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True grit: beyond the U.S. propaganda of WWI, hundreds of unrecognized American airmen flew with ... (World War I).

When U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci scolded Canadians for not joining the American invasion of Iraq, he reminded them of the future and the past. He predicted a bumpy future while bemoaning our lack of appreciation of the fact that the U.S. had come to the aid of the good guys in two world wars.

Cellucci was perhaps justified in his first warning. Our fumbling of the SARS outbreak, an immigration policy which allows 16,000 potential terrorists to wander into Canada and get lost, and marijuana laws which will negate ten years of U.S. efforts to stamp out drugs are but a few U.S. irritants.

But the role of the U.S. in coming to the aid of Canada's allies in past wars is an illusion. In WWI, the allies endured four exhausting years of combat while the Americans avoided conflict until the last six months of the war, and then dominated peace talks. Courageous Franklin Roosevelt risked his presidency in 1940 by opposing a strong isolationist movement in the U.S. America entered the war only after it was attacked at Pearl Harbor and--Roosevelt's personal efforts aside--there is little to sustain the fiction of U.S. policy coming to the aide of the allies.

But if you turn back the pages and look at the role of individual Americans, a completely different picture emerges. In two wars, an estimated 65,000 Americans served in the Canadian forces, creating a bond that surpasses any official policy emanating from Washington or Ottawa.

The First World War saw 35,600 Americans serve in the Canadian Expeditionary force while an estimated 1700 flew with the Royal Flying Corps or, later, the RAF. Unfortunately, decades of shallow American propaganda have ignored the role of thousands of volunteers while concentrating on a few. Any American official would have a far more convincing argument if he or she tried to piece together the achievements of American volunteer airmen in WWI instead of blabbering about Eddie Rickenbacker, a skilled and brave pilot.

But the exploits of some 1700 Americans who joined the British air services--and were equally skilled and brave--have been virtually lost to history. For instance, Fred Libby of Sterling, Colorado, arrived in France with the Canadian army in 1915. After several months in the trenches, he was selected as an observer. He brought down an enemy aircraft on his first flight and, as the Battle of the Somme wound down, had ten victories when he was selected for pilot training. As a pilot, he added four more to his score in 1917 before transferring to the United States Air Service.

Libby was one of the first and personalizes the debt Canadians owe to a select group of Yanks who flew with RFC squadrons with no recognition, a situation similar to that of some 13,000 Canadians. Early American propaganda centered on a group of volunteers who flew with the Lafayette Escadrille or the Lafayette Flying Corps. Canadian Raymond Collishaw--who would become a 59-victory ace and an Air Commodore--shared operations at Luxeuil in Eastern France with the Americans. Canadians from Collishaw's Naval Three Wing and the Yanks from the Escadrille became fast friends and shared missions as well as numerous Manhattans.

Collishaw was impressed, or perhaps shocked, at the funeral arranged for one American pilot that included thousands of troops in a procession behind a draped coffin. Kiffin Rockwell was a founding member of the volunteer organization and posted the squadron's first victory. But in 1916, when the RAF lost 560 casualties over the Somme alone, the farewell for Rockwell may have been a bit de trop. In his memoirs, Collishaw noted the amount of publicity the Americans got. He added: "I don't begrudge them this at all ... but it always struck me as peculiar and rather unfair that the Americans who flew with the Lafayette Squadron should have received such great public acclaim whereas the many hundreds of Americans who flew as members of the British air forces, mostly with the RFC and the RAF, remain completely ignored."

Late in 1916, after the losses on the Somme, the British decided to launch an air-training plan in Canada. Colonel Cuthbert Hoare arrived in Canada and kick-started the program during the early months of 1917. Once the original airfields were hacked out of the bush, Hoare began negotiations with the Americans. Among his various deals south of the border, was the setting up of recruiting offices on New York's 5th Avenue and in other parts of the country. This unleashed a flood of American volunteers.

Of the top 50 American aces, these volunteers would account for 305 of 378 victories. A surprising number flew two seaters during the final months of the war. Frederick Gillet flew Dolphins with RAF 79 Squadron and ran up 20 victories between August and November 1918, becoming America's second-ranking ace. He destroyed three Fokker D VII's hours before the Armistice. American-born Wilfred Beaver joined RAF 20 Squadron in late 1917. As pilot of a Bristol Scout, his machine accounted for 19 enemy aircraft. Howard Kullberg was credited with 19 victories between May and September 1918, while flying an SE-5 with RAF No. 1 Squadron. Brothers Paul and August Iaccaci also flew Bristols with the RAF and each were credited with 17 machines. Paul celebrated 4 July 1918 by bringing down three enemy machines. American Emile Lussier scored three of his 12 victories in one combat, while Louis Bennett accounted for 12 enemy machines in nine days. The above were but a few of the hundreds who first flew with the RFC or RAF and later transferred to the American Air Services. Others joined the U.S.A.S. but were assigned to RAF squadrons for experience during the very busy summer of 1918.

During WWII, some 19,000 Americans served in the Canadian army and an estimated 9000 joined the RCAF. During the Battle of Britain, the first of three Eagle Squadrons, which flew for the RAF for almost two years, was formed. Credited with 75 enemy aircraft, they also suffered a hundred casualties. Hundreds of Americans remained with the RAF after America's aerial build-up in Europe, which coincided with the growth of Bomber Command. Their reasons for being there touched the root of Canadian-American friendship, a very personal thing that had little to do with national policies. They simply wanted to help.

Fred Gaffen's Cross-Border Warriors quotes some of the volunteers on why they joined the RCAF. Although in the early years of the war President Roosevelt fought a difficult battle to assist the British, he apparently did not move fast enough for Lionel Proulx who said he joined the RCAF in February 1941 "because I became impatient with President Roosevelt's lack of action towards Hitler."

Terry Goodwin took a broader view. "I was not at all pleased with the American position of non-intervention," he said. "As an individual, I could be more useful by joining the RCAF. I did guard duty at Camp Borden and buried ten student pilots while I was there."

Billy Hopkins cites a burning desire to fly" supported by an enthusiastic attitude about crushing the Axis, and a great deal of compassion for the folks in the United Kingdom ... I still have to fight back tears when I hear O Canada."

Richard Dunham worked part-time on a farm. "One day as I was sitting under a brown Swiss cow, the cow managed to kick me and a milk bucket clear across the barn. I contemplated my future and decided that war might be hell but it beat milking cows. I struck out for the border ... pledging myself to serve King and Canada as long as neither owned any cows."

John Gillespie Magee was planning to attend Yale University in 1940 but joined the RCAF instead. He got his pilot's wings and went overseas. While undergoing advanced fighter training, he collided in the clouds with another aircraft and was killed. Three months earlier, he had sent his parents a copy of a poem, which said, in part:
 I've topped the windswept heights with easy
 grace
 Where never lark or even eagle flew
 And while with silent lifting mind I've trod
 The high untrespassed sanctity of space
 Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
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Author:Shannon, Norman
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Words:1383
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