Worthy Son: Harold Loud’s Military Training, Part 4

Part 4.  Operational Flight Training, Fort Sill, Lawton, Oklahoma, March-April 1918   

Introduction 

Follow-on flight training schools were established at fields across the southern United States.  Initially pursuit training was conducted at Gerstner Field, Louisiana, and bomber training was established at Ellington Field, at about the time that Harold Loud completed his training there.  A training program for observers and observation pilots was established at Post Field, Fort Sill, Lawton, Oklahoma.  Harold Loud was assigned there, receiving orders on March 15 to report to Post Field, a newly constructed airfield located on Fort Sill, which was the primary training ground for the army’s artillery firing school.  The observer training program at Fort Sill had only recently been established.

The training program for observation pilots was four weeks in length and required that observation pilots fly with observers, who were also undergoing training.  The pilots and observers were tasked with spotting artillery targets, directing artillery fire, and reporting results.  In addition to directing artillery fire, the observers were required to communicate effectively by radio, using Morse code, and photograph specific ground targets.[1]  As a pilot, Harold Loud was expected to fly the aircraft in such a manner as to enable the observer to accomplish his assigned tasks for each training period.  The pilot might fly with several observers during the course of a day’s flying activities.  There were additional ground school courses as well, typically involving instruction in artillery firing procedures and coordination with the army units with which they were working.

Harold Loud reported for duty at Fort Sill on the 20th of March and his course of instruction was completed by April 20.  As he had at Ellington Field, Harold adjusted easily to the flying duties and soon came to enjoy flying the larger, more powerful observation aircraft.  Although he does not identify the specific craft he flew, he mentions the fact that it had a Hispano-Suiza engine; one version of the Curtiss Jenny had the Hispano-Suiza engine, the JN-4H.  This model was designed specifically for gunnery and bomber training.

He also found time to travel to Oklahoma City and sample the social life there.  He was then ordered to report to Camp Dick for instruction in aerial gunnery, the last phase of his preparatory training before being sent to France.

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Fort Sill, Oklahoma

March 20, 1918

Dearest Family:

After leaving you yesterday morning, I rode in the old stuffy train all day long.  We stopped twenty-five minutes for lunch and the same length of time for dinner.  I slept most of the way to Houston.  After leaving there I went into the smoker and when I returned to the chair car, it was full and my seat was occupied by a whole Mexican family.  I went back to the smoker and there I sat for the rest of the day, listening to the conversations of the Texas farmers on their journey to and from the numerous towns.

On arriving at Fort Worth I took the transfer bus to the other [train] station.  There I made sure about my train for the next morning and then went across the street to the Terminal Hotel. Here I secured a nice room with a bath and going to it I laid out my shaving materials and got everything ready for the morning.  Then I left a call for 6:30 and turned in.  The next thing I knew it was ten minutes to eight and my train was due to leave at 8:15.  There was my bath, shave, and breakfast all knocked in the head.  I was down stairs at eight and managed to get a sandwich and a cup of coffee at the station and that was all I did get until supper tonight, excepting a couple of oranges and a cake of sweet chocolate.

On our arrival here at three thirty this afternoon I met another boy at the station who was just reporting.  We left the train at Lawton because it is hard, at Fort Sill, to get a conveyance to take you to the grounds [flying field].  Lawton is a typical western town of about ten thousand inhabitants.  It has but one decent hotel in the place and that is nothing to brag about, so the boys tell me.  We checked our suitcases at the station and got a jitney to take us out here.  It is about four miles and the road is wretched.

We reported to the Adjutant and then to the Commanding Officer who impressed upon us that we were not yet finished pilots but still under instruction.  He seemed very nice although I imagine he is quite strict.  He is a Lieutenant Colonel and has seen active flying service, having been attached to the Royal Flying Corps.  On being assigned we reported to the officer in charge of flying, who, after we had filled out numerous blanks, told us to be on hand at 6:30 the following morning, ready to fly.  He also gave us some welcome news and that is that we fly from the back seat throughout the course, which is planned to last four weeks.[2]  Then we go to a gunnery school for our course in aerial gunnery.  That school will probably be in the North and on some field near water.[3]  Perhaps that may mean Selfridge, near Mt. Clemens [Michigan].

