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Chapter 15

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The First Yale Unit

Ralph D. Paine

printed at
The Riverside Press
Cambridge (Mass.)

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 17
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Vol. I
Chapter XVI

Au Revoir to the Colonel

How could the episode of the Bromo horse be held against the benevolent Colonel when he was telling the Navy Department such grand things about his boys? On June 25th he wrote the following letter to the Honorable Josephus Daniels:

My dear Mr. Secretary:

Within a short time we expect to turn over to your Department twenty-eight qualified Naval aviators. These young men have not neglected a moment of their time and have been under forced draught since March 28th when we left New York for our station at West Palm Beach, Florida. We arise at four-thirty and work through a day that closes at seven, and have one rest interval of thirty minutes. During this time, I would like to mention, there are two roll calls each day, and not once has there been a member that did not answer to his name which shows, in a small way, the spirit of the organization.

Several gentlemen associated themselves with me to finance the operations of this Detachment and we have done our work with only one point only in view, and that was to develop these men to the highest point of efficiency at the earliest possible moment. We have quartered them well and their food has been of the best so that today each man is as hard as a rock, weighs more than when he started, is in wonderful spirits and ready for any work that he may be called upon to perform.

You will have, Sir, a magnificent group of exceptionally intelligent and able men. I am pleased to tell you that we have about finished a hard job and have done it well. The gentlemen who have associated themselves with me in this undertaking have expressed themselves that as we have done this business for the benefit of the Government, the Government should and would reimburse them, in a certain measure, for the advances they have made. I shall feel obliged to you if you will give me an expression of your opinion. We have kept our accounts rigidly  p179 and our flight reports accurately so that in case you should care to inspect them I can have them placed before you in short order. The property here is under lease to me until November first. We have expended on it about $50,000 in improvements and it is a first class aviation plant. I think that we might continue it as a going concern and should your Department care to consider it, I should be pleased to give you the full details.

The members of Unit were really a modest lot, and this eulogy would have made them blush. The Colonel's attitude had a parental tinge. Therefore he was justified in praising them to his heart's content. The question of reimbursement, as mentioned in this letter, had been previously raised. Mr. Davison had personally taken it up with the Navy Department as a proper subject of discussion. During these last weeks at Huntington, the Unit, as an organization, was almost ready to disband and scatter. Now that the Colonel has called attention to the matter in his letter to the Secretary, it seems advisable to finish the story of the financial transactions of the Unit. The various details belong together.

There was no intention of forcing the issue of reimbursement. It was an implied obligation on the part of the Government. Secretary Daniels had recognized it as such during Trubee Davison's first interview with him in February, 1917. Now, however, the Secretary saw fit to change his point of view and he so replied to Colonel Thompson. This prompted Trubee to write to Rear Admiral Peary, on July 6th:

Dear Admiral:

We are having a little controversy with Secretary Daniels in regard to reimbursement for expenses incurred during our recent training. You were present when my brother and myself, on February 5th, explained our plans to the Secretary and Admiral Benson. At the end of the interview I told him that we would expect to be properly reimbursed if called upon by the Navy, to which (as my brother and myself remember) he  p180 definitely agreed, as did also Admiral Benson. I would appreciate it very much if you could verify this for me. I am enclosing a short statement of my own recollection of the incident and also a similar one written by my brother.

Trubee's signed memorandum read as follows:

Huntington, Long Island, N. Y.

July 5th, 1917

After telling the Secretary (Daniels) and Admiral Benson, in the presence of my brother and Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary, what we could do by way of training for naval aviation at West Palm Beach, if called upon by the Navy, I said that we would expect, if called upon, to be suitably reimbursed some time for any expenses incurred. With this the Secretary and Admiral Benson definitely agreed. This part of the conversation came at the end of the interview.

Harry Davison contributed this bit of testimony:

We had a long talk first and, then, with regard to the financial arrangements, my brother, Trubee, said to Secretary Daniels, 'I think it is perfectly fair to assume that the Government will reimburse us for all the necessary expenses which we may incur.' Then the Secretary turned to Admiral Benson and said, 'I think it is perfectly fair to assume, don't you, Admiral?' And the Admiral said, 'Yes.' And then the Secretary turned to Trubee and said, 'Yes, I think it is perfectly fair to assume you will be paid back all necessary expenses some time in the future.'

