During this fall term of 1916, the Unit was prodigiously busy on the campus as well as at New London. Its own inherent energy shoved it along toward larger things. It was steadily gaining momentum, yet had no definite goal in sight. The prospect of enrollment in the Naval Reserve was still uncertain for lack of legislation. The Unit was not an officers' training group, like the Army camp at Plattsburg, for the reason that there were no billets in the naval service for volunteer aviation officers. This made no difference. The feeling grew stronger that the task was essential and necessary and a way would be found to utilize it. 'Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.' This was the text and the gospel.
The Yale Aero Club, F. Trubee Davison, president, was organized with headquarters in Wright Hall. Here the clan gathered to talk shop. It was decided that a class in radio ought to be started. Lectures were arranged on the technical side of aviation. There was to be no flunking this subject. The Aero Club was like a section of the Navy Department, only livelier. Official letters and telegrams were coming in almost daily. The office of Dean Jones himself was not geared much higher.
On January 13th the Yale News printed this account:
The organization of the Aero Club of Yale which was announced some time ago in The News has been completed. Men in all departments of the University who are especially interested p60in the development of aeronautics are eligible for membership. The War Department has requested that fifty men be recommended from Yale for the summer course of training which will prepare for commissions in the Reserve Corps.
The Aero Club will act as a clearing house for all matters pertaining to aviation, especially in reference to facilities for instruction in flying, Army and Navy activities, the situation in the construction of aeroplanes, motors, etc., the development of instruments for aerial navigation, the use of radio, and all other departments of the science, as far as possible.
To facilitate this branch of the activities, the Club will invite the leaders in aeronautical developments of all kinds to lecture on their special subjects. Among those who have accepted are Glenn H. Curtiss and Lawrence B. Sperry, the chief engineers and designers of the Curtiss Aeroplane Co. and several others. In addition there will be frequent talks on the more dramatic side of flying, given by aviators on leave from the European front.
Professor Breckenridge of the Scientific School is the faculty adviser of the Club and has offered the use of the Mason Laboratory for tests and experiments with aeroplane parts and accessories. Manufacturers have expressed a desire to coöperate in this work. These tests will be carried on for the benefit of the club members.
The test stand
The Club desires to present the practical sides of flying in addition to lecture and research work, and, to accomplish this, exhibition flights at New Haven will be given from time to time, with opportunities for passenger rides for club members.
The spirit of the campus was militant. The Mexican war scare had been a mere flurry. Events were inexorably shaping themselves for the far more serious business of war with Germany. Aviation was now very popular among the Yale undergraduates. The First Unit had set the pace and showed the way. In December the Second Unit was formed under the leadership of Ganson G. Depew, with no lack of first-class material to choose from.
The other members were E. de Cernea, '19; P. S. Fuller, '19; F. H. Goodyear, '14; A. W. Hawkins, '19; S. H. Knox, p61'20; A. A. McCormack, '19; J. S. Otis, '19; S. Potter, '19; T. C. Rodman, '19; J. J. Schieffelin, '19; E. T. Smith, '19; C. Weis, '17S; K. A. Wood, '19.
A Third Yale Unit was organized a little later in the spring. The leading spirits were C. D. Backus, '19; H. A. Pumpelly, '15; and W. J. Conners, '19. It was sent for training to a seaplane station established at Mastic, Long Island, by Mr. J. P. Knapp.
Trubee Davison and his advisers delayed enlarging their own pioneer unit until plans for further training could be developed.
During the Christmas holidays, Trubee went to Thomasville, Georgia, where his father was spending some time as the guest of his intimate friend, Colonel Lewis S. Thompson, sportsman and capitalist. Here was the ideal man to take an active interest in the fortunes of the Unit. This had occurred to Mr. Henry Davison. He was unable to give it his own time and attention, much as he would have liked to. Trubee and his boyhood friends had done wonders, but if the thing were to go on it required business organization and the direction of older men. Learning to fly while in college was no more than a beginning. Adequate preparation for war service in the shortest time possible meant spending large sums of money under competent management. This could not be expected of Trubee and his fellow aviators. It was entirely too much for them to undertake.
Having been soundly converted himself, Mr. Davison proceeded to 'sell the idea' to Colonel Thompson, with Trubee pulling a strong oar. The Colonel was never a man to waste words. A massive man, as solid as a rock, he sat and listened with a quizzical smile at the corners of his mouth. His ruddy face glowed with interest. He loved thoroughbred horses. In a way, these boys were thoroughbreds. What they had done proved it to his satisfaction. p62He liked the scheme. They were on the right track. He agreed with Mr. Davison that diplomatic relations with Germany might be broken any day. War would soon follow. Then where could this Yale outfit finish its training? In the dead of winter nothing could be done in the North. They would have to go to Palm Beach or some place like that.
Such were the Colonel's deductions. Yes, it looked as if they needed a boss, a sort of general manager to take charge of their affairs. All this was tentative, you understand. Should war be delayed by some unforeseen twist of destiny, it might be wiser for the Unit to stay in college and resume its training during the summer. The important point was that Colonel Thompson had been won over and was ready to stand by.
His mind very much relieved, Trubee went back to New Haven. His father stood behind him with promises of ample financial support. With the Unit underwritten by J. P. Morgan & Co., it could be called a going concern. It seemed unwise, however, to enlist more members until a scheme for training them could be carefully worked out. The Trans-Oceanic Company had moved to Palm Beach for the winter. Trubee talked with its manager over the telephone and came to an understanding whereby the entire plant could be taken over at short notice.
