Lieutenant Harold Loud in his Army Air Service uniform. Picture probably taken in New York City prior to his departure for France in July 1918.
Among the names of aviators who served in World War I, the name of Harold Loud is not well known. He was not a pursuit (or chasse) pilot; he was not one of the aces of the war. He flew as an observation pilot, one of the less glamorous piloting roles during the war. Nor was his flying career in an operational squadron of long duration. He flew only three flights over the enemy lines. He was killed on his third flight when he died as a result of burns. He was trapped in his burning plane as he tried to maneuver the plane to a safe landing behind the lines. Ironically, he may have received more public attention as a result of his heroic efforts on that final fatal flight than did many pilots who safely returned from combat. But the full impact of the impact of his death can only be appreciated by understanding the nature of the combat flying for which he trained during the war and by appreciating the value system instilled in him by his Michigan family members.
Harold Loud was the third of four children of Edward Francis and Annabelle Ammack Loud, and the older of two sons. The Louds were important members of two Michigan communities: the large metropolitan city of Detroit in the south, and the much smaller town of Au Sable, two hundred miles north of Detroit, at the mouth of the Au Sable River on the Lake Huron shore. Oscoda and Au Sable were adjacent communities at the mouth of the Au Sable River; Au Sable, established first, sat on the south side of the mouth of the river, and Oscoda, developed later, was located on the north side of the river. The Louds had been key members of the lumbering business in the twin towns of Au Sable and Oscoda, until fire swept through the communities on July 11, 1911.
Edward Loud and his wife Standing near their island home on Van Ettan Lake, seven miles northeast of Oscoda. Picture taken in the early 1920s.
During the height of the lumbering era on the Au Sable River, from 1870 to 1895, lumbering firms were established in both communities; the Loud firm, among the first established, was located in Au Sable. Although the economies of both communities had been suffering as a result of the decline of the lumbering business due to the depletion of the pine forests upriver, a destructive 1911 fire essentially destroyed the buildings and the livelihoods of residents in both communities (a few structures survived on a hill in Oscoda). After the fire destroyed their residence, the Louds moved to their island home located near the west end of Van Ettan Lake, some seven miles northwest of Oscoda, an area that had not been affected by the fire. It was that island house that Harold Loud called home and thought of fondly as he proceeded through his military training in 1917 and 1918.
Harold’s grandfather was Henry Martyn Loud, the most important lumberman on the Au Sable River. He was a popular Methodist minister in the Boston area who left his religious calling behind when he entered the lumber business after the end of the Civil War. When the Civil War began, he and his brothers entered the lumbering business, initially supplying walnut wood used in the making of firearms, many of which were produced in the Boston area. Henry Martyn had been raised in northeast Ohio and had operated mills for his father there, as his brothers had done. Henry Martyn temporarily left his ministerial practices and traveled to the London, Canada, area in search of walnut trees to supplement those that grew in Ohio. While he was in Canada, he became interested in the potential for lumbering along the Au Sable River, at that time an undeveloped area approximately eighty miles north of Saginaw, Michigan, which was well established as a lumbering center. But the stock of pine was thinning out on the Saginaw River and its tributaries, and he learned of rich undeveloped areas inland along the Au Sable. After the Civil War, he resigned his ministry permanently and moved to Michigan, where he established one of the first lumbering firms on the Au Sable River.
