would like awful well if you would see that Mason would send my ring to me. I do not know if I will ever see him any more and the ring is my engagement and would like to have the ring. I will thank you very much if you would see that Mason sends it back. And if he has lost or broken the ring he will have to pay me $15 in place of the ring.

Yours truly

Miss Hazel Caton

This was enough to invoke the sympathies of the tender-hearted Lieutenant Gould. Far more serious was the eloquent lament of the colored mess attendant who prepared his document in regular Navy style:

p253 From: O. B. Polk, M. Att. 3C.

To: Commanding Officer.

Via: Executive Officer.

Subject: Mistreatment by Superior.

Reason: (1) In accordance with the Bluejacket's Manual.

(2) With the right to report me if I am guilty of neglect of duty. Instead, he attacked the virtues of my gray-haired mother by calling me an Ishmael. Thereby, with his sarcasm, my parents were illegally united.

(3) The Circumstances: Last night the mess carte menu was somewhat table d'hôte style. The boy who I detailed to dress the dinner table failed to put on celery. I as Junior Mess Table Captain make my inspection of the table five minutes before announcement, 'Dinner is served.' I find no celery or ice tea poured but at once I begin the unfinished work, and at the time I was putting celery on the dish he was blaspheming me vehemently. I spoke in the most magnitudinous manner, to the effect that I thought he owed me an apology for wronging me so unjustly. He said I had never treated him right and to look at my record. If I was wrong and unpleased to complain to the Commander.

(4) And, sir, I only pray as plaintiff that he apologizes and that he be as benevolent toward me as his fancies of me will allow.

There was also the melodrama of the purloined letter. It caused another indignant mess attendant to take his pen in hand and let it sizzle as follows:

Commanding officer:

I have been accused by H. Haywood, this date, of taking a letter from his writing box. I wrote a lady in Key West asking her not to mention my name in her gossip to others, due to a broken friendship between she and I of previous date. He went to town today and probably saw this letter. He came back and began to swear, saying in very abusive language that some one had taken a letter from his box, slurring somebody outrageously. In the mean time Mr. King called me or rather the phone rang and after I answered the phone I went to Mr. King. Passing back through the galley, Haywood mentioned my name. I stopped and asked him what I had to do with his letter. He said, 'Yes, you, George Williams Mack, you went to my p254box and took my letter, ––––––––– you!' As a deadly insult this Haywood added, 'Your mother never wore any underclothes.' He held up the knife with which he was cutting potatoes and I caught his hand. With my other hand I grabbed an iron from the stove and hit him twice. Then I reported to the Executive Officer.

There is no mention of a burial party and 'Taps' for the offensive Mr. Haywood, so it may be assumed that the flat-iron bounced from his head. Amid such distressing memoranda as the foregoing appeared a bright gleam. Lieutenant Gould found on his desk one morning this eighteen-carat gem of poesy, author unknown but suspected to be a gob of the Air Station:

Co'se Ah ain't saying Ah won't do

Jes whut ma country want me to,

But dey's one job Ah fo'see

Ain't gwine to teach itself to me —

Uh! uh! Not me!

Dat's dis heah aihrplane stuff — No, Boss,

Ah'll bah some othah kind ob cross

Lak drive a mule, er tote a gun,

But Ah ain't flirtin' wif de sun —

Uh! uh! Not me!

If Ah mus' do a loop-do‑loop

Let mine be 'round some chicken coop;

It ain't gwine be up whah de crows

Kin say Ah's trompin' on deer toes —

Uh! uh! Not me!

It sho' look sweet, Ah don't deny,

To be a‑oozin' round de sky,

But dat's fo' folks dat's in de mood,

Not fo' me tho' cose Ah's shrewd —

Uh! uh! Not me!

Down heah Ah firs' saw light ob day

Down heah am whah Ah's gwine to stay;

Folks, Ah don't keer to hab ma feet

Git too blamed proud to walk de street —

Uh! uh! Not me!

p255 These are glimpses of the lighter side. It is difficult to appraise in detail the merits and complexities of such a task as Erl Gould shouldered, with a personnel of almost fifteen hundred men and fifty planes under his command. He is temperamentally disinclined to air his troubles or to take life too solemnly. Others must be permitted to speak in his behalf concerning the Key West station. He managed to adjust himself without friction to the niceties of naval caste and rank, and, at his tender years, to get on with his force, from enlisted men to rear admirals. This was an achievement in itself. Admiral Anderson, now retired, seems to enjoy writing to Erl:

I recall with much pleasure my association with you at Key West during the World War when you commanded the Aviation Station and flying force there and I was in command of the American Patrol Detachment with base at Key West.