More machines had to be obtained somehow. The Navy Department had none to spare. Trubee went scouting and bought one at the aeroplane show in New York. He was lucky enough to locate two or three others in private hands which could be secured in a hurry if needed. With this equipment in sight, he felt justified in enlarging the Unit. Looking ahead to the summer, several sites for camps, including Port Washington, were investigated. Construction and engineering data were filed away for reference, together with estimates for tentage, supplies, p63etc. By this time Colonel Thompson had come North and was ready to take the burden upon his broad shoulders. He was a man to shove obstacles aside or flatten them out.
Those were anxious, uncertain days. The Yale aviators had another loyal friend in Henry Woodhouse who cheered them up with a letter written to Trubee in January:
Dear Mr. Davison:
As you perhaps know, on the occasion of the banquet of the Aero Club of America, which is an annual event, presentations are made of Aviation Medals of Merit for achievements accomplished during the year, and I shall appreciate your advising me whether the members of the Aero Coast Patrol No. 1 at the present time are the same individuals as when it was first formed and if the same in number. Perhaps you would list them for me and I should then have an absolutely correct rendering of their names. Your good work in the mosquito fleet maneuvers and in connection with the developing of aerial coast defense merits all the encouragement that can be offered.
Congress had passed the Naval Appropriations Bill by this time, with its provision for a Naval Reserve Flying Corps. This occasioned some correspondence, among which was a letter from Commander John Stapler of the submarine flagship at New London. He wrote, on January 24th:
It seems that the Commandant of the Naval District is the one to do business with. New London is included in the Newport District, the Second. New Haven is in the District of which New York is the Naval Base, and the Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, is the man there.
Lieutenant H. E. Kays, aide to the Commandant, Naval Station, Narragansett Bay, Newport, R. I., has written to employ and seems very anxious to help things along and to enroll officers and men in the Naval Reserve Flying Corps for his District. I suggest that you write to him directly and clear up any points that you may have in mind about the matter of joining the Naval Reserve Flying Corps. Apparently from the enclosed p64outline of the organization of this part of the Naval Reserve Force, it has been interpreted in a much more flexible manner than the reading of the bill would have led one to infer.
You people would of course join as Ensigns and then advance in rank after certain service and examination. It appears that you can resign at any time you desire but this point might be more definitely established. The time of service each year is not excessive, it strikes me. The thing is gotten up, of course, with the idea that the officers and men own their own machines. I should think that in the case of this Unit, having your own machines here at New London, it could be arranged for you to do your service here with us — another point to be established — joining the Naval Reserve Flying Corps would not leave you as free as if you were part of a Coast Defense Unit and in time of war you would have to go where they needed you and ordered you. At present there is no provision for taking over civilian flying-boats and the upkeep of them, but this may come later. Neither, for that matter, is there any such provision in the Coast Defense Unit idea, so there you are. Legislation, I think, will be needed in both cases.
This offered a tangible prospect of being taken into the naval organization and was another step toward readiness for active service. A program for handling an increased personnel was mapped out in detail. Each old member of the Unit would be responsible for so many men, or a section, of the new crowd, like a corporal or a sergeant. The section leaders would report to Trubee Davison as the senior officer. The Unit was in no sense a military organization but it had its own common-sense methods of getting results.
By the first of February, 1917, the national crisis was in the final stages. Germany tore up all her former promises and informed Washington that she was about to enter upon an unrestricted submarine campaign. American vessels should be marked by flags and painted with signs in order to avoid being torpedoed. Furthermore the United States would be permitted to send only one mail p65steamer a week in each direction to England, and only then when the port of destination was Falmouth.
The Rubicon had been reached and there could be no turning back. The German Ambassador was handed his passports on February 3d and Mr. Gerard summoned from Berlin. On the same day the President announced to both Houses of Congress the severance of diplomatic relations with Germany. He showed by his speeches that he took the step unwillingly. He declared that he could not believe that the German Government meant 'to do in fact what they have warned us they feel at liberty to do,' and that only 'actual overt acts' would convince him of their hostile purpose. But he ended with the solemn announcement that if American ships were sunk and American lives were lost he would come again to Congress and ask for power to take the necessary steps for the protection of his people.
The First Yale Unit interpreted this as the summons for which it had been waiting. The new members were promptly enrolled. These were:
C. F. Beach, '18; Graham M. Brush, '17S; Reginald C. Coombe, '18; David S. Ingalls, '20; R. Livingston Ireland, '18S; Oliver B. James, '18; Henry H. Landon, '17; George Francklyn Lawrence, Jr., '18; Frank R. V. Lynch, '18S; Kenneth MacLeish, '18; Archibald G. McIlwaine, '18; Curtis S. Read, '18; R. Bartow Read, '20; William A. Rockefeller, '18; Kenneth R. Smith, '18S; Charles M. Stewart, '17; William P. Thompson, 2d, '18S, and Samuel S. Walker, '17.