Now for the Field: It is only a single unit field.  The ground is rather rolling and very hard.  I imagine it will get pretty dusty during the dry weather.  I am told that the surrounding country is interesting and not just a monotonous flat table.  The ships, every single one, are brand new.  They are larger than any we have been flying and are equipped with Hispano Souza motors of 150 HP.[4]  They travel about 105 miles an hour and handle beautifully, so I am told.  They climb much faster than the ships we have been flying and also land faster.  The controls are in the back seat only.  There is an altimeter, compass, gas pressure gauge, oil gauge, and revolution counter on the dash besides the air pump.  It is quite complicated compared to the Curtiss machines we have been accustomed to.  The front seat has a map holder and a table that drops down for the use of the observer when making notes or sketches.  There is also a place for a camera.

Nearly all the observers seem to be 1st Lieutenants but there are a few cadets.  They come from different branches of the service and are in training here.  Our job is to drive them about the country [fly them over the training areas] and I imagine it will be quite interesting.

We have nice quarters, the best so far and, thanks to my friends who came here ahead of me, I have a very good room.  The boy with whom I lived at Camp Dick and another Ellington boy and myself have two rooms between us.  It is an end suite and there are seven windows in the two rooms.  There is also a wash stand with hot and cold water and we are only three doors from the shower bath and toilet.  We have to buy our own beds and bedding.  The food is not much but the Lieutenant in charge says that the pilots are soon to have a separate mess.  At present we dine with the observers.

As far as the Field goes, I know I am going to like it.  We fly every day in the week and that is a comfort for there are no places to go for weekends.  The towns around here are fierce [primitive] and there is nothing in the way of amusement except perhaps a picture show in Lawton.

My trunk has arrived and I am all settled excepting that I have no bed.  I am going to sleep on the cushions of Bert’s car tonight and tomorrow I shall buy me a bed.  It is quite warm here but not hot.  The sky is clear with no fog to speak of and it looks ideal for flying.  Jack Humphrey is not here and neither is the Smith boy.  They are still at Camp Dick and will probably come on later.[5]

I sure did hate to leave you all at Galveston, but then I think I was wondrous lucky to be with you as I was.  It did seem mighty good.  I hope your stay in Galveston will be a pleasant one.

As I must be up rather early, I think I had better stop writing now and get my bed ready.

With greatest love, Harold

HaroldLoudPostField

Post card showing training aircraft at Fort Sill.  Aircraft are Curtiss Jennies with larger Hispano-Suiza engine.

 

Fort Sill

March 28, 1918

Dearest Family:

Doubtless you are wondering why I have not written.  Last Monday I felt rather punk and Tuesday I had quite a fever, so I went to the hospital.  Today I got out and I have not been feeling better in a long time.  I do not have that tired, lazy feeling any more.  I think they gave me the right thing this time.  It was a very good hospital, with real nurses and I was very comfortable; in fact, I sort of hated to leave.

All of your letters came and I was sure glad to get them.  I am so pleased that you enjoyed your stay at Galveston.  I was afraid that you would not like the place or that the weather might be unfavorable.  We were very fortunate as to the latter.  It was too bad that Roxane did not take up golfing sooner.  The clippings you sent were all very interesting and it was so thoughtful of you to send them.  Ruggles came today and I have started reading it; I am sure I shall like it.[6]  I did not see last week’s [Saturday Evening] Post but I shall try to get one and read the stories you mentioned.

Bud Wiley is located about six miles from here and as soon as I get time, I shall look him up.  What was the girl’s name who wrote Marion Robinson about me?  I would like to know which one it was.[7]

How is the Dodge?  I’ll bet it looks like a real car now that Gordon has painted it all up.  He told me about it in his letter and how it was to be a surprise.  I wish to congratulate him on his marks.  That was mighty good stuff, Gordon—keep it up.

About the [calling] cards Roxane is getting for me.  There has been a great deal of discussion in military circles as to whether or not Lieutenant should be placed before the name or not.  We looked it up in Moss’s Officers’ Manual and it says that either way is permissible.[8]

I cannot tell much more about the Post here than I have already written for the reason that I have not been doing very much.  However, I have flown the ships a couple of times and found them to be all that the boys said they were.  They have so much power that they respond to every little movement of the controls and it is wonderful the way they handle.

