Read an Excerpt
Lords of DarknessA History of the 45th Avn Bn (Sp Ops) and OKARNG Aviation
By Billy R. Wood
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 COL Billy R. Wood, U.S. Army (retired)
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTerritorial Militia to Thunderbirds
"Wars always begin with cheers. The tears begin later!" Joe Curreri
Oklahoma Army National Guard Aviation traces its origin to the United States Congress of 1890, which authorized one regiment of organized militia for the Oklahoma Territory. It included only six counties and covered a mere 5,000 square miles of prairie lands. Later in the congressional session of 1895, provisions were stipulated, allowing for the organization and development of the Volunteer Militia with an authorized strength of approximately 500 members, which we today call the Oklahoma Army National Guard (OKARNG).
The Oklahoma Territorial Militia was loosely organized in 1890, and was officially reorganized as the Oklahoma Territorial National Guard on 8 March 1895. The first National Guard consisted of infantry companies, cavalry troops and artillery batteries. There was neither pay nor benefits for its members; officers were required to furnish their own uniforms and horses. This militia served an important purpose in maintaining peace and assisting in emergencies within the territory. It also stood ready to serve the nation if war was to come ... and it did.
A single gunshot on 22 April 1889 signaled the opening of a vast area of the plains land to white settlers. In less than a day, the Oklahoma Land Run, which had started at dawn, by nightfall, had created a tent city of 10,000, soon to be called Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma Territorial capitol was established in Guthrie.
And only a few brief years after the Oklahoma Land Run, Wilbur and Orville Wright flew successfully for the first time. It was on 17 December 1903, that between them they made four successful flights in a power-driven aircraft at Kitty Hawk, NC. Aviation in America had begun, yet it would be nearly a half century before it became part of the Guard in Oklahoma.
The Territorial Militia grew in the years prior to 1907, when Statehood was granted. Federal allotments to support the troops doubled and the Territorial legislature voted to expand support by increasing money and manpower.
Years passed, Indian Territory (I.T.) and Oklahoma Territory were combined, and in 1907, the new state of Oklahoma had its first elected Governor, Charles Nathaniel Haskell (1907-1911). Born in Putnam County, Ohio in 1860, Haskell moved to Muskogee, I.T. in 1901 where he practiced law and promoted railroads. Oklahoma was a much larger body of land by this time, covering an area of 69,919 square miles and was ranked 18th by area. With statehood came the end of the Territorial Militia and the beginning of the Oklahoma National Guard. Progress meant change, and in 1911 the Territorial Capital was moved to Oklahoma City. In later years, the OKARNG endstrength would eventually grow to about 8,500.
While on active duty in Washington, D.C., on occasion I enjoyed running at Fort Myers, VA, not far from the Pentagon. Jogging on post there, I was able to combine two of my favorite things – seeing some historical military architecture and experiencing that euphoric sense of peace, while running. My route took me through an old, red brick, military community with giant red oak trees lining the streets and gentle, rolling hills. Adjacent to Fort Myers are acre upon acre of grassy slopes, pierced with thousands of small white crosses, honoring American soldiers. Arlington National Cemetery is without a doubt the most impressive final resting place honoring our fallen heroes and veterans that I have ever visited. In the summer of 1995, at Arlington National Cemetery I attended the solemn military funeral of fellow OKARNG aviator, Chief Warrant Officer Four Dennis Laffick, killed on duty in Oklahoma while flying for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN).
Each year in October, at the base of a hill on which Arlington's carillon tower stands, a very distinctive and unique race begins – the United States Marine Corps (USMC) Marathon. Over the years and further proving my madness, I ran and completed the USMC Marathon four times, nearly setting a record – slowest time ever recorded.
Parking was always a problem at the Marine Corps marathon and Fort Myers was one of the best places to find a spot. Once this was accomplished, a fairly long walk was necessary to reach the official starting line. One crisp October morning prior to the marathon I parked east of the Fort Myers Post Exchange next to a stone wall that separated Myers from Arlington National Cemetery. As I got out of my car I noticed a brass plaque on a stone pillar of the wall. It described a fatal Army aviation accident with which I was not familiar: "IN MEMORY OF FIRST LIEUTENANT THOMAS E. SELFRIDGE ... first military casualty of powered flight on a U.S. military installation." On 17 September 1908, First Lieutenant Selfridge was granted permission from President William Taft to fly with Orville Wright during a military demonstration flight at Fort Myers, VA. Selfridge was assigned to the 1st Field Artillery Regiment and detailed to the Signal Corps for aviation duties. The Wright Brothers plane crashed, killing Selfridge and putting Orville Wright in the hospital for several months. Thomas Selfridge is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The United States contracted for its first military aircraft when the Signal Corps announced it would receive bids in December 1907. Records show that the Army took delivery of its first complete airplane, a Wright Type B Flyer on 2 August 1909 and produced its own aviator, Lieutenant Frederick Erastus Humphreys. LT Humphreys, Engineer Corps, was the first Army officer to make a solo flight in a heavier-than-air craft. This three-minute solo occurred on 26 October 1909. COL Humphreys was from Summit, NJ and born on 16 September 1883. He was a member of the New York Army National Guard.
