Visiting World War I Marine Corps Battlefields
"World War I Battlefields" By David C. Homsher. Marine Corps Gazette, November 2005 (courtesy of the Marine Corps Association)
As part of a continuing effort to keep alive the memory of the American soldiers who fought in France and Belgium during World War I (WWI), and to promote tourism to the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) battlefields in Europe, I would like to present to professional/amateur historians and to prospective battlefield travelers, tourists, and pilgrims alike, several French and American nationals who are well qualified to take Americans on individual tours, group tours, or staff rides on the AEF battlefields in France and in Belgium.
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Devil Dog of the Air: Sam Richards
By Maj Dennis A. Cavagnaro, USMC (Ret). Leatherneck Magazine, October 1991 (Courtesy of the Marine Corps Association)
Photo: In April 1918, the 1st Marine Aviation Force trained on Curtis Jennies in order to accompany British bombers flying an antisubmarine patrol over the North Sea and English Channel (Defense Department Photo 518425)
Sam Richards of Oakland, Calif., now in his 96th year, has enjoyed an amazing and colorful aviation career.
As a young man he was a Marine Corps pilot shot down in Belgium in World War I. He later served as an Air Force pilot in World War II.
Following the war, he developed a chemical fire retardant capable of fighting forest fires, to be dropped from aircraft, and eventually served as commander of the First Marine Aviation Force Veterans Association, which was the forerunner of today's Marine Corps Aviation Association.
Richards, from Bryn Mawr, Pa., was a sophomore studying chemical engineering at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., when in May 1917 the United States declared war on Germany. He wanted to fly and enlisted as a seaman second class with the Navy recruiter in Washington, D.C. He was required to purchase his Navy uniforms.
While awaiting ground school orders and living at home, Richards worked on a machine-tool lathe in the Autocar factory. The Navy sent him by train to Massachusetts Institute of Technology Flight "E," where he and his fellow recruits completed 10 weeks of aviation ground school. Upon graduation, Chief Quartermaster Richards and his classmates sailed from Boston to Savannah, Ga., where they entrained for Pensacola, Fla.
At Pensacola, Richards learned to fly with four hours and 10 minutes of instruction in the N-9 (the two-seater N-9 had a center pontoon and two wingtip pontoons) and R-6 (a heavier plane using two main pontoons) and then soloed in both. He said, "While waiting for commissioning and assignment at Pensacola, we heard that the Marine Corps was starting an air wing, so we volunteered and left Pensacola by train for Miami, after being designated naval aviators and commissioned as ensigns. We paid our own train fares. The Marine Corps' first aviator, Alfred A. 'Ma' Cunningham, greeted us at Curtiss Field." The groups from Lake Charles, La., and Miami Naval Air Station (NAS) joined on June 3, 1918, at Miami for further training in land planes. Richards was "promoted" from Navy ensign to Marine Corps "shavetail" (second lieutenant).
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