Increasing the numbers of the Unit meant persuading the parents of the men selected that their sons were choosing the right course. It implied no lack of patriotism and devotion that mothers and fathers had their doubts or fears, for they did not know what choice should be made. p66How passionately their boys at college felt about it, although few could put it in words, is depicted in one of Kenneth MacLeish's letters to his parents:
I have thoroughly made up my mind to join an aviation corps in case of war. There is absolutely no argument there. That is the branch of service for which I am best fitted, and in which I could do most. I am only being radical and headstrong because I am perfectly sure that you don't understand the conditions, or else that you think I am the kind of man who can stay at home and let some one else do the fighting. I realize the fact that at least five men are needed at home to support one in the field, but that realization will never, never, never suffice me. I could never stay at home if there was fighting of a real nature. I could never be content at home if the life and honor of any one dear to me was in danger.
War is terrible, but there are two or three things that are worse. The brutality of Germany with respect to Belgium, the statement by Germany that international law and humanity are mere scraps of paper compared to her needs, the wanton murder of helpless American women and children, the open insults to the honor of the United States — they're all worse than war! There are many things worth giving up one's life for, and the greatest of these is humanity and the laws of Christianity. Some people think that the only words Christ uttered were 'Resist not evil.' Do you think for a minute that if Christ had been alone on the Mount with Mary and a desperate man had entered with criminal intent, He would have turned away when a crime against Mary was perpetrated? Never! He would have fought with all the God‑given strength he had! Religion embraces the sword as well as the dove of peace. Please think this over and let me know if I can join the Yale Aviation Corps.
James Gould was one of the men selected but he felt obliged to drop out soon after joining. Of the original twelve members, Charles Wiman had been injured, in September, while flying a land machine and was unable to pass the physical test required for the Naval Reserve, to the great regret of his comrades. His injuries incapacitated him for active service. In an account of the accident in the New York Times it was stated:
p67 J. Walter Struthers of New York and Charles D. Wiman of Moline, Ill., members of the Governors Island Aviation School, were spiraling yesterdaya in a biplane at an altitude of •800 feet above the aviation field on the island when the machine developed tail spinning and dropped to the ground before the aviators were able to regain control of it.
Struthers and Wiman were strapped to their seats under the wreckage of the tail of the biplane, and it was nearly fifteen minutes before the soldiers and mechanics on the field could get them free from the tangled wires and convey them to the post hospital.
Surgeon Lieutenant R. Goodman found that both of legs had been broken and he had sustained internal injuries, while Wiman had a fracture of the thigh. Both aviators were unconscious when picked up. Wiman was the first to revive. Struthers, the more seriously injured, will recover, Surgeon Goodman says, unless unforeseen complications develop.
An examination by aviation experts at the Island showed that the pilots had kept their heads, and, at the last moment, had done everything possible to avert the accident, even the switch having been thrown open to avoid risk of the machine catching fire when it struck the ground.
A committee was formed, consisting of Colonel J. B. Bellinger, Major Carl F. Hartmann, and Captain C. G. Kilbourne, all of General Wood's staff, to investigate the accident. The officers said they would wait until Struthers and Wiman were able to answer questions.
Charles Deere Wiman is a Yale graduate, a former member of the Yale varsity crew, and a licensed pilot. He has been making flights from Governors Island since July.
When ready to leave college for Palm Beach, the First Unit therefore consisted of twenty-nine men, all of them from Yale excepting Wells Brown and Albert Ditman, and all undergraduates excepting Albert Sturtevant who was one year out of Sheff.
It is worth while noting the various college activities and achievements of the members of the Unit as finally organized, with these addled men enrolled. As a selected crowd they had already displayed certain abilities, p68in athletics or otherwise. Predominant among them was the readiness to take on responsibility, and the spirit of unselfish endeavor in the common cause that is the finest flower of the Yale tradition. Those not mentioned in the following list were known to possess similar qualities, and had been so judged by the candid verdicts of the campus:
Ames. Won his 'Y' in football.
Coombe. Went out for football and crew. Was captain of the 1918 Freshman crew.
F. T. Davison. Went out for baseball. Was a member of the Freshman Hockey team. Manager of the crew.
Farwell. Captain of the Freshman Track team and a member of the University Track team in 1916 and 1917. He took first place in the 120 yard hurdle in six meets, including the Yale-Harvard, Yale-Princeton, the fall and spring meets, and fifth place in the Intercollegiates; first or second places in the 220 yard hurdles in seven meets.
Gates. Member of the Freshman Football and Track teams, of the University Football team in 1916, and of the University Track team in 1916‑1917. He was also captain elect of the 1917 Yale Eleven.
Gould. Captain of the Freshman Hockey team and a member of the University Hockey team in 1915‑1916 and in 1916‑1917.
Ingalls. Played on the Freshman Football team. Was captain of the Freshman Hockey team. Captain of the University Hockey team in 1918‑1919.
Ireland. Took the Willis Brook Cup in 1916‑1917; Meadowbrook in 1917, and a prize for indoor inter-scholastics in 1917; was a member of the Freshman Relay team in 1916; of the Freshman Track team in 1916; and University Relay team in 1917.
James. Rowed on the Freshman crew against Princeton and the four against Harvard.
Landon. Was a member of the Junior Hockey team and Class crew. Won cup for the Junior Class crew championship. Went out for football, basketball, and baseball. Was manager of the Hockey team.
p69 Lawrence. Rowed on the Freshman crew in 1914, and on the University crew in 1917.
Lovett. Was manager of the Dramatic Association.