While the early growth of this fledgling state called Oklahoma and its new National Guard was somewhat slow, U.S. military aviation was dramatically slower in its beginning. Congress voted the first appropriation for military aviation in 1911, when Oklahoma City became the capital of the state. Soon thereafter, Army aviation leaders rejected a proposal to separate their service from the Signal Corps, thus delaying progress some 70 years before the Army finally established Aviation as a separate combat arms branch.
The First Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Army was established in August of 1907. By 1914 it had grown to six airplanes. This provisional Air Squadron was formed to support the Punitive Expedition under General John J. Pershing on the Mexican border in 1916. This was a dismal failure because of poor equipment and bad maintenance.
The importance of military aviation was established with its role in Europe during World War I (WWI). Dirigible balloons were used for artillery spotting and airplanes for reconnaissance over enemy lines. Both made a decisive contribution; they had proven effective at bombing. Every army sought control of the air, and great battles between the knights of the air became the pages of romance. A doctrine for aerial warfare was beginning to emerge. For example, Army commanders began to distinguish between strategic air operations, deep in an enemy's territory, directed at his vital war-making industries and civilian morale, and tactical operations against his ground forces.
At the time of America's declaration of war against Germany on 6 April 1917, the Army's Aviation Section was marginal at best. The Army's 1,152 aviation officers and men had very little, if any, knowledge of the air war in Europe. The Army's aviation section had 55 airplanes and 5 balloons, none of which could have survived long in combat. The United State's aircraft manufacturers had up to that time produced 1,000 planes. Yet, when France asked the U.S. to provide an air force of 4,500 airplanes and 50,000 men, there was no hesitation. With more enthusiasm than wisdom, U.S. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker asked for and received $640 million from Congress for Army Aviation. The result was a fiasco. By the spring of 1918, it was clear that the Signal Corps, who was responsible for aviation at the time, had failed to produce any organized aviation force.
The War Department then set up an Air Service consisting at first of two agencies reporting directly to the Secretary of War: One was headed by a civilian whose function was to deal with the manufacturers, and one was under a military officer who was to train and organize units. This new activity, begun in April and May of 1918, was consolidated in August, when President Woodrow Wilson appointed John D. Ryan, Second Assistant Secretary of War, as Aviation Czar to straighten out the mess and consolidate the whole thing under the aegis of the Air Service. The U.S. Army signed a contract with the Wright Brothers for the first Army airplane on 10 February 1918.
"Aeroplane No. 1, Heavier-than-Air Division, U.S. Aerial Fleet" was officially accepted by the U.S. Army on 2 August 1909. Eight hundred pounds of bamboo, wire and cloth, and a 30 hp engine connected to propellers by bicycle chains had cost the government $30,000. Included in the contract was the requirement for the Wright Brothers to train and certify two military officers as pilots. These were to be Lieutenants Lahm and Foulois; the latter, however, was dispatched to attend the International Congress of Aeronautics in Europe, and Lieutenant Frederick E. Humphreys was detailed to take his place.
Vacant land near College Park, Maryland, was leased and cleared where a temporary hanger was erected. Wilbur Wright undertook training the two officers in early October.
Shortly after 8 a.m. on 26 October 1909, a mechanic held a gasoline-soaked rag over the engine intake while another cranked the engine into life. Wilbur Wright hurriedly ran to a nearby shed for window sash weights to replace his weight in the passenger seat. When a catapult weight dropped, aeroplane and pilot were launched for a three-minute flight. After a little more than three hours of actual flying time, Lieutenant Humphreys became the first military student pilot to be told he was ready to "take her up on your own."
Two more flights were made by Lieutenant Humphreys that day, the next eight and one half minutes, and the last one lasting twenty-four minutes. Lieutenant Lahm also soloed for three flights, and Wilbur Wright pronounced both certified pilots. Over the next few days the two pilots flew practice flights together and separately, until 5 November, when they crashed the plane. American military aviation came to an ignominious but temporary end.
Winter weather was setting in, Lahm's detail from the Cavalry was about to expire, and there were no funds left for repair of the aircraft. Humphreys returned to the Corps of Engineers, and the broken plane was shipped to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where Foulois attempted to put in back together in his spare time while teaching himself to fly by correspondence course.
