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Hyman C. Block

Submitted by: Carol Levarek {granddaughter}

591cff8e5719f LtHCBlockFrance1918

Hyman C Block served in World War 1 with the United States Army Air Corps. The dates of service are: Known 8/27/1917 - 4/1/1919.

 

Below is the description of my grandfather's experience in WWI, written by him in the mid 1960's.

I Flew with the 89th Aero Squadron
by Hyman C. Block

I was born December 18, 1896 in New York City. My family moved to Hartford, Connecticut in July 1897, so I spent practically my whole life in the Hartford area. I went through Hartford public schools, graduated Hartford Public High School in 1913 and worked for a couple of years before going to New York to attend Cooper Union School of Engineering.

While in New York, World War I broke out, as far as the United States was concerned.About June I decided to enlist in the Air Service. So I enlisted in the Signal Corps branch of the Army at Mineola, Long Island and was sworn in there on August 27, 1917. I was assigned to the Princeton University School of Military Aeronautics and started there October1, 1917 and graduated November 24m 1917. I was then assigned with four other graduates to North Island --San Diego, California -- for flying training.

At San Diego one of the boys I trained with was Frank Luke, "the Balloon Buster of Arizona". He was the second ranking ace of World War I, after Eddie Rickenbacker. He was a peach of a boy, that's all I can tell you. It's hard to remember and reminisce about when we went out together and what we did; but, of course, we were both learning to fly and had the same instructor, a civilian named Todd. He was the only pilot there, as there were very few military pilots at that time. This was the beginning of flying at Rockwell Field in San Diego.

Flying there you had to take off over the ocean and if your engine failed you'd land in the ocean. But, of course, the Curtiss "Jenny" motors were very good. I had two close calls during training. One time I found myself going right off toward another plane -- I saw him just at the last moment --I just zoomed up, right out of his way. Another time I fell into a tail spin; the instructor told me to fly quite shallow with my engine throttled down, and I flew a bit too shallow and went down in a tail spin at about 400 feet. Fortunately, I pulled out of it.

We finished our basic training at San Diego and on February 7,1918 I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, even though at the time of enlistment we were suppose to be appointed First Lieutenants. *About two or three weeks before graduation the Army decided to downgrade our rating to Second Lieutenant.)

From San Diego we were immediately assigned to overseas duty. We disembarked from Hoboken, New Jersey o the SS Philadelphia, which was a commercial liner, on March 7th and arrived at Liverpool, England on March 16th. From Liverpool we journeyed by train across England to Southampton where we took a ferry across the English Channel to Le Havre. At Le Havre another one of the pilots and myself were appointed in charge of baggage, so we left the group and were supposed to meet a train leaving Le havre at midnight. We had no orders in our hands and we had no idea where the train was going. But, due to a mix-up of two or three hours between Le Havre time and our own watches, we got on a midnight train thinking "Well, this may be our train; we don't know where we're going, but we'll take it anyway." At every stop we got out of the compartment, started walking along the train from one compartment to another to look for our group, but without success. Finally someone told us we were going to Paris. We got there in the early hours of the morning and, naturally, we wanted to get to a hotelier the night. But Paris was pitch dark, and a couple of taxis ignored us when we said "Hotel", thinking they'd know what we were talking about. Finally we for one driver to take us to a hotel. The next morning we got down to the clerk, who could understand English, and asked to get in contact with the American Army officials, who we called on the phone. Then we learned that we were supposed to have gone to Blois, and off we went.

From Blois we were assigned to Tours and the to Issoudon. We did no flying, just sitting around, waiting for orders. From Issoudon each group was assigned to go to different places. This is where we got separated from Frank Luke and the rest of the boys that had gone overseas with us.