Lynch. Was a member of the Freshman Football team and Track team, 1915. Captain of the Freshman Baseball team in 1916. Member of the University football squad in 1916, and University Baseball team in 1917.
MacLeish. Was a member of the Freshman and University Track teams; of the University Water Polo team. Won a prize in pole vaulting in the Harvard Freshman Meet.
McIlwaine. Went out for baseball. Was a member of the Hockey team and the Class crew. Won the University Golf championship in 1914.
Curtis Read. Played baseball. Was assistant manager of the University Football team in 1916 and manager in 1917.
Smith. Member of Freshman Football team.
Stewart. Was member of the University Track team.
Sturtevant. Rowed on the Freehold crew in 1913. Was a member of the University crew for three years and its captain in 1915.
Vorys. Freshman Football team, University football squad, and also won 'Y' in track.
Walker. Rowed on Sophomore and Junior crews. Was captain of Yale Squash team, also went out for football.
Of the newly enrolled members of the Unit, Graham Brush could not be called a rookie. In June, 1916, he had enlisted in the First Aero Company Signal Corps of the New York National Guard.
The summer was spent at Mineola [he writes], the present army field. At that time there were three hangars, two belonging to the state Guard, the other to the Wright Aeronautical School. There were four planes on the field that summer, three of our Company and the other of the Wright School. It was in this other plane, a B Wright type with two pusher propellers driven by chains from one motor, with the elevators out in front and the seats for pilot and passenger suspended in open air from the frame (the original type of Wright aeroplane with warping wings and bamboo spars), that Al Sturtevant learned to fly before he was transferred to Governor's Island.
p70 The other three planes on the field were old and worn out. Only once during the summer were two of them in operation at the same time. There were about thirty men in the Company and needless to say there was very little flying for any one individual. Our time was spent in making a camp and repairing the planes, doing a little reading and ground work in spare moments. There were no buildings at that time on the field, except the hangars, the Company living entirely in tents. It is almost inconceivable that it was only a few years ago when Mineola, the best known field in the country from the very inception of aviation, was nothing more than one of the open spaces of Long Island. This summer, mostly spent in anticipation of the next hop two or three weeks off, was enough to stir thoughts for the future.
Waiting a turn to fly
Following mid‑year examinations, in 1917, an extensive inspection trip to various industrial centers was a part of the regular course in Mechanical Engineering. I was in Tacoma alone in my hotel room thinking of our possible entry into the war when I had a premonition that I should hurry home, that our Unit was going to be called into service. That night I was on my way to New York. Arriving early Sunday morning I called by telephone and asked if he had received a message for me. It was there. Trubee had called the day before. We were leaving for Palm Beach on Wednesday.
'Bill' Thompson was another new member of the Unit who could not be called a novice. In fact, he had earned a flying license. Here is how it happened:
During the summer of 1913 while traveling in England I received my first impressions of flying, much to the distress of the family. It was in an old Wright machine at Hendon. The experience was most eventful, the maximum altitude being •fifty feet and the highest speed •forty miles an hour. After landing I was approached by another pilot and informed that he had a machine and would take me up •eight hundred feet at •eighty miles an hour. Being a sucker, I bit. The machine was a Dep with an eighty-horse‑power rotary motor, and the pilot was Niles who during the war covered himself with glory and medals. Nevertheless we did go up eight hundred feet and I did enjoy myself.
p71 Upon breaking the news to the family the reaction was such as to necessitate an oath whereby I would never even glance at another aeroplane. My aviatorial ambitions then remained dormant until the summer of 1916 when I decided I would learn to fly. After obtaining the permission of the family and having enlisted in the Curtiss School, I packed my bag and departed to Newport News where I was assigned to an F‑boat which must have been built in the time of Alfred the Great. My instructor was Walter E. Lees who did splendid work during the war as a civilian instructor. I spent six weeks there, flying three or four times a week and learning a certain amount about the mechanism of the machine. At the end of the six weeks I was given a license by the Curtiss Company and went on my way.
During the ensuing winter, my junior year at college, I managed with the help of Albert Ditman to meet Captain, now Colonel, Carberry who was at that time in command at Mineola. We discussed the feasibility of using seaplanes in conjunction with the Coast Artillery posts along the coast. He took the matter up with the War Department but nothing ever came of it.
Three days after the diplomatic rupture with Germany, Trubee Davison was on his way to Washington to beard the Secretary of the Navy in his den. Harry Davison went with him. Josephus Daniels regarded his impetuous young visitors with an air of fatherly pride and affection, but gave them mighty little satisfaction. Admiral Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, was called into the conference. He agreed with the Secretary. The country was not yet at war. There was no need of such urgent haste, and these eager young men would better stay in college for the present. It is fair to conjecture that Trubee felt less like voting the Democratic ticket than ever. Mr. Daniels promised to think it over. He did so. On February 6th, he wrote:
My dear Mr. Davison:
After careful consideration of the conditions as explained by you yesterday, and in view of the fact that yourself and the men you referred to have already had some experience in flying over p72water and in a type of aircraft that would be used for this purpose, it is not believed to be necessary to call upon you to make the sacrifices that would be required of you to take up a special course of instruction at this time.
It is requested, however, that you furnish the Navy Department with a list of the men that would be available, the number, type, and general characteristics of the machines that would be available and giving every other detail that would assist us in forming a correct idea of their capabilities in case of need.
