If you have any interest in the aviation aspect of the war, Air Force Magazine, published by the Air Force Association, has a great resource for you. They now provide online over two dozen articles that they have published over the years on WWI aviation. Here's a selection from the article the magazine presented on the contribution's of legendary New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who has both an airport and a Broadway musical named for him.
|La Guardia in Flying Gear|
In 1918, Fiorello La Guardia was, concurrently, a member of Congress and a captain on active duty with the Army Air Service in charge of American airmen on the Italian Front in World War I. He flew five combat missions himself, during his time in Italy. In between his military duties, he made speeches and had dinner with King Victor Emmanuel III. He constantly upset army bureaucrats on behalf of his airmen and more often than not, he prevailed. It seems unlikely that anyone other than La Guardia could have done it.
Fiorello (“Little Flower” in Italian) was born in 1882 in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. His father, a recent immigrant from Foggia in Italy, was a musician. He joined the army as a band leader when Fiorello was a few months old. Fiorello grew up on army posts, mainly Ft. Huachuca and Whipple Barracks in Arizona. When his father retired, the family moved to Trieste, where his mother had been born. Young La Guardia entered U.S. consular service in Europe and returned to the United States in 1906 to work as an interpreter at Ellis Island by day and attend New York University School of Law by night. He eventually became deputy attorney general for the state, assigned to the New York City bureau.
In 1915, “having convinced myself that we were going to get into the war, I decided that I wanted to go into our Air Corps,” La Guardia said. A friend, Sicilian immigrant Giuseppe Bellanca, ran a small flying school at Mineola, Long Island. The trainer aircraft was a light Blériot monoplane with a three-cylinder engine. It was a single-seater, so the student was alone in the aircraft.
Training began with “grass cutting” runs of about a mile and a half on the ground. The student then got out, turned the plane around, and taxied back. Once the student was able to keep the machine straight, La Guardia said, “the next step was a straightaway hop on the same course. We would lift the machine about 15 to 100 feet in the air and then land. This simple instruction went on for quite a while before we were allowed to circle the field.”
La Guardia was elected to Congress in 1916. He introduced a bill to make the fraudulent sale of war materials a felony punishable by imprisonment in peacetime and by death in time of war. It never got out of the Judiciary Committee.
When the United States entered the war, La Guardia supported the administration’s request for a military draft. “I had told the young men in my district that if I should vote for putting them into the Army, I would go myself, and personally I was eager to get into action,” La Guardia said. “I was 34 years old, physically fit, but too short to become a foot soldier. Whatever further war measures might be needed could easily pass the House without my vote. So I was ready to go to the front and determined to do so.” In July 1917 he applied for a direct commission.
He saw no reason to resign from Congress. Some members who joined the military did resign their seats; others did not. “I felt it would be good for Congress and good for the Army to have some of us serving abroad,” La Guardia said.
As he told the story in his memoirs, he put nothing on his application blank to indicate he was a member of Congress. The officer who interviewed him was “impressed by the fact that I had some little flying training,” he said, and offered him a commission as a lieutenant. A few days later, he reported to the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps and was taken to see Maj. Benjamin Foulois, soon to be chief of air service for the American Expeditionary Force.
Foulois “asked me if I was related to Congressman La Guardia,” he said. “I asked him if that would make any difference one way or the other. "No, not at all," he said.”
|La Guardia and Italian Aircraft Designer Giovanni Caproni|
Foulois knew, of course, exactly who La Guardia was. A contingent of 150 aviation cadets was to be sent to Italy for pilot training. The United States had only 26 pilots and a few military airfields. Most training had to be done abroad, in France, Britain, and Italy. By amazing coincidence, the site chosen for training in Italy was Foggia, which was La Guardia’s father’s hometown.
La Guardia was assigned to Mineola, where the cadets were being assembled for overseas deployment. He was promoted to captain and assistant to the contingent commander.
One of La Guardia’s first tasks in Mineola was to make travel arrangements. The War Department order specified use of “any passenger liner sailing from the port of New York.” La Guardia booked 156 first class passages on the Cunard liner SS Carmania. He took the position that he had helped shape the law that created the cadets and knew that the intent of Congress was to provide them first-class passage. The ship left New York on 11 September.
“Our boys soon took over the ship and were running all over the decks,” La Guardia said. The colonel in command of all Army personnel aboard was furious and ordered the cadets sent down to steerage because they were not yet officers. Fiorello took exception, arguing that they had first class tickets and the status of commissioned officers.
“It came out that I was a member of Congress,” he said. The colonel continued to fume, but “we managed to win the argument,” La Guardia said.
When the ship docked in Liverpool, there was a change of plans. The cadets were sent to British flying schools, and La Guardia went to Paris, where he met a different group of 125 cadets and took them by train to Foggia, about 150 miles southeast of Rome. La Guardia’s detachment arrived on 17 October. Forty-six American cadets were already there, under command of Maj. William Ord Ryan and training as pilots on Farman biplane pushers. La Guardia was the second-ranking American officer at Foggia.
Continue reading the full article about La Guardia's service in Italy and access the full WWI collection of Air Force Magazine here: