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Chapter 2

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,
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Chapter 4
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Vol. I
Chapter III

The Summons to Peacock Point

Before taking any steps toward organization, Mr. Davison advised consultation with the proper officials in Washington. In his opinion this was very necessary. Unless some assurance of government coöperation were obtained, the Unit might be left adrift like an orphan child of aviation. The impressive program of an Aerial Coast Patrol existed only on paper. Nothing had been done to put it into effect. If the Unit had to be financed entirely from private funds, it was bound to be a costly business. It was therefore advisable to find out, if possible, how a group of trained young men could be employed in the national defense to the best advantage.

The sentiment of Trubee and his friends naturally inclined to naval aviation as their choice. They had heard a good deal about it, for one thing. On the other hand, they had made no contractsº in the Army. Besides this, Long Island Sound was ideal for summer training and the school at Port Washington was prepared to furnish instruction and equipment. This surmounted the largest obstacle.

Trubee Davison lost no time in going to Washington to interview the Secretary of the Navy and anybody willing to talk aviation to him. He carried a letter of introduction which is of value to this history because it outlines the inception of the idea of the Aerial Coast Patrol. The letter read:

 p23  July 6, 1916

Hon. Josephus Daniels:
Secretary of the Navy:

My dear Secretary Daniels:

Mr. F. T. Davison, the bearer of this letter, son of Mr. H. P. Davison of J. P. Morgan & Co., is one of twelve well-to‑do young men who wish to prepare themselves to be of service to their country in case of trouble, and are learning to fly.

Mr. Davison and his friends asked the advice of Mr. John Hayes Hammond, Jr., and myself regarding the course to be pursued, and we advised them that, considering everything, the best plan would be for them to establish a unit of the Aerial Coast Patrol, which can be located near their homes on Long Island Sound, where they can train with their flying-boats and hydroplanes.

They plan to train twelve men, and when they have taken their licenses for aviation, form a unit consisting of four pilots, four observers, and four anti-aircraft gun men. While they are receiving their training, those in charge can easily see which among them will adapt themselves best for the three branches necessary to make up the unit, i.e., operating, observing, and anti-aircraft gun service.

It is necessary that all learn to fly, as it has been found in Europe that unless the observer can pilot an aeroplane he will not be able to land the aeroplane in case the pilot is wounded, thereby involving a needless loss of life for both, as well as the loss of the information they have to bring back to their comrades, and the aeroplane itself.

It has also been found that the men connected with the anti-aircraft gun service must be trained in aviation so that they are familiar with the ways of aeroplanes and they can also, when necessary, become gunners on board fighting aeroplanes.

By organizing the unit in this way it makes it possible to run it with four aeroplanes and to use for maneuvers the automobiles and motor boats owned by members of this unit and their immediate families. It makes each unit economic and efficient.

As you probably remember, the original plan of the Air Coast Patrol was to establish a unit at every hundred miles of the coasts. This division of territory still remains as originally planned, but it has been thought advisable not to try to decide on the localities where these units should be established until  p24 a number of units have been organized, when the General Board of the Navy will decide where the units should be located in order to make them of the utmost tactical value.

Mr. Davison, representing the twelve members of this unit which is to be composed entirely of Yale men, making this the 'Yale Aerial Coast Patrol Unit,' wishes to ascertain whether there is a possibility of the Navy recognizing the unit in the nature of a reserve in the near future. Possibly, until a number of units of the Aerial Coast Patrol have been organized, the members of these units who hold an aviator's license may be recognized as part of the Civilian Aviator's Reserve.

Remembering that you very kindly endorsed this plan when it was first proposed, I have taken the liberty of suggesting that Mr. Davison call on you to get the information which he and the other members of the Yale Aerial Coast Patrol wish to have.

You will be pleased to know that units of the Aerial Coast Patrol are now about to be established in twenty States. In practically every case the patriotic men who wish to organize these units are only waiting for openings at aviation schools or to make arrangements to get an aeroplane with which to train. The scarcity of good aviators qualified to instruct is delaying things materially. Mr. Davison and his friends are lucky in having right next to their country place, at Port Washington, Long Island, the newly established aviation station of Rodman Wanamaker, with Mr. David McCulloch as instructor. Mr. McCulloch has just returned from Italy where he was an instructor in the Royal Italian Air Service and will be in a position to train them efficiently.

A Harvard Aerial Coast Patrol Unit is also to be organized in the near future. Ten Harvard undergraduates will begin training at the Curtiss Aviation School at Buffalo on July 10th.

As the information which Mr. Davison seeks would also be very welcome to the members of the other units about to be formed, I will thank you if you will kindly send me your opinion in writing, so that I can transmit it to the members of each proposed unit of the Aerial Coast Patrol. Thanking you very much for this information, I remain

Very sincerely yours

Henry Woodhouse

(Member Board of Governors
Aero Club of America)

 p25  The Secretary of the Navy was a genial gentleman, as Trubee Davison discovered when he presented the letter. It was a most agreeable interview, but somewhat vague. Mr. Daniels was never famed for getting down to brass tacks. The Navy Department wished the Yale Unit the best of luck and hoped to include it in the service. Under the laws and regulation then existing, however, there seemed to be no immediate way of bringing it about. The Secretary's attitude was, 'God bless you, my brave boys. Go to it. We will do the best we can for you, but we can't promise much just now.'

This was expanded into a letter forwarded to Peacock Point a few days later.

Navy Department

Washington, July 14, 1916

Mr. F. T. Davison:

Dear Sir:

Referring to our conversation the other day when you presented a letter from Mr. Henry Woodhouse, member of the Board of Governors of the Aero Club of America, dated July 6, 1916, I beg to inform you that there is no provision at the present time whereby the Navy Department can give official recognition to the Aerial Coast Patrol.

There is, however, provision in the Naval Appropriation Bill now being considered by Congress for the establishment of a Naval Reserve Flying Corps, and providing for certain training of the aero branches of the State Naval Militia.

Should these provisions be incorporated in the Bill as finally passed, it would seem that by enrolling in one of these organizations, or possibly having the Aerial Coast Patrol connected therewith, provision could be made for official recognition of them by the Department.

You will understand, of course, that the Department cannot give official recognition to persons or organizations over which it had no official control.

It is certainly most pleasing to hear of the patriotic desire of independent citizens of the country to organize themselves to assist in time of danger in the protection of their country, and in  p26 wishing you all success in your enterprise I am trusting that some provision can be given whereby Government recognition will be extended to these organizations.

Sincerely yours

Josephus Daniels

Secretary of the Navy

These sentiments were sincere. The Navy Department felt genuinely interested, but could take no active part until the restrictions were removed. This spirit was strongly expressed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary, in a letter to Commander R. K. Crank, U. S. N., at that time on duty in New York. Referring to the Naval Reserve Bill and the annual naval training cruise for civilians, Mr. Roosevelt went on to say, 'Please inform the gentlemen who are interested in this patriotic movement [aviation] that the Department will assist them in every way practicable.'

These and other assurances of a like tenor persuaded Mr. Henry P. Davison that a way would be found to take the Yale Unit into the service of the United States. That could be left to take care of itself. Aviators would be needed. This was the chief incentive. The menace of war with Germany loomed like a dark cloud. If it broke, all the red‑tape and other impediments would be swept aside.

Mr. Davison felt justified in telling Trubee to mobilize his recruits at Peacock Point. This initial group was to consist of twelve men, in accordance with the plans laid down for a unit of the Aerial Coast Patrol. Moreover, a larger number could not have been handled effectively with the equipment at hand. Trubee Davison had made out his list, after submitting the names to two or three of his college friends.