In this connection I desire to express to you and to the men you have in charge the Department's very deep sense of appreciation of the patriotic offer that you have made to the Government, and particularly the unusual willingness on the part of all concerned to make any personal sacrifice in order to be of service to the country, not only in an ordinary way but in a branch of the public service that is well known to be of an extremely hazardous nature. It is desired to have the names of the young men making this offer in order that it may be a matter of record in the Navy Department.
These kind words failed to soothe Trubee's sense of disappointment and impatience. He had learned enough of aviation to feel that the Government, both Army and Navy, was deluding itself. Training men to fly was slow, costly, intricate business. It was not like calling troops to the colors or drilling green infantry regiments. In case of war there would be an appalling shortage of flying instructors and ground officers. How could a nucleus be built up without the aid of such groups as this Yale Unit?
Trubee felt inclined to disregard the Secretary of the Navy's opinions and advice. He thought that the crowd should pack up and go south at once. His father disagreed.
'You are wrong this time, Trubee,' said he. 'You fellows won't gain a thing by going against the Secretary's wishes. Let it simmer a little longer. The Navy Department has to do things in its own way. If you jump in and do anything wrong, and it doesn't turn out right, you will never forgive yourselves.'
p73 Mr. Davison outlined his own views at some length in a letter, written March 10th, to Colonel Thompson who was at White Sulphur Springs.
My dear Lew:
Your vivid and interesting account of an evening in Washington is particularly appreciated, as I myself returned yesterday from an evening in the District. Every time I go to Washington I make up my mind that if I really want to learn something, the one place I should keep away from is the Capitol City. However, these are eventful days, the calls are many and in varied directions.
As to the Unit, my understanding of the situation is as follows: A Unit of twelve was organized last June, consisting of ten Yale boys and two young chaps in our office. The organization was informal, my boy Trubee being made captain and Bob Lovett (Judge Lovett's son) seconded in command. And it was effected only after several conferences with Navy Department, and was organized along lines approved by them. In fact, they were and have been since in close touch with the plans of the Unit.
The idea in forming it was, so to speak, to set a standard for additional units with the purpose of effecting a coast patrol. So far as I know it is the only organization which has worked along that line and in connection with the Navy. The boys all stayed at my house during the summer and until college opened. Four of them became pilots, having secured their licenses, but the rest did not have sufficient experience to secure the license, although it would take but a very short time to give them enough practice to qualify. After college opened they took two machines up to New London and worked there in connection with the Navy submarine station, getting as much practice in connection with submarine work as the weather permitted.
When the diplomatic situation became tense and there was a general movement toward preparedness, the interest in aviation and particularly in coast defense was greatly increased. Trubee and Bob Lovett took up with President Hadley and Dean Jones the question of sending the Unit and such recruits as might be, at once to Palm Beach where they could complete the course and effect a larger and better prepared organization, putting themselves in shape to get into service promptly. Hadley and Jones p74not only acquiesced but also gave their cordial support and endorsement to such a move, assuring them that the position of all students in the service would be fully protected in their college life. Therefore Trubee and Harry went to Washington and conferred with Secretary Daniels, stating that the Unit and several boys in addition were ready to go to Palm Beach and avail themselves of climatic conditions which would enable them to get under way at once. Daniels and his advisors considered the matter for two days and then informed Trubee that while they appreciated the offer and it was of great importance to the Navy Department, they thought under present conditions it was better to defer action and that they would wish to feel free to call upon them at any time.
Since the conference in Washington there have been, as I recall it, about fourteen additional boys, Bill among them, who have expressed their desire to join the Unit and are ready to take whatever steps may be deemed necessary, upon notice. Personally I have no doubt but that there will be a hundred, or in fact any number as soon as there is a movement to be made.
Last week Trubee came down and expressed the opinion of the boys and himself to the effect that if the Government had no objection, they should all go to Palm Beach and thus prepare without waiting for a request on the part of the Government; the point being that in their judgment it was something that had to be done and the sooner it was done the better, and they were willing to do it without the request of the Government, but would not do it if such a move should embarrass the Administration in any way.
This plan did not strike me as wise, as I thought the tactical relation of the Government to the Unit would be very much stronger if they moved at the request of the Government, rather than if they merely moved with the consent of the Government, and I felt then as I do now that events will follow each other so rapidly that it can be but a short time before they will be requested to go. Of course I have seen one phase of the situation which naturally would not come within their view. This embargo of shipping is damming up a wall of commerce, freight, and finance which must find its way through in the very near future. In other words, when our shipping ceased the situation became one of fact, not of theory. That is, it was no longer a sentimental question with us, but a practical one which would of necessity p75force an issue of some kind. It seemed to me much like the stopping of some arteries in the leg; either the blood must be forced through and the circulation restored or the leg amputated.