I great admire the fine spirit and good discipline shown by the splendid personnel of your force. Your ready and hearty coöperation with my force afloat was a source of much satisfaction and comfort to my officers and me. We felt that we could always rely upon you in the happy event of an enemy's force appearing in the vicinity. The experiments carried out between your planes and the submarines to determine the depth the submarines could be seen under the clear waters of the Caribbean, the best color to paint them to avoid detection when submerged, and also the best method of marking them so that they might be recognized by our aviators and not be bombed while mistaken for an enemy, were of great value, not only to my force but to the service at large. We also carried out experiments in spotting by planes when we fired shrapnel at silhouette targets located in the brush on shore at Woman's Cay.

Do you recall how, at my request, you had your planes make reconnaissances over the city at dusk to determine the visibility of objects and buildings in the twilight, and the report of the observers that the only objects clearly visible were the roofs of the camouflaged buildings in the Navy Yard? This work of camouflage was done at great expense by one of the self-appointed p256experts that were employed in such numbers and at large salaries by the Government at the beginning of the War.

I recall my first flight with you to observe the harbor and the depth at which the bottom could be seen from the air, and the stunts you put the plane through at the completion of our inspection. You emptied the entire bag of tricks on that occasion and I had such a stiff neck from the effects that I could not turn my head for a week.

You recall our trip to Havana to visit the Cuban Minister of Marine? Our late start back due to trouble with the other plane and its forced landing in the Florida Strait at dusk in the face of a very heavy thunderstorm. How the plane carrying my aide, Lieutenant Commander Frost, bumped so heavily on rising that he went through the cane-bottomed seat, and how he stood and worked the oil pump by hand all the way home. History repeats itself. One of the around-the‑world aviators did the same thing and received much credit therefrom. I did not even mention the incident in my report. It was all in the day's work.

We felt, towards the end of the war, that with the assistance of your planes in locating an enemy's submarine and the degree of skill attained by the sub‑chasers in their listening devices, an enemy's sub would inevitably have been lost if it ventured into the Florida Straits to attack the immense volume of shipping that passed through this focal point.

Erl Gould remained in command at Key West for almost two months after the Armistice. The order relieving him from active duty was dated January 2, 1919. Somewhat later in the year he was strongly recommended for promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. This request was made by Captain N. E. Irwin, Supervisor Naval Flying Corps. The Bureau of Navigation was ready to acknowledge the merits of Lieutenant Gould but set forth an objection, to wit:

Owing to the fact that this officer served only from March 24, 1917, to January 2, 1919, and is twenty-three years of age, I would not recommend his promotion to Lieutenant Commander.

This failed to satisfy Captain Irwin. There was no p257crime in being a very young man. Performance is what counts in time of war. He therefore came back at the Bureau of Navigation and expressed himself as follows:

Lieutenant Erl C. B. Gould, U. S. N. R. F., has an excellent record throughout his period of service with the Navy. Fitness reports submitted by Lieutenant Commander A. C. Read, Captain Stanley V. Parker, and Rear Admiral Fletcher all contain remarks to the effect that Lieutenant Gould is a thoroughly capable officer and very attentive, good executive, and excellent flyer.

Special attention is invited to the reports of fitness submitted by Rear Admiral Fletcher, Commandant, Seventh Naval District, on Lieutenant Gould for the periods from March 31, 1918, to January 22, 1919, wherein the promotion of Lieutenant Gould to Lieutenant Commander is specially recommended for his efficient performance of duty as Commanding Officer of the Naval Air Station at Key West, where both patrol work and flight instruction of students was carried on.

The recommendation of this officer for the promotion of Lieutenant Gould to the grade of Lieutenant Commander was made on account of his excellent performance of duty, notwithstanding the fact that he was only twenty-three years of age, and it is believed that the responsibility of the duties he was performing and the efficient manner in which he performed them, as shown by his reports while on active duty, merit such promotion.

The Bureau of Navigation saw fit to change its mind when confronted with these arguments. On April 7th, Captain Kenneth Castleman wrote as follows:

My Dear Erl:

It has just given me great pleasure to hand your commission as Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserve Flying Corps, Class 5, for general service, to the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation for his signature. Your commission dates from January 1, 1919. I congratulate both the Flying Corps and your good self.1

p258 Admiral Fletcher cherishes pleasant memories of the Key West base and has kindly contributed some of them for use in this history.

The more conspicuous contributions of the home Naval Districts to the Cause were, of course, the training of personnel for foreign service and the safeguarding of American waters. In the Seventh District the exceptional advantages of the Florida climate for continuous flying at all seasons and the difficulty of patrolling the District's very extensive coast line (nearly a thousand miles) with vessels alone, accorded the Air Stations a unique prominence in these activities.