I witnessed a very interesting sight the other day.  It was a bombardment of the trenches by the artillery—real guns and real trenches without men in them.  After seeing what those shells could do I realized more than ever the hardships of the infantry at such a time.  We were all up on a hill and could hear the shells go whistling over and then we could see them burst in the valley below.  The trenches were ripped up pretty badly and I do not see how anyone could have lived through it.  Will write again soon.

With greatest love, Harold

FortSill1

Post card of Fort Sill

 

Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Monday, April 1, 1918

Dearest Family:

My plans for Easter Sunday were all turned upside down at the last moment.  In the first place I had intended to write to you and also I had planned on going in to attend church.  But unexpectedly and to my surprise, I was made Officer of the Day and that job here is more of a job than it was at Camp Dick.  Last evening, when I was relieved, I was ready for bed and I was asleep before dark.  It is eight o’clock now as I sit on the porch writing.  The sun is just disappearing behind the hills and it is very pretty.  The ships as they come gliding in from their work add life and beauty to the picture.  We fly from seven in the morning until eight thirty at night, with two hours off at noon.

This place is not nearly so bad as I thought it might be.  The weather is pleasant except for the sand storms now and then, and the work is very interesting.  I flew for two hours and three quarters this morning, and it was wonderful.  The air was ideal, smooth and clear.  We sailed back and forth between the battery and target, at an altitude of 5,000 feet, reporting the shots.  I don’t believe we hit a bump all the morning.  Both of my observers were rather new and had tough luck.  The first one watched the wrong target for about half an hour before he realized he was wrong.  After that he got the balance of his shots all right.  The other was getting along fine when the wireless [aircraft radio equipment] went wrong.  We tried for about half an hour to fix it ourselves, but finally had to give it up and come in.

I was afraid that our commodious quarters were too good to last, and my fears were realized last Saturday when they moved us into barracks.  They are like those at Ellington and are not at all bad.  I like them just about as well as our old quarters, although we have not the privacy we had with the rooms.  The barracks are brand new and very clean, and for the time we are here, it will be very nice.  They are at the extreme end of the field, and for that reason we do not get near the dust that we got in our old quarters.

I do not know whether I told you or not, but I got here too late to start with the boys from Camp Dick.  I am in the class following.  I do not care very much, for there are some mighty fine men in the class from California.  There is one that I am particularly fond of; he and I have our beds side by side, and he is a peach.  His name is [Carl] Lobdell, and he has relatives in Michigan.[9]

I hope you had a pleasant ride home.  I know it is a long and tedious ride.  Mrs. Talley wrote that her mother wanted to knit me something and it would give her more pleasure than going to the minstrel show.  I am so well supplied with everything that I could think of nothing but socks.  Those that Roxane knit were so comfortable that I hated to go back to ordinary ones.

Our class is due to finish here on the 20th of this month.  It looks as though we would go back to Camp Dick and there await assignment to some field for aerial gunnery.  Mt. Clemens is one [possible location] and Dayton is another.

Did you see that item in the paper about the Government giving every officer, upon being commissioned, four hundred dollars for his outfit [military uniform].  I hope there is something in it, for it would sure come in handy.  I have not received my pay for last month, as yet, but expect it any day now.  I read The Beggar’s Purse[10] and thought it very good.  It contained much truth.

I have sent for a small-sized “wing” for Mother[11].  When it comes, I shall send it on to her.  I have not received a letter from any of you since you returned home.  Do write soon, for I long for your letters.

Always with love, Harold

 

Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Sunday, April 7, 1918

Dearest Family:

It seems as though nothing had happened since my last letter that I can write about.  Both of Mother’s letters arrived, also one from Father, written from Buffalo.  It was too bad that you missed your connection at St. Louis, on your way home.  From what you said concerning your former stopover there, I judge you must have put in a very uninteresting day.  Did you locate a decent movie this time?

I have not met Lieutenant Gunn yet.[12]  We do not come in contact with many of the observers here, as we do not have any classes with them.  We see only those with whom we fly.  I have flown only three times this last week.  The work was very interesting and rather a bit of fun.  I had a couple of new observers up with me and it was amusing to see them try to sketch their maps.  Every time I would turn, they would grab the sides of the ship and entirely lose their direction.  Then I would have to point out the different places to them.  However, one of them was a peach and seemed to appreciate every little thing you did for him.  It is a pleasure to work for such as he, for you know that your efforts are being appreciated.

