WWI Warfare Wunderkind
On The Western Front
In Paris, Harv is leading a small army of correspondents, making
the P-E J the qualified source for news on the western front. While
his wife rubs elbows with the stars, he wears a heavy cast iron bowl
on his head and tries to avoid cold rain and the hail of gunfire. But
the Great War is beginning to grow on him, due in part that he has
learned how slowly it actually moves, especially when you are privy
to intelligence information; not many Verduns up anybody’s sleeve
without some foreknowledge.
The addition of an American presence, earnest participation that
more than offsets the withdrawal of Russia from the fray, and it spells
trouble for the Central Powers with a capital U-S-A. She is slow to
anger, but as in the Spanish-American set-to, you best not “yank” on
the tail of a hellcat. The dough boys have landed in France, almost
three months since that April 1917 declaration of war; time to redraw
the lines on the western front.
At sixty-three, the age when most people retire from a life of toil
and travail, Harv Pearson is punctuating his already rich abidance,
the sound of gunfire never out of earshot. Some of those rounds of
ammunition are fired from the air, synchronized parting the whirling
blades of airplane propellers.
He meets a man of lofty vision, one of the most intriguing
characters of the American military, accidentally on purpose, while
____226 Gwendolyn Hoff
seeking stories overlooked by other war correspondents. Colonel
Billy Mitchell is the maverick commander of our wing of the Allied
air corps and has been busy lobbying for this new form of waging
war. There is, however, no verifiable history to support his claims; so
much of his opposition comes from traditionalists who have never
left the terra firma, save jumping out of the way of a bouncing lethal
Here in Britain, where most of the airfields dot the rolling
countryside, resistance to change is less, seeing that urgency is higher
on the priority ladder.
And there are the French, the self-proclaimed
inventors of the airplane, who have had Americans flying in their
ranks for a couple of years and are the most comfortable in the sky.
“Wright” or wrong, you cannot dispute effectiveness and if men
like Mitchell do not advance the cause, the Germans would have
controlled the skies, perhaps changing the course of world history.
Harv Pearson is seated in the rear of a room of military men,
commanders all, planning an offensive beginning at Saint Michel
on the Western Front. Mitchell, just a colonel, is prominent in the
September 1918 meeting, urging to use just about every available
aircraft, ‘to chase retreating German forces into tomorrow’.
“We have the opportunity break through that damned Siegfried
Line! Doesn’t it make sense to shoot down as many Albatross’ as we
can—every one of them is a greater threat to our boys than two
battalions of Huns.” Billy Mitchell will use any means to make his
point, including the press and their widening audience.
“Colonel Mitchell, you have been in Europe longer than any
other advisor, what are some of the others uses for the airplane,
other than those hair-raising dogfights?” asks Harv, the only reporter
in the room.
“If they would listen to me, I would sink every ship that they
have, but they don’t think our bombs can do it, that’s bull____!”
“What if the ships are in the middle of the Atlantic? The current
range of airplanes barely allows you to fly to Belgium and back?”
“We could land them on boats.” He is thinking on the fly. “The aces can land in the middle of a herd of cattle, why not on a ship!”
Harv does not know what to say, getting more of an answer than
he was prepared for. As far as he knows, there are no ships with an
airfield for a deck. What others are whispering may be true, ‘Billy
____The Life and Times of a Black Southern Doctor 227
Mitchell is an extremist, bent on unproven things with little regard
for his superiors.’
“Gotta go, Pearson; more Albatross’ to shoot out of the sky.”
There is a hint of glee in his voice. Was he going to fly a mission?
Harv wouldn’t put it past the fiery flying enthusiast.
WWI Warfare Wunderkind