Besides the station at Key West, there was one at Cocoanut Grove, Miami. Together the two stations, during 1918, qualified upward of six hundred aviators for service abroad. In coöperation they maintained a continuous air patrol of the Straits of Florida through their entire extent, establishing substations beginning at the Dry Tortugas, and completing the necessary investigations and plans for fueling and rest stations to be used by the patrol on the north coast of Cuba. This, in addition to constant exercises with the vessels of the Scouting Force and the submarines based on Key West, and to the continuous enlargement of the stations themselves.

The efficiency and discipline of the two stations was equally excellent. In atmosphere, they presented a striking contrast. That at Miami was commanded, and very ably so, by a veteran officer of the regular service, Commander M. A. Mitcher, an p259Annapolis graduate, and, judged by flying standards, a man of thoroughly seasoned years (I imagine about thirty at the time); the other, during the greater part of my association with it, by Lieutenant E. C. B. Gould, a Yale graduate, twenty‑two years old, a Naval Reserve officer, confessedly in the service only for the purposes of the Great Cause. To a very conspicuous degree the spirit of the commanding officers was reflected in the spirit of the commands: — In Cocoanut Grove the air of a permanent profession regularly pursued as a routine business; in Key West rather the enthusiasm of a particular adventure.

The latter, built on reclaimed land of the Florida East Coast Railway, was nearing completion of its original scheme, when I assumed command of the District, early in January, 1918. At that time, Lieutenant Parker of the U. S. Coast Guard was commanding officer and Lieutenant Gould, second in command. Soon after, in the spring, Captain Parker was detached to take charge of the Air station at Bay Shore, Long Island, and Gould assumed command. It was in his régime that most of my experience with the station lay.

Few, I believe, of his age and previous experience in command, were suddenly burdened during the war with so serious a responsibility, and the good temper, assurance and readiness in moments of crisis with which he carried it always, are high tribute both to the young commander's individual qualities and the training of the aviation unit established by Mr. Davison, in which he had his preliminary experience. I cannot praise too highly his unfailing courtesy, modesty and fearlessness as an aviator; they are among my pleasant memories of Key West. Of his effectiveness as a commanding officer the record of his station speaks eloquently for itself. If I remember rightly, the station at Key West topped the list in the average of its weekly record of total number of hours of flying. Consider in conjunction with this that only four fatalities occurred during the entire life of the station, a period of a year and a half, and further evidence is unnecessary of the excellence both of the command and the personnel.

The exceptionally high character of the latter, I cannot doubt, did much to lighten Mr. Gould's difficult position. It is the merest commonplace of general knowledge to say that they represented the best of America's youth. What, I think, p260is not so uniformly recognized is the complete homogeneity of the personnel as a factor of effectiveness. All practically of an age, all — or nearly all — drawn from the same social stratum and, owing to the temporary character of their employment, devoid, to an uncommon degree, of personal ambition of rank, they achieved at once a capacity for sympathetic coöperation and unity in action which only arduous training could otherwise have supplied. On any show day in the District, in any of its small crises — a ship distressed in the Straits, a submarine scare, or the raising of a Liberty Loan, the Station could be depended upon to turn like a single man. I have often felt no small pride and gratitude for their exemplary bearing on all occasions and their verve and enthusiasm on any special occasion involving the reputation of their unit. At the close of hostilities, I parted with them with regret, and I trust that they, scattered as they are now in divers pursuits, still draw something of inspiration from the impulse of a common purpose, highly held, and the ideals and traditions of our Navy.


The Author's Notes:

1 From the Fitness Reports, Navy Department:

(Lieutenant Erl C. B. Gould.)

Period from 30 September, to 22 January, 1919:

This officer was selected from the officers at Naval Station, Key West, as qualified for command of the station when the former commanding officer was sent to command another station.

He has commanded the station with signal ability, and has now been placed on inactive duty.

From the character and quality of the service performed it is recommended that he be advanced in grade to the rank of Lieutenant Commander, which has previously been recommended by the Commander.

W. B. FletcherRear Adm., U. S. N.,

Comdt., 7th Nav. Dist.

Period from 1 March, to 30 July, 1918:

A very capable and energetic officer, much above the average. A good combination of leader and executive.

Qualified for duties ashore as follows: — Any administrative, executive or command duties connected with aircraft (heavier than Air).

Stanley V. ParkerCapt., U. S. N.

Commanding, Naval Air Station, Key West, Fla.

Page updated: 11 Sep 13