A BIRD'S-EYE VIEW OF THE GREAT WAR The Flights of Harold Loud: Among the aviators who served in World War I, the name of Michigan-native Harold Loud is not well-known. 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. But he proved that heroes could appear in any role in the skies above the Western Front.
Harold's grandfather was Henry Martyn Loud, an important lumberman on the Au Sable River during the late nineteenth century. The elder Loud was a popular Methodist minister in the Boston area who had left his religious calling behind when he entered the lumber business. 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. His sons--Henry Nelson, George Alvin, and Edward Francis--were brought into the family lumbering business, which thrived for 40 years.
Edward Francis Loud, Harold's father, held the position of company treasurer until a disastrous fire burned through the two towns of Au Sable and Oscoda in 1911 and effectively ended the lumber industry on the Au Sable River. After the fire destroyed their residence, the Louds moved to a new home on a small island near the west end of Van Ettan Lake, some seven miles northwest of Oscoda.
Born on September 27, 1895, Harold Loud was raised in Au Sable. He attended the Lawrenceville School for Boys in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, from 1909 to 1912 and graduated from Detroit's Central High School in 1913. During the summer of 1914, as World War I broke out in Europe, Loud was preparing to enter the University of Michigan. He studied there from the fall of 1914 until the spring of 1917, when the United States joined the war. That June, he enlisted in the aviation branch of the U.S. Army.
Becoming an Aviator
Loud was directed to attend the aviator ground training program at the University of Illinois at Urbana. The university provided living quarters, food, classrooms, and teachers for academic courses, while the government provided uniforms, military instructors, and a cadre of military officers who administered the program. The primary purpose of the program was to provide basic knowledge of the sciences underlying aviation, while a secondary goal was to identify individuals who were not temperamentally or academically suited to become aviators.
After completing the academic program successfully, Loud entered a flight training program at Wright Field near Dayton, Ohio, and began flying in August 1917. His ground school courses continued at Wright Field, during which he and his classmates attended courses on machine gun operation, aircraft construction, aircraft motors, radio operation, map reading, and military and physical training. Though Loud was cleared to fly solo in December, the winter weather in Dayton prevented the completion of his final flying training requirements.
Before the end of the year, Loud reported to Ellington Field in Houston, Texas, to complete his remaining flight requirements. He received his wings on February 13, 1918, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Aviation Section of the Signal Reserve Corps. That was an important milestone because, as a commissioned officer in the aviation component of the U.S. Army, both his professional status and pay increased significantly.
Lieutenant Loud delighted in his abilities to operate an airplane in a variety of flying conditions. He described one such experience in a letter home:
After completing flight training, Loud was designated an observation pilot and reported for further instruction at the flying school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The four-week training program required that observation pilots and observers spot artillery targets, direct artillery fire, and report results. In addition, the observers were also required to photograph specific ground targets and communicate effectively by radio using Morse code. In April, Loud reported to Camp Dick, near Dallas, Texas, for basic instruction in aerial gunnery, which consisted of shooting at targets on the ground and targets floating on the surface of nearby lakes from an aircraft.
Finally, Loud received orders in July 1918 to travel to Hoboken, New Jersey, to board a ship for France. Before setting off, he enjoyed a final week of leave with his parents in Michigan. Loud, along with the small group of pilots with whom he was traveling, sailed from Hoboken on July 21 and arrived in England on August 4. They were then hurriedly transferred across England to another port on the English Channel and arrived in France on August 6. More than a year since enlisting, Harold Loud was at last on the front lines of the war.
Flying Over the Western Front
Loud's first assignment in France was at Saint Maixent, where all new Air Service arrivals were sent to receive orientation briefings. There, he was assigned to one final instructional program, an advanced flying training course at the U.S. flying school at Issoudun, located about 75 miles southwest of Paris.
The flying school at Issoudun consisted of a large complex and 12 airfields, where students advanced from one field to the next according to their proficiency in piloting and the types of aircraft to which they expected to be assigned after completion of the program. Because he had received such extensive training in the United States, Loud moved through the program in just two weeks.
Loud briefly visited Paris while stationed at Issoudun, but he had little time to enjoy the sights. On September 1, 1918, he received orders to join the 88th Aero Squadron, which had been in France since May and operated in the area southwest of Verdun. The observation squadron was based at a field near Ferme-de-Greves, southwest of Chateau-Thierry, and flew reconnaissance flights along the Vesle River, where the German forces were located. When Loud joined the squadron, its pilots were flying the powerful and reliable Salmson SA-2 aircraft.
On September 11, the unit moved to the Pretz-en-Argonne airdrome, located about ten miles southwest of Souilly, France, to participate in the Battle of St. Mihiel. However, poor flying weather--including cold, wind, and rain--resulted in only one mission being flown by the unit during the battle, during which the squadron commander was injured. That resulted in the appointment of a new commander, Lieutenant Floyd Evans, who had been Loud's classmate at the University of Illinois and Wright Field. The unit was then relocated to Souilly, France, on September 20 to conduct training exercises with U.S. Army divisions in preparation for the massive Meuse-Argonne offensive.
Due to bad weather, Loud had not been able to fly operationally since his arrival in France, but he at last flew his first two missions on September 26 and 27, the first days of the offensive. He described his first combat flight experience in a letter written the following day:
A Fiery Flight
On September 28, 1918--just 20 days after he first joined the 88th Aero Squadron--Loud flew his third and final mission to report on U.S. ground troop movements near Montfacon. In the back seat behind him was Captain Charles Trickey, one of the squadron's senior observers.