At Issoudon they asked if any of the boys had any experience flying a plane with a wheel control instead of a stick control. It just so happened that at San Diego we had trained on a well control plane, so a group of us was selected to go to Amanty, an airfield up at the Front where the French had been using some old A.R. planes -- the A.R. stands for Avion Renault --and they were all through with them They were completely obsolete and we were there to take these planes back to Chatillon-sur-Seine, where the Army was forming the 2nd Corps School for training of observers. This was the first time I had flown since San Diego; I got into this plane I'd never seen before and believe-you-me! it was an effort to the darned thing. I was a little bit scared because they just told us to go in and fly it, that's all! But we all managed to get the planes over to Chatillon-sur-Seine in good conditions and, from then on, we were assigned to the 2nd Corps School as pilots in the training of observers. We were all "casuals' not assigned to any particular squadron, just to the schooling general as pilot instructor.

carillon-sur-Seine was a new filed and slowly it was being developed and built up until they probably had 50 or 60 pilots on duty with classes of observers coming and going, graduating continually from the school and assigned to active squadrons up at the Front as observers.

Missions at the 2nd Corps School included photographic missions and artillery reglage, a mission to overfly the artillery as it zeroed in on enemy targets. The pilot and the observer had no direct contact with each other; I could raise my hand and signal and he would tap me on the shoulder and point either here or there. We couldn't speak to each other over the sound of the engine, but he had his wireless code that he would send back to the artillery for correction of their range. These were the most important missions that we went on at the school. The cameras that were used in aerial photography were quite bulky and lifted by hand into the rear cockpit where they were aimed by hand. It was up to the pilot to fly a very steady course, regardless of wind, over a certain road to over certain targets so that they could get a good line-up of pictures in sequence. We did a little machine gun practice at the school, but not too much. I believe that most of the observers had to go to gunnery school to get more complete practice than we got at our school.

While I was at the school the 26th Army Division was withdrawn from the Front and came to Cahtillon-sur-Seine for a rest period. Of course, we all knew they were there and, being a local division from Connecticut, I was quite interested and paid them a visit on the ground. I also paid them a nice visit in the air while they were dome some maneuvers in the trenches. I flew over their base and nose dived on them; they didn't know who I as but when they saw a plane nose diving, they knew enough to jump into the trenches, down flat. They didn't know what was happening, whether someone was going to strafe them or not. I guess I scared them a little bit, but I didn't mean to, I just meant to say "Hello".

We were still flying the discarded French A.R.'s. they were very heavy and cumbersome and not very maneuverable; you had to land them fast, on two wheels, and then slow down, they were so bulky. They had a ceiling of approximately 12 or 13,000 feet and it was a slow climb to get up there. Of course we had no oxygen, so this was as high as you'd normally fly without an oxygen mask, anyway.

Once I made a forced landing at a British field with an A.R. There was a hole in the field and, because you had to make such a fast landing, I somersaulted with the plane. Fortunately, I wasn't hurt I guess my belt kept me from landing on my head.

The Chatillon field was also a rough one and there were times you had to be pretty careful where you landed. Incidentally, one man was asleep under a pile of hay and a plane came down and landed on him and killed him. The field runway was relatively short, just about long enough to take off, and most of the time, due to wind direction, we would have to take off over the end of the field where there was a precipice, and if anything went wrong you went right down in a heap. More than one fellow that had engine trouble practically noise dived into the gully down there. I don't recall that anyone was actually killed on take off like that, but there were some pretty close shaves. The planes themselves, all being obsolete, were none too sturdy. Many a time the engines faltered on take off so that we had to make quite a few forced landings. In fact, one time the engines were in such bad shape that the Chief Engineer, Captain Merwyn Falk, condemned every plane on the field; but in spite of that, the Commandant said we still had to fly, we had to do our missions and we did.

Since the U.S. Government had no war planes at that time, the only planes we could use were what they could pick up from the French, or the British or the Italians. Naturally our allies weren't going to give us their better planes; their own pilots were using them. All we could get was the cast-offs and hand-me-downs. In addition to the A.R.'s at the field, we had some LeRhone engined observation planes and then we had some Italian planes with a Gnome monosoupape motor in them. Over a period of time we also had the Hadley Page, the Caudron, the Farman Experimental, the Sopwith, the Spad and others to pay a visit.

