|For the first time since the medieval
period, when knights mounted on horseback faced each other in individual combat,
World War I began to change the face of warfare. A new breed of soldier
emerged, mounting steeds with horsepower and propelled through the heavens by wings.
They were US Army aviators, often overlooked and under-rated in strategic battle
planning. The airplane was still in its adolescent stage, less than 15
years old, as these new Knights of the Skies took to the clouds over Europe to
write a new chapter in military history. They were independent enough to ignore
detractors, stubborn enough to do that which was thought impossible, and courageous enough
to gradually earn the respect of the foot-soldiers and their commanders on the ground.
The earliest airplanes were open-cockpit, single-seat mounts
and a pilot's only weapon was a sidearm and perhaps a few bricks to drop on enemy troops
below. Short-sighted planners limited the use of these aircraft to observation
missions, innocuous jobs that could none-the-less, quickly turn deadly. Aerial
combat grew quickly however, as the independent young men with a thirst for adventure joined the new ARMY AIR SERVICE.
In the brief period of World War I these brave
American airmen wrote their own instruction manual as they lived it, and began new
traditions in valor. All were heroic, many became aces, and far too many died in the
defense of freedom. Four of them were later awarded their Country's highest award
for military valor, the Medal of Honor. Three of the four never lived to wear their
award, the fourth surviving to become an American legend. These brave knights of
the skies not only wrote history, they created a future.