As the men flew over the front lines, they were attacked by a flight of German planes that set the U.S. aircraft on fire. While Loud struggled to bring his burning plane to a safe landing in friendly territory, the fuel tank exploded as a result of being hit by machine gun fire and the body of the aircraft became engulfed in flames.
In spite of the inferno, Loud was somehow able to land the disabled aircraft. Meanwhile, Trickey had climbed out of the aircraft to avoid the flames and was hanging onto the wires on the left wing. When the aircraft struck the ground, the impact threw Trickey free. The captain survived the experience with only slight burns and an injured hand.
Lieutenant Loud, however, was not so fortunate. Surrounded by fire, he was forced to inhale the smoke, which severely damaged his lungs. The impact of the landing caused his aircraft to flip over onto its back, and Loud was not thrown fully clear of the burning wreck. U.S. soldiers in the area rushed to pull him free of the flaming wreckage. As they carried him away from the burning plane, Loud asked, "Is the captain all right?"
Loud succumbed to his wounds the following day. He had been with the squadron for less than a month and flown only three operational missions, but as Captain Trickey, Lieutenant Evans, and other members of the squadron attested, he was one of their finest officers.
Accounts of the tragic accident were published in several U.S. newspapers, emphasizing Loud's skill in landing the aircraft and Trickey's miraculous escape. Loud's final words--"Is the captain all right?"--were widely disseminated by the American press and invariably accompanied by expressions of admiration for his brave and selfless actions.
Harold Loud's father understandably had difficulty accepting the reality of his son's death. In his grief, he wrote to the Reverend Frederick Edwards, dean of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in Detroit, whom he and other Loud family members knew through their attendance at St. Paul's. In his letter, Edward Loud described vividly how, after trying to cope with his loss, a vision of his dead son came to him in which his son spoke to him and gave him a sense of solace.
In his reply to Edward Loud, Dean Edwards stated that his own son, Frederick Trevenen Edwards, was fighting in France in the same area where Harold Loud had died. In what is the unhappiest of ironies, Frederick Trevenen Edwards died in France less than two weeks after Harold Loud. Their bodies were buried beside one another in Souilly, France. Although they never knew each other in life, they were two Michigan natives united in death on the battlefields of western Europe. Both were indeed "worthy sons" who gave all in their efforts to represent themselves and their families in an honorable manner while in the service of their country during wartime.
by David K. Vaughan
A Michigan native, David K. Vaughan was raised on his grandfather's farm near Oscoda and served in the U.S. Air Force from 1962 to 1982. He received his master's degree from the University of Michigan and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington.
"I must tell you about a ride I had today. It had been so foggy for most of the day that flying was called off, but about four o'clock this afternoon, two other boys and myself called up the Lieutenant and got a ship apiece. There were two layers of clouds. The lower one was thin and about 2000 feet up. We chased each other around for a while and then one of the boys started circling up through a rift in the clouds above. The others followed and at an altitude of 7500 feet we were above most of the clouds and in bright sunshine...
Now and then we would run through little balls of clouds and come out wet and cold into the sunshine again. Finally we became separated and I got into a cloud that I could not find my way out of so I dove down. I was about five miles from the field and my time being almost up, came in and landed. The other boys came in about five minutes later."
"With my observer I left the ground at daylight and being my first trip over the lines while a battle was in progress, it will be a long remembered one. As we neared the front, the valleys were full of mist and only the hills could be seen coming out of it. In these valleys, on our side, there were hundreds and hundreds of cannon and a continuous flash would show through the mist....At first we flew at about 3,000 feet, but on account of the mist we dropped down to 1,000 feet. What a sight it was to see the barrage move slowly forward, especially in one town in which the Germans held strong positions. In about half an hour, the town was naught but a mess of ruins. Houses that were standing one minute would be heaps of stone and dust the next. We circled this place for almost an hour, directing the artillery fire, and never once saw a Boche plane.
We had been out a little over two hours on this trip and came back thinking how lucky we had been not to be molested. But when I came to unload my gun, I found it broken and a German explosive bullet inside it. Someone from the ground had taken a shot and he was not far off, for the gun was only two feet in front of me. I have the bullet and am keeping it for my first souvenir. A plane, a little later, came in with twenty-seven holes in it. They always seem to hit the plane, but very seldom the pilot--sometimes the observer, but the pilot is everywhere protected. Don't worry about it--think I am foolish for telling you about such things."
Caption: A World War I-Era recruiting poster for the U.S. Army Air Service. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-9571.)
Caption: Lieutenant Harold Edward Loud in his dress uniform after receiving his pilot's wings early in 1918. (Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library.)
Caption: Mr. and Mrs. Edward Loud, Harold's parents, standing outside their summer residence on Van Ettan Lake, seven miles northwest of Oscoda, Michigan, in the early 1920s. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, American Colony in Jerusalem Collection.)
Caption: The Curtiss Jenny, a type of aircraft that Harold Loud flew at Ellington Field in the spring of 1918. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Signal Corps.)
Caption: Lieutenant Floyd Evans, Loud's commanding officer.
Caption: Officers of the 88th Aero Squadron in October 1918. (Both photos courtesy of the author.)
Caption: The burning wreck of Lieutenant Harold Loud's aircraft. (Both photos courtesy of the author.)
Caption: Loud's gravesite in Souilly, France.
Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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|Author:||Vaughan, David K.|
|Publication:||Michigan History Magazine|
|Date:||May 1, 2018|
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