In one way it was guess work because it was so hard to know whether a man had the peculiar qualities demanded for success in aviation. Certain elements, however, of  p27 character and temperament are essential to making good in any heroic enterprise. These elements the close associations of a college campus are able to appraise with a good deal of accuracy. The results indicated that Trubee Davison's judgments of men were uncommonly sound.

The chosen volunteers had scattered far and wide for the summer vacation, as far as France where Harry Davison had gone to drive an ambulance. He was not included in the hurry call from Peacock Point. One job at a time. Aviation could wait until he had served this other enlistment.

To concoct a telegram to be sent to the rest of them was a task that appeared to be as complicated as 'converting' Mr. Davison. It meant tossing more bombs at devoted parents, this time in a wholesale manner. The situation demanded a literary masterpiece with a punch. Even at this, almost a dozen fathers would now be demanding to know if their sons had gone crazy. In the annals of the Unit, this telegram is a momentous document. It started something. As finally revised by the brightest minds at Peacock Point, it read like this:

Have for several days been making very careful investigation of merits of organizing First Unit of Aero Coast Defense. After conference with Navy officials in Washington who promise most cordial coöperation and endorsement, and with approval of my father and mother, I am moving in conjunction with Ames and Lovett to form this Unit. It is entirely impossible to give you any adequate idea of plan by wire. Regard matter of such importance that have no hesitation urging you coming see me at once to learn fully of all details with view considering joining. Training will be at my place and will take all summer. No Government enlistment involved. Wire Locust Valley Long Island. Am notifying Read Lovejoy Gould Gates etc.

F. Trubee Davison

Some of the replies were extraordinarily prompt. Delay in shooting a wire back meant a long-distance telephone  p28 message from Trubee. He was no more to be evaded than death or taxes. Gates was run to earth in Clinton, Iowa, by telephone from Locust Valley. A call missed Baldrige at Omaha but he was located in Wyoming. The Northwest Mounted Police, as portrayed on the movie screen, had nothing on Trubee when it came to getting his man. John Vorys protested that he was fairly dragged out of a sick bed. Turning back to those hectic days, he says:

My first knowledge of the Unit was in the summer of 1916. It was the first week of July, I think, when I received a long and rather incoherent telegram from Trubee, talking about flying. I was then in a hospital in Columbus, having some tonsils extracted. With a sigh I passed it up and turned over and went to sleep. Later in the week, Trubee telephoned to my home, whither I had returned, and explained the idea of which I remember only that we were not to fly very high and that because we flew over water we wouldn't get hurt if we did fall occasionally. So, as I wanted to do something for 'Preparedness' that summer and was too weak from recent illness to think of going to a camp, I packed my carpet bag and proceeded to Peacock Point, knowing little more than what I have stated of what I was getting into.

It seems unkind to call the famous telegram 'incoherent.' It shows a brutal indifference to Trubee's feelings. But, as is well known, Vorys belongs to the rough-shod school of critics who prefer to call a spade a damned old shovel.

Few of the others had any idea of what they were getting into, but they hastened to report for duty. Two or three, because of circumstances over which they had no control, were unable to join the group. This first call was more or less tentative. Other men were therefore selected to fill out the list of twelve. Of these, Albert Sturtevant had joined the fliers who began their training at Mineola. He and Charlie Wiman were transferred to an Army school at Governor's Island with the understanding  p29 that they were members of the Yale Unit and would be attached to it as soon as some plan of active service could be worked out.

The roster of the original twelve, then, was as follows: Allan W. Ames, '18; F. Trubee Davison, '18; Henry P. Davison, Jr., '20; John V. Farwell, 3rd, '18; Artemus L. Gates, '18; Erl C. B. Gould, '18; Robert A. Lovett, '18; Albert D. Sturtevant, '16S; John M. Vorys, '18; Charles D. Wiman, '15S. To these ten Yale men were added Wellesley Laud Brown and Albert J. Ditman, Jr.

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