Yesterday we were shooting “puff targets.”  I had up [flew with] four different men, all old [experienced] ones, and they did their work quickly and effectively.  We made a record shoot, being only twenty-six minutes away from the field.  I will give you an idea of what “puff target” is:

[illustration]

The battery is simply a wireless station at which a quantity of powder is exploded to designate a gun firing.  Then, at the target another explosion occurs, to indicate the explosion of the shell.  As wireless can only be sent while flying at the target, all messages are sent while on the A line of flight.  When the signal to fire is given and we see the puff of smoke, we whip around and observe the puffs at the target, on the B line of flight.  With a man who works fast, it is very good fun; but with one who loses himself, it is rather tiresome.

This coming week, we work with real artillery.  There is not much difference between that and puff targets, except that the time between the firing and explosion is shorter in the artillery and requires much quicker turns.  The boys who have had it, say it is good sport.

The other day two other boys and myself went on a wild party to Lawton.  We had a beefsteak dinner and a couple of glasses of coca cola.  Then we went to a movie and got back to the Field at 9 PM.  I assure you, it is an exciting place.  Oscoda would be a good mate for it, except that Lawton is dry [no liquor sold in town].

I have had a couple of letters from Galveston.  They made me feel homesick, for that town had grown to seem almost like a home.  That is one trouble with Army life: you no sooner get acquainted in a place than you are compelled to move on.

I have just finished my dinner and I feel quite refreshed.  We had a good soup, chicken with dressing, potatoes, radishes, corn, and ice cream and cake.  Some dinner, I say, but don’t be misled—we don’t get that every day.

I received the Lawrenceville war letter that Mr. Norris[13] sends out.  I presume you noticed that I had written to him.  I intend to write him again soon.  It must be a lot of work for Mr. Norris, but it is a good way to keep in touch with the old Lawrenceville boys who are in service.

I mailed my commission home the other day.  I did not have any use for it, and it is foolish for me to carry it about with me.

We have actual use of machine guns here, and about three times a week we practice at the range.  We also have clay pigeon shooting with shot guns.  Have two shoots of the latter.  I stood third each time, the same two men beating me each time.  My shoulder is quite black and blue, but not sore, from the kick of the gun.

We have had quite a lot of rain of late, and as a result we are not bothered with dust as at first.  It is a relief too.  The little illness I had did not set me back any, and for that I am thankful.  The nuts and dates arrived safely and were awfully good.  By the way the boys flocked around me, I am sure they enjoyed them as much as I did.  I know this is a very uninteresting letter, but as I said in the beginning, there is nothing to write about.

Always with love, Harold

HaroldLoudFtSill

Observers awaiting their turn to fly, Fort Sill, 1918

 

Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Monday, April 15, 1918

Dearest Family:

Last week was quite a busy one and I spent a very enjoyable weekend in Oklahoma City.  We finished up our class work in machine gun and this week we have only four half days of flying.  Then we are through and ready for orders to move.

The flying last week was lots of sport.  It was on contact patrol work and happened to be on the same problem most of the time, so that it only took a few minutes to do it, and we could just joy ride for the rest of the forty-five minutes.  I do not remember whether or not I have ever written about the little lake in the mountains about ten miles from here.  It is located in a valley between two cliffs, and is simply a widening of the river, caused by a dam.  It is about a mile long and half a mile wide.  There is no hunting allowed on this reservation, and because of that there are quantities of ducks and geese on the lake.  We would fly over the lake, and then drop down and skim over the surface and chase the ducks.  It was great sport, but I think the ducks would have laughed had our motor stopped and we had been compelled to light on the water.

The greatest thrill I have had since my training began was given me the other day.  I was flying over Camp Doniphan, rather low, when I noticed that the air was getting pretty bumpy; not continuous bumps, but now and then a big one.[14]  On looking over the side I noticed that I was in the range of the artillery and that the bumps were caused by the bursting shells.  It did not take me long to get out of that locality, and there was a feeling of relief when I knew I was no longer within range.  I can now appreciate the feeling of the new pilot on his first trip over the lines, when the AA [anti-aircraft] guns let loose at him.