After talking with Trubee and explaining my views, he felt somewhat differently and returned to New Haven. I have heard nothing from him since. When I received your letter I was greatly interested, as I felt that you could undoubtedly render a signal and exceptional service to the boys and to the country, with great satisfaction to yourself. As I previously stated, the Unit had last summer the two machines. One of these I gave to Trubee and the other Dan Pomeroy gave to him. In addition to this I have paid the expenses of the Unit, which up to date have amounted to about $20,000. This includes the cost of one machine. I had expected to bear all expense in connection with the Unit up to the time it should come under the Government direction, when doubtless the Government would bear future outlay. As to your generous offer, I merely want to say that I want you to have such a relation to this situation as will best suit you. We, in any event, can have no question between ourselves on this point. I have been the one to whom the boys have looked for advice and direction, although as you know they are a keen, sensible lot of boys and seem to know how to handle themselves very well. Yet, that they need an older mind is of course beyond question, and the thought therefore that you are ready to take off your coat and do whatever suggests itself to you as the thing to do, pleases me greatly. I have spoken of this to Trubee, who was most enthusiastic about it, and the way it lies in my mind is this:
The first moment that a move seems imminent I would hope that you could come to New York. We would then meet and confer with the boys and determine what was the best thing for them to do. They would be governed entirely by our judgment in the matter. Our conclusion would probably be that they should go south, and you would want to go with them as the Grand Master. From that step developments would probably come rapidly, and you would be governed accordingly. I haven't the slightest reservation in urging this action upon you as I am confident it will be a source of greatest satisfaction to you, and it is therefore the more gratifying that the suggestion comes from yourself.
If nothing develops in the way of orders from Washington, we p76can get together when you return and discuss the whole situation with the boys and then determine whether some step is wise. I had hoped all along that nothing short of a request from the Government would interfere with the boys' college course. Furthermore I have stipulated from the beginning that no enlistments in the Army and Navy were to be made from the Unit without my knowledge, and so far as my own boys are concerned, without my consent. In other words, I have tried to guard against hasty action on the part of the boys and their getting themselves into a situation from which they could not be released. This does not mean that my own two boys are not to go the limit, but I am anxious to prevent ill‑advised action.
This is a long, disconnected letter, written at my house, and will be sent without my reading and without my signature, but I hope it conveys something of a picture of the situation and makes clear that in my judgment there is nothing to do pending your return, unless a hurry call comes from the Government.
The foregoing letter surveys the condition of affairs existing through February and well into March. It should not be inferred that the Unit was waiting in idleness. The campus was rapidly adjusting itself to a war basis and the Yale Aero Club buzzed like a bee hive. On the theory that there was more than one way to skin a cat, information was sought from other sources than the Navy Department. Mr. Eugene Willard had this suggestion to offer:
I have been giving some thought lately to the position that you boys of the Aerial Coast Patrol would be in, in the event of hostilities, realizing that, of course, the Government would not recognize civilian organizations nor enroll them as units. In talking with Capt. Chas. L. Poor, who is Commandant of the First Battalion of the Naval Militia here in New York City, as well as executive secretary of the Naval Training Association, he confirmed this view and warmly urged me to take up with you the idea of having you and the other boys of the Aerial Coast Patrol join the Naval Militia and be assigned to their flying division, which is already organized with about twenty men in p77it, two of whom are commissioned officers at present taking a three months' course at the Navy Aeronautic Station, Pensacola, Florida. As I feel there would be no recognition by the Government of the Coast Patrol as a civilian proposition, in the event of war, I think it would be wise for you and the others to consider the proposition of joining the Naval Militia, to support them in this most important branch of coast defense.
I asked Poor to write me a letter on the subject, and am enclosing it to you herewith for your information, and particularly call your attention to the fact that he is now authorized to appoint two of your Unit as officers and others as petty officers, if you should join the Naval Militia Unit, with every prospect of all of you obtaining commissions later on in case of war. Also, that the service required would not interfere with your college studies and would give you a district standing and opportunity for real work, if the occasion arises. If you consider this favorably, I will take it up with you further and, of course with Admiral Peary, Mr. Woodhouse, etc.
The enclosure from Captain Poor said, in part:
Any civilian organization of aviators would be compelled in time of war to become a part of the Army, Navy, National Guard, or Naval Militia, otherwise they would not be permitted to fly. I say this with reference particularly to the Aerial Coast Defense Unit of which Mr. Davison and others are members. It would seem to me that he and his friends could be much more useful to the country if enrolled in our aviation section in the Naval Militia. They could with their machines and their numbers very much increase its strength. They would have excellent opportunity for flight at our camp at Bay Shore; they will be enabled to take the Navy Department's instructions at Pensacola or elsewhere and they would have a definite status. We need machines and theirs would be useful to us. I would be in a position to qualify two of the organization as officers and the balance as petty officers for aviation training with every prospect of their obtaining commissions later in war service. I can see no possible objection from the point of view of Mr. Davison and his friends to making themselves available in this way. Under the present system of drills and duties in the Naval Militia, even though these young men were in college we would be able to arrange the periods of drill so that they could during the summer p78do Navy duty to exempt them at other times, and the same credits would be allowed for service performed towards the Navy Department's retainer pay. They would not, of course, object to the obligation for service in time of war and could undoubtedly fulfill the required two weeks of training in the summer.
This plan was discussed by Yale Unit and laid aside. What they had in mind was training more intensive and immediate which they were prepared to undertake on their own account if the Navy Department could be persuaded to act. Meanwhile the Yale Aero Club had taken charge of the general recruiting for aviation in the University. This was the result of an interview with President Hadley in which he gave Trubee Davison authorization to this effect. On February 26th, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, appointed various committees to bring the United States Naval Reserve Force into coöperation with the Commandant, Third Naval District. Trubee Davison was made a member of the Committee on Aeronautics.