Henry Martyn Loud
As they matured, his four sons, Henry Nelson, George Alvin, Edward Francis, and William Fairchild, were brought into the family lumbering business, which thrived for forty years. Although there were some initial financial difficulties, the Loud Company managed to survive, and the family members amassed a moderate amount of wealth. The family established offices and residences in Detroit as well as Au Sable, and by 1895, when Harold Edgar Loud was born in Au Sable, the family could be said to be affluent, certainly by northern Michigan standards, but even by Detroit standards as well. Henry Nelson, the eldest, gradually assumed primary responsibility for the management of the firm and by 1890 was the chief officer. George Loud oversaw the operational details of the lumbering business and was familiar with all aspects of the process, including felling the trees in the lumber camps and driving the logs down the Au Sable River to the Loud mills in Au Sable. He was also responsible for overseeing the rafting process, in which long timbers would be gathered together inside large, chain-bound groups, and towed by ship across the lower portion of Lake Huron and down the Sinclair River to distant cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo. In this role he became familiar with a number of ship captains. One of these, Captain Daniel B. Hodgdon, invited George to accompany him on an inaugural voyage of a revenue cutter, the “Hugh McCulloch.” While they were underway, the Spanish-American War broke out, and the ship was ordered to join Admiral George Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron at Hong Kong. George observed the shelling of the Spanish Fleet at the battle of Manila Harbor on 1 May 1898, and his notes of the battle provided important details of the battle. After the war, George ran for the district congressional seat and was elected in 1902. He served in Congress as a Republican for six terms (1903-1913; 1915-1917) and was understandably a friend of the U. S. Navy when appropriations were discussed. The youngest son, William Fairchild, was responsible for the firm’s administrative activities.
Edward Loud, Harold’s father, was born in 1858 in Ohio; he lived as a very young boy in the Boston area and then moved his family to Michigan after the Civil War ended. He attended the Patterson School for Boys in Detroit for a time and then continued his early education in Au Sable and Ann Arbor. He did not complete his schooling, choosing instead to return to Au Sable, where he became involved in a number of lumbering activities, including working in a sawmill; he eventually purchased a sawmill in Au Sable. He married Annabelle Ammack in 1880; Annabelle was the daughter of Samuel Ammack, the manager of a large general store operated by the Loud, Gay, & Company, a lumbering firm that eventually became the Oscoda Salt and Lumber Company, and then H. M. Loud & Sons. Four children were born to the marriage, of which Harold was the second youngest. In 1887 the H. M. Loud & Sons Lumber Company, was established, and Edward, along with two brothers, became the primary executives of the company.
After the fire of 1911, Edward was instrumental in helping to develop the Au Sable River basin as sites for hydroelectric dams, which he marketed successfully to W. A. Foote, Anton Hodenpyl, Charles Tippy, and other investors, who bought land along the Au Sable River and built five dams during the 1910s to create electrical power that was eventually distributed by Consumers Power Company. In later years Edward Loud became a major contributor to the American Colony in Jerusalem, providing funds to establish a soup kitchen in Jerusalem prior to the onset of World War I. During the years of American involvement in World War I, he and his wife Annabelle lived in the summer lodgings on Van Ettan Lake, seven miles northwest of Oscoda, and in the winter lived in their Detroit home. His wife died in 1923; he re-married Alice Elizabeth Gibbs in 1925. He died early in January of 1952.
Harold Loud’s Education and Military Career
Harold was raised in Au Sable, Michigan, where he received his early education. He attended the Lawrenceville School for Boys in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, from 1909 to 1912, where he was a member of Cleve House.
Harold Loud and the members of Cleve House at Lawrenceville School, 1912. Harold is in the center of the photo, directly above the trophy cup.
The devastating fire that destroyed the towns of Au Sable and Oscoda occurred while he was at Lawrenceville. He then attended Detroit’s Central High School for one year, graduating in 1913. Edward Loud brought Harold and other family members on a round-the-world cruise in the winter of 1913-1914. During the summer of 1914, while war was breaking out in Europe, Harold was preparing to enter the University of Michigan, where he eventually became a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He continued in his studies from the fall of 1914 until he left school to enlist in the U. S. Army, shortly after the United States entered the war in April of 1917. He traveled to Washington DC to obtain the aid of his Uncle George in enlisting.