No further effort was made to collect from the Government. The Secretary remained unresponsive and unconvinced. He was thinking in terms of billions. At Palm Beach and Huntington, the Unit had ceased to be a private enterprise. Its members belonged to the United States Navy and were under the command of a regular officer detailed for that purpose. And yet the backers were left to pay all the bills. It was a curious situation, to say the least.

Colonel Thompson took it cheerfully, as did the other contributors to the funds. As soon as the Unit had ceased  p181 to use the Huntington station and equipment, he sent a telegram to the Secretary of the Navy which heaped coals of fire upon that gentleman's head.

The subscribers to the fund which had been used to develop and maintain the Flying Corps Detachment desire to present to the United States Navy all of their airplanes and equipment. The value is about one hundred thousand dollars and it can be put at your disposal immediately.

Stirred by this generous gift, the Government turned spendthrift and paid over the sum of one dollar in full settlement. This fiscal transaction required several months before the check was sent to Colonel Thompson. The dollar had to be apportioned among the signal bureaus in the complicated system by which aircraft construction was carried on. Finally the voucher was endorsed with the following specifications:

Division of Cost: The division of cost shall be as follows:

Bureau of C. & R. under item 1 $ .15
Bureau of S. E. under item 2 .65
Bureau of Y. & D. under item 3 .20

Total re­quisition


Here was one instance in the management of the war where the Government made a dollar go a long way. Colonel Thompson felt so opulent with this fortune in his picket that if Bromo had been entered in another race he would have plunged every last cent of it.

He thanked his stars that he had heard the end of his sale of surplus property. In this, however, he was sadly mistaken. There was a sequel which concerned four aeroplane motors that had not been included in the bargain because of delayed delivery from the factory. They were placed in storage at the Colonel's Red Bank place.  p182 How he offered them to the Navy Department for $10,000 and received word that it had been decided to pay him $33,938 is described in a letter to Mr. Wigren:

When I reached New York it was any odds that pneumonia had me just where she wanted me, and I was a very sick man all the time while north. This is the explanation of why I didn't give myself the pleasure of seeing you. Just as soon as I was able to move, I came south with Payne Whitney and nearly passed away with the dreadful conditions we encountered. Had about three weeks of as tough a time as a fellow could, but at the present moment the old man is himself again and as chipper as a jay‑bird. I saw Rock in New York, looking like the devil and worked down to a skeleton, but his soul was full of fire and he was going to it as hard as ever. Trubee I saw, too, and he was so happy and cheerful! Harry came in also and was looking splendidly. Leo Lawrence came in one day but I was asleep and they didn't let me know. That made me so damned mad that I had a relapse and busted some Louis Quinze furniture.

Will you please make some inquiries about the enclosed bills? They came from the Navy Department with a hundred letters in reference to them. We have sold the motors and as soon as they are ready for delivery we can go ahead and settle our affairs. . . . 'Snoot' Brush wrote about the four motors at Red Bank and I sent word that they could have the four for $10,000, and I received word that they would take them and send orders as to shipment. I received a telegram a few days ago saying, 'Contract for $33,938 awarded to you for your aviation motors. Telegraph when you will receive cam shafts. Formal contract follows. McGowan. Paymaster General, U. S. Navy.'

Can you beat that? I am going to let it go until I see what will happen. If Director General McAdoo and Doc Garfield fix it so you can't possibly live way up yonder in the frozen North, get aboard the boat and come down and pay me a visit at Sunny Hill. I hope you are as slick as a mole and things are going just as you wish.

The Colonel's final accounting was deferred until some time after the Unit had been dissolved. Various odds and ends of expenditures had to be cleaned up. The businesslike document is inserted herewith.

 p183  Statement of Receipts and Disbursements of the
Aerial Coast Patrol — Unit No. 1
May 31st, 1918


By Subscriptions:

J. P. Morgan & Co.


L. S. Thompson


G. F. Baker, Jr.


Payne Whitney


A. G. C. Sage


H. P. Whitney


Mrs. W. A. Read


R. S. Lovett


Helen J. James


H. Yale Dolan


H. L. Pratt


H. M. Hanna, Jr.


Kate H. Ireland

By Interest on Bank Balances 1,365.18
Total Receipts $247,365.18


Huntington Bay, Furnishings


Additions and Improvements to Hangars at West Palm Beach


Aeroplane Parts


Auto Hire & Garage Expense


Clothing, Uniforms and Equipment


Curtiss Twin F Flying Boat


Curtiss Motors


F. T. Davison Hangar


Electric Light & Power


Expenses a/c U. S. Navy Boats


Freight & Express Charges




General Expense


Hotel Expenses for members and employees at West Palm Beach


Huntington Bay, Construction Charges


Huntington Bay, Food & Service for members and employees


Huntington Bay, Property Rental


Insurance Premiums


Laundry & Valet Expenses


 p184  Medical Supplies


Miscellaneous Hardware


Miscellaneous Shop Supplies


Motor Parts


Office Furniture




Paint & Varnish


Petty Cash


Radio & Electrical Equipment


Raw Metals & Metal Work


Rescue & Patrol Boats


Salaries of Office Help


Salaries of Guardsmen


Salaries of Instructors


Salaries of Shop Employees


Stationery & Office Supplies


Telegraph & Telephone Charges


Tools & Accessories


Traveling Expenses


Varnish Remover


Total Disbursements


Cash on Hand


The above cash balance of $57,276.43 is herewith distributed, pro rata, to the various subscribers:

J. P. Morgan & Co.


L. S. Thompson


Geo. F. Baker, Jr.


Payne Whitney


A. G. C. Sage


H. P. Whitney


Mrs. W. A. Read


R. S. Lovett


Helen J. James


H. Yale Dolan


H. L. Pratt


H. M. Hanna, Jr.


Kate H. Ireland


Lewis S. Thompson,


 p185  It had been far more than a business job for Colonel Thompson. He had made lasting friendships and had won the affectionate regard and admiration of every man in the organization. After they had been widely scattered by land and sea, they kept him in mind and wrote to tell what they were doing and to express and repeat their gratitude for his interest in behalf of the Unit. Here are a few samples, picked out at random from a mass of similar letters:

Mrs. Walker and I said to our son Sam, 'We are going to write our thanks to Colonel Thompson for all his kindness to you since last March.' He replied, 'You cannot make the letter strong enough.' So I am here expressing to you our personal feelings. What can we say to show our appreciation? Just a thank you from our hearts; you must read the rest between the lines.

My son has just spent Sunday with me, preparatory to going away, and in my numerous talks with him I have been able to see just how much you have done for those boys who have been under your charge all these months. I know they all appreciated it, although perhaps at times you may have thought they did not.

For my own part, however, as a father of one of them, I want to take this opportunity, although not knowing you personally, to express my own feelings in the matter and to assure you that if these boys amount to anything over on the other side, as I am sure they will, a great deal of what they accomplish will be due to the hard work and care which you have exercised in instilling into them the right spirit and the right instructions.

Hoping that some time I may have the pleasure of meeting you, I am

Very sincerely yours

C. L. Sturtevant

Colonel, I can never thank you enough or tell you how much I appreciate everything you did for me and the Unit. I certainly am proud every time any one asks me where I trained and I tell them at Huntington. The work done there was appreciated  p186 a good deal more here in Washington than most of the Navy men show on the outside.

I simply must write you a letter in which I shall try, in the most painless way, to force on you some of the appreciation that I have for your kindness and generosity. It seems to me that your loyalty to the cause and your big‑heartedness are two things that I ought never to try to express in words. Therefore, before I go, let me speak for others as well as myself. You have set an example for us which we will live up to. You gave us a reputation which we all cherish. In fact, you made it possible for us to be the best unit in the whole outfit. What we owe you will be repaid to you by what we prove in this war. Remember, we are your boys, and we're all devoted to you.

We never assemble anywhere without a word about 'the Colonel.' We never go to other camps without feeling, 'I wish the Colonel were here,' as though your very presence would make the place like Huntington.

I can't thank you enough for those months at Palm Beach. Every moment is precious to me in its wealth of friendships and valuable experiences. Well, enough of the gush, Colonel, because I know you don't like it, but I do want you to know that I realize it all. You will hear from that crowd before long, and it must be a great satisfaction to you that you made it possible.

My orders came this morning and I want to write you an au revoir and to thank you for all you have done for us this past six months. I can't tell you how I appreciate the way you have worked in this thing, body and soul, and I can but express my thanks.

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Page updated: 6 Sep 13