A glimpse of these activities is afforded in a letter from George Parmly Day to D. Raymond Noyes of New York:
I have this morning had a talk with Frederick Trubee Davison, 1918, the President of the Yale Aero Club, and with two other undergraduates, who are much interested therein. They tell me that Major Carl Hartmann had planned to speak here at Yale in regard to the work of aviation but that his talk had to be postponed at his request. Mr. Davison says that Major Hartmann and Captain Carberry have asked the Aero Club to recommend fifty men for training this summer. Over one hundred applicants have already handed in their names, and the Club expects that more men will apply. Mr. Davison understands that blanks are on their way here now for him to give out to these men to sign, and he tells me that Captain Carberry has recommended to the Government that it appoint a surgeon to conduct the physical examination of men in New Haven who may wish to go into this work.
p79 Mr. Davison tells me that he is, as I have stated, the President of the Yale Aero Club and that Cord Meyer, 1917S, and Graham Brush, 1917S, are the other members of the executive committee of the Club. Of course they will be very glad to talk matters with you at any time that you may wish to come up here. I would suggest that perhaps it would be wise for you first to see Major Hartmann and then write Davison if you wish to make an appointment to meet with him and the other members of the executive committee up here.
All this was excellent service in the country's cause but it failed to unravel the tangled destinies of the Yale Unit. Trubee set his wits at work to find some way of stirring up the Navy Department. He happened to learn that Lieutenant John H. Towers was in New York. This able and energetic young officer had been one of the pioneers of naval aviation, serving with the group which had trained at the first stations at Annapolis and San Diego. He had followed the work of the Yale Unit at Port Washington and New London and realized its value. Trubee now looked him up and unburdened his troubles. Lieutenant Towers had been placed in charge of the aviation desk in the Navy Department.
'Secretary Daniels is a pleasant man, but slow on the trigger,' said the lieutenant, 'and he doesn't know a whole lot about this flying game. And I suppose he thinks you lads ought not to break out of college.'
'That can be fixed,' joined Trubee. 'President Hadley and Dean Jones are with us. But we must have a definite proposition to put up to them.'
'Well, you shoot a letter in to me and it may start something. Let me know what you hear and I will do my best to help things along.'
Trubee prepared a careful statement and forwarded it to the aviation desk in Washington. The days went by and nothing was heard from it. Finally Trubee sent a telegram to Lieutenant Towers, asking him what about it. p80Towers wired back that no such letter had been received. Here was a kettle of fish. This was too much for the affable disposition of Colonel Lewis Thompson. Forth he sallied from his home at Red Bank to convoy Trubee to Washington. It was time for a show-down.
They found Lieutenant Towers in the Department. He was the man to set things moving if anybody could. It was explained to him that the Unit had made all arrangements to get under way. It was a private enterprise, perfectly willing to pay its own expenses, and asking no favors from the Department beyond official recognition and endorsement. It was merely waiting to be asked. Without this, the college authorities felt reluctant to give their final sanction, and the parents of the young men in the Unit felt the same way.
'Well, I don't see why you should have to fiddle around any longer,' said Towers. 'If you are all set, why not join up in the Naval Reserve? There is nothing to prevent it. And I will see the Secretary about it. All you need from him is the right sort of a letter, as I understand it, to soothe the College and the parents. You can enlist at New London. Naval Aviation would be glad to have you establish a station there. We could turn our work over to you and let the training count there instead of sending men to Pensacola.'
This seemed to clear the air. The question of a station at New London could be decided later. Lieutenant Towers notified Commander Yates Stirling at the submarine base to be ready to enroll the Yale Unit in the Naval Reserve Flying Corps. Trubee could not wait to get back to New Haven, but wired to Bob Lovett, 'We're off.'
This was enough for Lovett who at once increased his cruising speed by several knots and was all over the campus at once, interviewing President Hadley, passing p81the glad word to members of the Unit, looking after fifty-seven other matters that had been waiting upon the order to mobilize.
Trubee delayed in New York to find the manager of the Trans-Oceanic Company and pin him down to a contract for using the plant at Palm Beach. The manager failed to kindle to Trubee's enthusiasm. He was willing to continue the Port Washington arrangement, flying school rates at so much an hour, but hesitated to turn over the air station to the Unit. Trubee wasted no precious time on the gentleman but got into communication with Rodman Wanamaker who promptly placed the Trans-Oceanic Company at his disposal.
As finally approved, the contract was as follows:
March 27, 1917
L. S. Thompson, Esq.
Representing yourself, Mr. Henry P. Davison and others,
903 Park Ave., New York City.
This letter, written in duplicate and accepted by you, will constitute our agreement in regard to our property now at West Palm Beach.
You are to have use of our hangars, runways, etc., free of charge; you are to leave them in as good condition as you found them, and pay for any work done in accordance with Mr. Trubee Davison's telegram, or that may be done hereafter.
The runways and shop at West Palm Beach
You are to have the use of one of our flying boats, provided the motor is overhauled and it is put in first-class flying shape, packed and put in a car to be shipped to us May 12th.
You are to have the use of our other flying boat on the same conditions, except the date shall be June 15th.
You are to be responsible for any accidents to the boats after they are in your possession.
You are to pack the two new motors (formerly used on the cruiser) and they are not to be used except in some special emergency, and when you leave there, or when we so desire, they are to be shipped to us.
We are to ship you the two motors now in Port Washington p82which you are to use as spare motors as well as those in Palm Beach at this time; all of which you are to return to us in perfect condition.