He was enlisted in June of 1917 and accepted into the aviation branch of the U. S. Army. He attended ground school at the University of Illinois in Urbana from June through August of 1917 and then was transferred to the flight training school at Wilbur Wright Field, just north of Dayton, Ohio. A serious illness delayed his progress through his flight training program, which he was able to complete by December. He was then assigned to further flight training programs, first at Ellington Field, Houston, Texas, in January and February of 1918, when he received his commission as a second lieutenant in the Aviation Section, Signal Reserve Corps. He received additional flight training at Camp Dick, Texas, and Fort Sill, Oklahoma, before being sent overseas in July 1918. In France he received additional training at aviation schools at St. Maixent and Issoudun before being assigned to an operational flying unit, the 88th Aero Squadron, an observation squadron. He was with the 88th Aero Squadron for a period of three weeks before he was badly burned on his third operational flight, on September 27th, 1918. He died the following day as a result of his burns.
Harold Loud’s Letters
In 1927, nine years after Harold died, his father collected and retyped the letters that Harold had written home during his training in the United States and his time overseas; he added some contextual notes and other military documents, and prepared these as an informal memorial volume, entitled “Harold: A Happy Warrior.” One copy is located in the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library, included among the Loud family files that Edward Loud donated to the Library. He may have distributed copies to other family members. While Edward’s primary intention was to leave a written testimonial to the memory of his son, these letters and related documents provide excellent insight into the flight training program that was in place in the United States during World War I.
Harold Loud’s letters home offer an insider’s view into aspects of aviation training during World War I military training that are little known today. His experiences in the ground school and flying school phases of training are typical of the period and reveal the development of the military aviator from apprentice to veteran. They also show that Harold Loud was determined to demonstrate to his father and other family members that he was maintaining family values and attitudes at the same time that he was encountering new locales and different cultures. Reading these letters and understanding the circumstances in which young military trainees like Harold Loud found themselves give a clearer picture of what it was like for a young aviator to live through the highly charged days in the weeks and months following the American entry into the European war in 1917.
The letters of Harold Loud are grouped into training and operational periods from June of 1917 through September of 1918: Ground Training at the University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois; Initial Flight Training, Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio; Advanced Flight Training, Ellington Field, Houston, Texas; Operational Flight Training, Camp Dick, Fort Worth, Texas, and Fort Sill, Lawton, Oklahoma; Travel to France and Initial Orientation at Saint Maixent, France; Advanced Flight Training, Issoudun, France; and Operational Flying, 88th Aero Squadron, France. In addition, there is a final section of letters written about Harold Loud after his death. The letters and background material are segmented into ten sections; each section is prefaced with an explanatory background discussion of the military training programs or other contextual information.
In general, Harold wrote letters addressed to “the family,” which included his father, Edward Francis Loud, and his mother, Annabelle Ammack Loud. In the summers they resided at their home on Loud Island, located at the west end of Van Ettan Lake, west of Oscoda, and in the winter they resided at their residence in Detroit. Other individuals mentioned frequently in his letters are Florence, his oldest sister, who was 37 years old in 1917; Roxane, his other sister, who was 31 years old; and Gordon, his brother, Kenneth Gordon Loud, who was five years younger. Also referred to is “Uncle George,” his father’s older brother, and Congressman from Michigan’s 10th District. Another uncle mentioned in the letters is “Uncle Will,” William Fairchild Loud, his father’s youngest brother. Other relatives and friends are identified where possible.
In his letters, we can see Harold dutifully reporting on his progress in his training programs. He makes every effort to be a successful student and officer. He also tries to estimate his expected path through his military training program, to the extent that he is able to do so. Partly this estimate is intended to reassure his family of his continued progress, but it is also to inform them of where he will be located in terms of distance from the family’s Detroit residence. It is easy to see that he misses his family; he is not especially homesick, but he seems to be greatly comforted by awareness of their presence. On those occasions when the family is able to join him, especially in Texas in the spring of 1918, we have a real sense of happiness on Harold’s part.