Gordon did remarkably well on his first day, selling Liberty Bonds.  I hope his good fortune continues.  It was too bad that illness caused him to miss school and thus spoil his otherwise perfect record.  This part of the country seems to be taking its share of the present Bond issue.  All the cities about here have over-subscribed their quota and I think the entire State has too.

It seems strange to me when you write about snow, for we are having such wonderful weather just now.  It has rained off and on quite a bit, but that makes it all the more pleasant, as we have no dust.  Ordinarily we have a fairly strong wind here, and unless it does rain, the sand blows about considerably.

We left here Saturday afternoon for Oklahoma City, and arrived there at five o’clock.  We went directly to the [Lee-Huckins] hotel and found that there was a tea dansant [tea dance] going on and that we were welcome.  It was given by the “High Jinks Club,” which consists of about twenty of the city’s best young ladies [Alpha Omega fraternity].[15]  Its purpose is to entertain visiting officers.  When we went up to the ballroom we had no idea that we would get a dance, because we did not know a soul.  We were no sooner in the room, however, than a very charming girl came up and introduced herself and then she introduced us to others and we had a very good time.  In the evening, there was another dance, and we all attended that.  It was an informal cut-in affair, and the uniform seemed to be all the introduction necessary.  Sunday I dined at the home of a Miss Rogers,[16] and after riding around in her car all the afternoon, I caught the six-thirty train for Camp.  Taken as a whole, it was a very enjoyable weekend.

Next week, by this time, I hope to know where my next location is to be.  I am hoping for Mt. Clemens; but that would be too good to be true.  In all probability we shall be sent back to Camp Dick, to be assigned from there as Fields open.  I am sending, by registered mail, a “wing” for Mother and I hope it reaches her in good condition.  The box of hermits [cookies] reached me today and, believe me, they are good.  I have stored a goodly quantity in my trunk, that I may have a few to myself.  It did not take long for those I left out to disappear.  They came in perfect condition and I thank Florence very much for them.

It seems that the articles that the papers have been handing out all winter, concerning the Aviation Corps, have been brought to light by the recent investigation.  We are all hoping that the control will be taken from the Signal Corps and put under a single head.  I think it will be much more efficient.

I have ordered two pairs of boots, but as they are to be made to measure, it may be some time before I get them.  One pair, of cordovan, is a dress boot, and the other, made of Russia Calf, is for service.  I am having my hunting boots resoled and thoroughly oiled.  I have purchased a blanket roll.  It is made of the same material as canvas water buckets and has a mattress which they say is filled with silk floss.  This makes it light, soft, and warm.  I have also purchased a couple of shirts from the Quartermaster and I shall buy another trunk.  They sell the same trunk here for $6.30 that I paid $13 for in Dayton.  I am getting this stuff now because I think I had better buy cheap while I can, and it will all be of use later on.

Love to all, Harold

 

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Tuesday, April 23, 1918

Dearest Family:

Our orders came sooner than we had expected, and caught us with our pay vouchers in at Post Field.  Owing to the several purchases I had made at the Quartermaster’s, I did not have money for travelling expenses, and to last until the first of the month.  Hence my telegram asking that you forward funds to me by wire.  The money came Saturday afternoon and I would have left at once for Dallas had I not, with three other boys, been kept over to instruct the new pilots in the handling of the ships at the new field.  We flew most of Sunday and seven and one half hours yesterday.  I do not know why I was picked to do this work as I have never had any front seat work.  It was not nearly as bad as I had expected and I got along very well.  Altogether, I instructed nine men; five of them were Ellington men, Ohrstrom among them.  It seemed strange for me to be giving these men instructions.  I had thought that I did not like Post Field, but when it came time to leaving it, I realized this was not so.  It was not an exciting place but I liked the ships and the way they flew [maintained] them.  Everything was kept in such good condition.

Carl Lobdell and I are stopping off here for a day on our way to Dallas.  The girl I wrote you about is giving us a little dinner party tonight.  I noticed on the hotel register that several other of the boys are here but I have not seen them yet.  The papers came, also The Country Gentleman.  I have not had time to read the article in the latter about Michigan cut-over [timber] lands but I hope to read it soon.  Letters from Mother and Father came and the copy of Cousin Fred’s letter.  The latter was interesting but much too short.  I wish he had told us more of what they are doing over there [France] but perhaps the Censor cut it out.