The 89th Aero Squadron originally went overseas on in the fall of 1917 to build airfields for the various squadrons at the Front and they spent quite a bit of time up near the Front doing this work. No pilots were assigned to the squadron until they were sent to Chatillon-sur-Seine, in April 1918, and at that time eighteen of the pilots form the 2nd Corps School were assigned to the 89th Aero Squadron. I was one of the original pilots of this squadron. We stayed with the 89th until the end of the war, and then we were unassigned and became "casuals" again.

That summer there were some athletic games at Dijon, France and many of the French flyers as well as member of our Air Service were thee; amongst them was Rene Fonck, the French ace, whom I met at the time. also present was Georges Carpentier, the former heavy weight champion of the world. It was quite interesting for us, meeting these famous personalities at the time.

The only time I suspected an enemy aircraft was after me was when I was on training mission; it was quite a cloudy day and I spotted a plan at some distance away that I could not identify. He was flying in and out of the clouds, and I can sure you that I kept my eyes peeled for him to see if he was going to come at me. I was ready to get of his way as soon as I could if I saw he was enemy plane. We had no guns on our plane (an A.R.) at the time and, with no protection at all if it was and enemy plane, our only salvation would be to get down to the ground as soon as we could. the only time we had a gun was when we did target practice, which was very infrequent. The observer had the gun in the back, mounted on a scarff ring. We had no front firing guns on our planes.

I don't believe the 89th Aero Squadron ever adopted any particular insignia. the squadrons at the Front all had their own individual insignia, but we didn't.
About September of 1918 we got our fist D.H. 4 (made in America) and that to us was height of glory. the A.R. was the "flying coffin" to the French; it was practically suicide, any fast maneuvering or aerobatics and the plane would fall apart. the D.H. 4, with the Liberty motor, was a very sturdy, substantial plane. I enjoyed paling along, idling the engine and holding the plane level until it stalled and then let it nose dive. I got a thrill out of it like going down a roller coaster. I don't know if the fellow in the back seat enjoyed it as much as I did, but I used to love doing doing that.

We were still located at Catillon-sur-Seine when the armistice was announced and at that time carillon had become quite a center for some the Army units. Naturally, we had quite a parade through the town and quite a celebration after it, but unfortunately it was rather a cloudy and misty day. Of course we were all as happy as could be when the armistice was announced and we felt, we, maybe our flying days are over...but, no, orders were orders, we had to continue our program just as though there had been no armistice. So we kept the school activities going just the same.

Finally, in march 1919, orders were received to get rid of the planes at the camp. We had to fly them back to St. Aignan, however, the planes were in such sad shape that several of us had to make forced landings on the way. We never arrived at our actual destination because the engines of the old A.R.'s just pooped out.

We sailed form Brest, France on March 12th and reached New York on march 24th. At Garden City, Long Island I was picked to captain a group of soldiers going to Camp Dodge, Iowa for discharge, where I also was discharged on April 1, 1919. After that Was through with the Army. Originally when I enlisted I thought I would make a career of flying, as I felt it had a wonderful future. However, the life expectancy was too short; after seeing so many of my friends killed here and there, I felt the better part of valor would be to give up flying, which I did.

The 89th Aero Squadron started having reunions three or fours years ago and in 1965 I had the first opportunity of attending their reunion at Oklahoma city. It was very interesting, there was one other pilot besides myself there, Lieutenant Leonard Sullivan, and the rest were enlisted men of the squadron. I hadn't seen any of the men sin 1918 and 1919. I met Lt. Sullivan at Dayton, Ohio in1961 -- when the Air Force dedicated their new museum at Wright-Patterson Field and they invited all of the pilots who had served overseas as guests of honor -- and we had quote a lot reminiscing to do at Oklahoma city. We got a nice write-up in The Daily Oklahoma at the time of the reunion.

591cff8e57c67 89thSquadron

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