Foulois would later become a Major General and Chief of the Air Corps, Lahm and Humphreys, Brigadier Generals in the Air Corps and New York National Guard respectively. By 1911, Aeroplane No. 1 was no longer serviceable and was donated to the Smithsonian Institution.
General Humphreys suffered a fatal heart attack on 20 January 20 1941, at the age of 57.
In the end, the only American achievement in the field of aircraft production was the Liberty engine. At the time of the Armistice on 11 November 1918, almost all of the 740 U. S. aircraft at the front in France were European-made. Still, the Air Service of General Pershing's American Expeditionary Forces, organized by Major General Mason M. Patrick and Brigadier General William (Billy) Mitchell, had distinguished itself in action against the Germans.
U.S. air power played an important role in WWI, resulting during the 1920s and 1930s in a movement within the military to create an independent air force. Great Britain had done so early in 1918, combining its Army and Navy air arms into the Royal Air Force (RAF) under the Air Ministry. Since the Army's leaders saw the airplane primarily as a weapon for supporting the infantry, they gave the Air Service branch a status comparable to that of the field artillery or the engineers, responsible for procuring equipment and training units. Local ground forces commanders, none of them aviators, directed the aviation units assigned to them. A series of boards and commissions studied and restudied the question of air organization, with no result other than the name change to the U.S. Army Air Corps in mid-1926.
As has been said prior to this writing, "Adjutant Generals come and they go, but the Guard made little progress ..." This was true in Oklahoma in the earliest part of the 20th century, but that too was about to change with the growth of our nation, the addition of states in the west, the fluctuation of economics and world-wide dramatic changes soon to occur. The National Defense Act of 1920 created the authority to form the 45th Infantry Division (Inf Div) from four states: Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Organization of the division was started by 1923, and in 1924, Oklahoma guardsmen bivouacked together for the first time at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The fourth, fifth and sixth decades of Oklahoma's 1900s saw the anthesis of the National Guard and the maturation of aviation within its boundaries.
The story of the 45th Division's Thunderbird shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI), or patch, is unique. For the first 15 years of the division's life, the soldiers of the 45th wore a yellow, broken cross (some called it a swastika) on a square background of brilliant red. This ancient American Indian symbol of good luck recognized the heritage of the first Americans; the red square symbolized the early Spanish culture of the four Southwest states from which the division's soldiers had been drawn. But by the mid-1930s, the broken cross had become so identified with Adolph Hitler's German National Socialist Party (Nazi) swastika and fascism that the 45th could no longer use it, and they quickly discarded their original patch.
For many months, division soldiers had no SSI patch while a board of officers considered a variety of new proposed designs. The division held a contest, and many ideas for a new patch were submitted. In 1939, the 45th Inf Div adopted the Native American's Thunderbird as its new insignia.
Native American mythology recalls that the Thunderbird was a huge, eagle-like bird capable of producing thunder, lightning and rain as it wildly flapped its wings. This American Indian symbol means "sacred bearer of happiness unlimited." In keeping with tradition, the original red-and-yellow colors of the old insignia were retained in the new Thunderbird patch. The division's motto is – Semper Anticus ("Always Forward").
Ninety miles southwest of Oklahoma City is Lawton, OK – home of the U.S. Army's Field Artillery Center and Henry Post Army Airfield (AAF), which was the first home of Army Aviation. This western outpost was established by Major General Philip H. Sheridan in January 1869 to protect settlers in Texas and Kansas from hostile Indians. Later, after we had broken every single treaty made between the United States and all of the North American Indian nations, we would recruit descendants of these fierce warriors to fight with us against our national enemies and we called these citizen soldiers and ourselves Thunderbirds!
General Sheridan conducted a major winter campaign in 1869, which included such notables as "Wild Bill" Hickok, "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Jack Stilwell and Ben Clark. A distinguished unit of Buffalo Soldiers, a part of Sheridan's tactical troop, constructed most of the stone buildings that surround the original post quadrangle and housed some of the 7th Cavalry, the 19th Kansas Volunteers and the 10th Cavalry.
The early plains garrison was first called Camp Wichita and known to the local Native Americans as the Soldier House at Medicine Bluffs. MG Sheridan later named the outpost in honor of a classmate from West Point, Brigadier General Joshua W. Sill, who had been killed in the Civil War.
Henry Post Army Airfield was indeed once the home of all Army Aviation Training before the Army moved it to Camp Rucker, AL. Since Army Aviation training began at Henry Post AAF before there was a separate Air Force, this airfield was also the first home of Air Force aviation.
Excerpted from Lords of Darkness by Billy R. Wood Copyright © 2011 by COL Billy R. Wood, U.S. Army (retired). Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.