You are to use Mr. McCulloch for four weeks, unless changed by mutual consent, you paying his salary at the regular rate. This is, of course, subject to Mr. McCulloch's consent, which you can no doubt secure.
You are to take an inventory of all the spare parts on hand when you arrive. Any that you want you can purchase, and the balance you can ship to us at Port Washington by freight.
Any parts purchased by you and not used may be returned for full credit.
Yours very truly
The America Trans-Oceanic Company
(Signed) Will Gash
Now came the scramble to get more machines together for shipment to Palm Beach. Colonel Thompson made it known that he would attend to filling the war‑chest. This was no time to scrimp. J. P. Morgan & Co., through Mr. Henry Davison, were perfectly willing to be separated from a contribution of $100,000. There were other wealthy friends and parents in a liberal frame of mind. In fact, Colonel Thompson raised a fund of $200,000 in a day or two, with more to come as needed. It was enough to startle the Navy Department which, until 1916, had been unable to obtain from Congress any separate appropriations for aviation whatever, and then only to the amount of $1,000,000.
Oliver James's father offered one machine, 'Bill' Rockefeller's father another, and several others were purchased. As Trubee said, 'We bought every one we could, picking them up all over the place, and were not too proud to grab old flying-boats in various stages of decrepitude.'
On the campus the preparations sailed along without a hitch. Dean Jones said, 'Great stuff!' All President Hadley asked was an official letter from the Navy Department p83for the college records. Trubee got hold of Lieutenant Towers on the telephone and was told that the Secretary of the Navy was about to send a telegram of the wording desired.
On March 28th, the Emergency War Council of the University took the following action:
Any student applying for leave of absence because of orders from the United States Government which affect him personally, will be allowed to leave the University immediately; and if he is an undergraduate in good and regular standing at the time of leaving, who has advanced into Junior year, due credit towards a degree will be given him for satisfactory work in the Army or Navy.
'When the call came,' says Bartow Read, 'it was like being told you would have to go on a vacation instead of taking mid‑years. I was out of cuts and had one mark left which I promptly took. Harry Davison and I heard a rumor about it the night before and went to the rooms of various men in the Unit trying to find out about it. The trip to New London and then good‑bye to friends in college were a sort of pipe-dream. I remember that Curt and Bill Thompson were both very anxious about the physical exams. Both were a bit lame from falling off mountains, one in the Alps, the other in the Adirondacks.'
The Unit was ready to proceed to New London on March 24th, after much excitement and jubilation. The emotions of John Vorys were lurid as usual. He paints this word picture:
'Things moved along in a gradual crescendo to the dramatic hegira, yet the final news was so sudden that it made you dizzy. I was at Harvard as a member of a team debating on the League of Nations. I was the last man to bat for the affirmative and had a canned peroration which denounced predatory war, provisional selfishness, and the Harvard team, and opined that we ought to take our place p84in the sisterhood of nations to see that justice was passed around. I was so excited, seeing we were going to lose the debate, that I forgot to be scared and sailed in and wilted my collar. Then when I went back to my seat on the platform came the shock. Talk about the great moments in a young man's life! It was a telegram from Bob Lovett which told me that we were ordered south in a few days and I was to hike back to New London and get sworn in.'
The Yale News bestowed its august benediction upon the departing aviators and wished them God‑speed. The enrollment at New London served as the text for a patriotic editorial:
The hour is at hand when we shall be called upon to take up arms in defense of our country. The crisis with Germany has come to a head, public opinion has crystallized, the nation is awakening to its duty. Every day may see the entrance of the United States into the great conflict. It is a time when the enthusiasm of patriotism sweeps away the reason of the individual and serious thought is thrown to the winds in the general excitement.
The fact that Aerial Coast Patrol No. 1 goes today to New London to be sworn into the Naval Reserve and is anticipating orders to enter into intensive training soon, brings the seriousness of the situation home to the members of the University. Things are beginning to look like business. It may not be long before the remaining branches of the service follow a simpler course, and all the undergraduates of twenty‑one or over at Yale will be summoned to protect the flag.
Three days later, the News published another editorial which indicated that even on the brink of war the peculiar problems of the campus could not be overlooked:
With the departure of the members of Aerial Coast Patrol No. 1, the University has been brought face to face with the fact that it will probably not be long before various other units will p85be called and United States Army camps will be established throughout the country for the purpose of furnishing intensive training to future reserve officers. It therefore appears merely a matter of time before the majority of men in the Junior and Senior classes in the College and in the Senior class in the Scientific School will be leaving New Haven on the business of serving their country.
This condition of affairs seems at present to have particular effect on the members of the class of 1918 who, relying on more or less consistent rumors, are expecting the annual elections to the three Senior societies to be held in the near future. In view of existing circumstances, the Juniors feel that the holding of the Tap Day ceremonies early this year would be the logical and natural thing to do. Although it is supposed that, in the event of the Senior societies waiting until later, they would give elections to members of the Junior class regardless of their whereabouts, the fact remains that the 1918 delegation may never again have such an opportunity as they would have at the present time to meet intact.
a According to a contemporaneous issue of Aerial Age (Sept. 18, 1916), apparently reprinting a slightly fuller text of the New York Times article, the accident occurred on September 7th.
Images with borders lead to more information.
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 11 Oct 13