I have no idea how long we are to remain at Dallas.  It will probably be for a couple of weeks and then on to some other field.  The Government does not seem to know what to do with us and so it is killing time by shipping us around the country.  From what the boys who have just come from Camp Dick say, life there will not be as sweet there as formerly.  The Inspector General came around and laid out a course of work for us.  We must now live in barracks at the Camp and drill the same as the cadets do.  Also we have classes.  I will write you all about it as soon as I get there.

The last week at Post Field was a busy one.  We had strong winds and they called on the old pilots to fly almost every day.  Had a couple of artillery shoots that were quite interesting.  The observer on the last one blew the target all to pieces, and the first one [observer] came very close.  I had another experience that was new to me.  While I was in the air a rain storm blew in under me and I came down through the rain cloud.  Of all the buffeting around I have thus far experienced, that was the worst.  Fortunately there was no lightning but it was pitch black coming through it and when I came out I was tipped up sideways and slipping [sliding down sideways].

I must stop writing now and get ready for dinner.

Always with greatest love, Harold

 

Notes:  

[1] Sweetser, The Air Service, p. 116.

[2] All observation aircraft were two-seat aircraft.  In combat flying units, the pilot always sat in the front seat.  In the training situation at Fort Sill, the observers were probably situated in the front seat to give them better visibility of the terrain features below.  According to the description Loud provides in his letters, these training aircraft were specially configured to facilitate observer training.

[3] All aircraft flying in combat had forward-firing machine guns, operated by the pilots.  In two-place aircraft, observers in the rear cockpit could fire machine guns mounted on Scarff mounts, which enabled the observer to rotate and elevate twin machine guns attached to the mount.  Often targets in the gunnery ranges were set on raft-like structures in the middle of lakes, where it would be relatively easy for observers to determine the accuracy of the individual shooting at the target.  Harold Loud had not yet received any gunnery practice.

[4] The Hispano-Souza engine, like the Liberty Engine, was a modification of an automobile engine adapted for use as an aircraft engine.  It was a V-8 design (eight cylinders mounted in a V-configuration, four cylinders on each side).  Unlike the Liberty Engine, it did not have to be mounted in an inverted position, and it was more reliable and of lighter weight than the Liberty engine.

[5] Bert, Jack Humphrey, the Smith boy: all fellow flying students; not further identified.

[6] Ruggles of Red Gap, written by Harry Leon Wilson, was published by Doubleday Page in 1915.  It described the life of a British upper-class servant who is brought to the western American town of Red Gap to live.  It was made into a film starring Charles Laughton in 1935.

[7] Bud Wiley, Marion Robinson: not further identified.

[8] The Officers’ Manual was written by Major James A. Moss.  The sixth edition was published by Banta in May, 1917.  It provided information about the social customs of military service.

[9] Carl Lobdell: not further identified.

[10] “The Beggar’s Purse” was a story by Samuel Hopkins Adams published during World War I.  It was intended to convince readers that they could afford to purchase war bonds if they practiced more thrifty buying habits.

[11] A jeweled pin in the shape of a wing.

[12] Not further identified.  Possibly Lieutenant Harold N. Gunn, later a member of the 99th Aero Squadron.

[13] Percival Chandler Norris was a Latin Instructor at the Lawrenceville School, Lawrenceviulle, New Jersey, while Harold Loud was a student there (1912-1914).  Apparently he circulated a letter about the activities of Lawrenceville boys in the war.  He wrote a handbook of Latin, Principles of Latin, which was published in 1912.

[14] Camp Doniphan was a military base adjacent to Fort Sill; during World War I it was used for artillery training.

[15] See announcement of dance in “Women’s War Work,” Oklahoma City Times, 13April 1918, p. 4.  The Lee-Huckins Hotel in Oklahoma City was originally built in 1900, then rebuilt in 1910 after a fire destroyed the original hotel.  At the time it was one of Oklahoma City’s finest hotels.

[16] “Miss Rogers”: Not further identified.