He also reports on his social activities as well as his military training, as he enthusiastically seeks the company of suitable young ladies in his travels throughout his assignments in Texas and Oklahoma. During his time at Camp Dick, he begins to form an especially close relationship with Adele Volk, daughter of a Dallas, Texas, businessman, a relationship that might have led to a serious relationship if he had not been sent to France.
When he finally travels overseas, his letters continue in the same fashion, but we can sense his anxiety about the increased distance from his family and the increasing hazards of his final training assignments before he joins his operational unit. He communicates regularly with his family, and invariably expresses his happiness when he receives letters and packages from family members. While we always have the sense that he is fulfilling his duty to report on his progress to his family, especially to his father, we can also observe that he is slowly growing independent of them, as he must necessarily do as his training continues, especially after he finds himself in France.
In addition to the main body of letters that his father prepared after Harold’s death is a collection of brief personal comments not specifically addressed to the family. Although Edward Loud does not identify them as such, these must have been diary entries that Harold began keeping before he left New York and after he arrived in France. Just as it was normal for American soldiers or airmen to write home on a weekly basis, so was it normal for them to keep diaries as well. These were technically forbidden, as individuals might write details about specific locations and operational details which, if the diary fell into wrong hands, could give useful information to the enemy. But most soldiers and airmen found the need to record specific details relating to their advanced training or operational experiences, especially when every day brought new and unusual events. The diaries were also seen as supplementary references of information about wartime experiences, to which the individual could refer after returning from the war.
Specific details about dates, locations, and units, which could be included in letters written while in training in the United States, could not be reported in letters mailed home from France, and every letter that left a unit in France had to be censored by one or more officers in the unit. Censoring was necessary to eliminate any specific military information that could prove useful to the enemy if for some reason the letter might fall into enemy hands. The officers responsible for censoring letters would delete specific information by neatly cutting out the offending words or phrases with a sharp penknife, leaving open spaces in individual sentences. Soldiers and airmen knew that this process would occur, so they would be necessarily vague in their letters home. But they wanted to retain important specific details in some written form, and these they would place these in their diary entries, which they would make on a daily or weekly basis, as time and duties would allow.
Letters written from France would typically require from three to four weeks to cross the Atlantic Ocean, depending on the soldier’s location, the rapidity with which the mails were transferred to ships, and the speed at which ships crossed the ocean. Thus, there could be as much as six weeks to two months before a letter written by someone in the United States would be acknowledged as having been received by the recipient in a letter sent from France. It is difficult for us, in our days of instant transmission of information, to fully appreciate how much the delay in World War I communication added to family concerns and anxieties about the welfare of combatants in France.
Included in Edward Loud’s compilation are letters from other individuals, primarily those that describe the circumstances of Harold’s death and the effect of Harold’s death on his father. In these letters we can see the difficulty that parents of soldiers, sailors, and aviators had in rationalizing the logic of and adjusting to the deaths of sons or other family members who died in the war. Most memoirs written by participants who survived the war do not address this aspect, for the simple fact that the participant returned home, safe (more or less) from the hazards of war. But as the concluding section of this book illustrates, we can appreciate the difficult struggle that family members experienced as they reacted intellectually and emotionally to the loss of loved ones who died far from home.
The letters have been transcribed from copies found in the Bentley Historical Library of the University of Michigan. A few explanatory comments provided by Harold’s father, Edward, are included. I have provided simple explanatory comments in the text where necessary; these are shown in square brackets. I have placed more detailed explanatory comments in footnotes. Although Harold frequently mentions photographs taken during his training experiences, only two photographs are included in the Edward Loud file in the University of Michigan’s Bentley Library, and these are reproductions of photographs, not originals.
Thanks to the care with which Edward Loud assembled these materials, we are able to discover not only the training experiences of a typical World War I aviator, but also a more complete understanding of the anxieties experienced and personal price paid by all family members as a result of the impact of World War I.