By SM Sgt. Wilbur Tackaberry
Photo: This "Jenny" was the first plane for the Missouri Air National Guard. It was purchased by the officers and men of the 110th Observation Squadron.
Early in 1923 a group of local aviation enthusiasts including Maj William B. Robertson and his brothers Frank and Dan, went to Washington to seek support for selection of St. Louis as the site for the "International Air Races" and a charter for organization of an Army National Guard Air Unit for the state, Their mission was successful and they returned with the approval for both activities.
The interest which St. Louis had shown as an aviation center and recommendation of Col. C.S. Thornton, then 138th Infantry Regiment Commander, largely influenced Brig. Gen. W.A. Raupp, Missouri National Guard Commander in selection of St. Louis as site for the Air Unit.
Local newspapers informed the public that "enlistments would not be limited to aviators but a number of young men who wanted to learn to fly or maintain flying equipment would also be taken." Members would be paid for a maximum of 60 "drills" a year which were described as periods of instruction in ground work, machine-shop practise and flying. War maneuvers would be taught and bombing and machine gun firing would be directed at targets on the nearby Missouri River. Personnel assigned to the Photo Section would learn to make pictures for use in war and intelligence Personnel would be trained as Scouts of the Air (observers) and probably will have radio equipment.
A five-day "recruiting drive" enlisted a total of 110 men, most of whom were World War I veterans. On June 23, 1923 the 110th Observation Squadron, 110th Photo Section and 110th Intelligence Section, 35th Division (Aviation), Missouri National Guard were federally recognized.
If I may digress for a moment , many of us recall the late Col. Ben W. Lichty who was among the original enlistees, was commissioned in the Unit, and ultimately became commander in the post World War II period. The colonel was greatly admired by all who knew him and he frequently, and proudly, displayed a frayed set of orders on which he was placed on flying status as a Private First Class in 1923.
A little known or publicized accomplishment of the early Unit was the first radio transmission ever completed between a flying aircraft and a ground station.
One of the first orders of business for the new Unit was the election of officers. This may seem unique to those of you who are veterans of World War II, the Korean War conflict or Vietnam, however, it was a normal procedure of the period. William B. Robertson was elected major and commander of the Unit. In all fourteen officers were elected along with Maj. Robertson. They included Joseph Head, Ray Wassall, Emanuel Hahn, Frank Robertson, Frank Vrooman, and Dan Robertson.
First Headquarters for the new Unit was located in a filling station on Manchester Avenue. From there it was moved to a small room over a grocery store on Olive Street Road. Meetings were held at the airport at Anglum which is now known as Bridgeton. At the time the area was used for flying was nothing more than a tract of land formerly a wheat field leased from the Weldon family.
Equipping the new Unit with airplanes, the various items of support equipment and uniforms for the men proved to be a slow process. The first aircraft, an OX JN-4 "Jenny" was actually purchased by the officers. This was soon resolved through the loan of equipment from Chanute Field in Illinois.
On July 4, 1923 the new Unit conducted an "Aerial Circus" to raise a fund of about $3,000 to meet a guarantee assumed by the St. Louis Air Board in having the 35th Division Air Units assigned here. Participants were to include such notables as Mrs. Bertha Horchem who could fly 15 to 25 consecutive loops and do a tailspin at an altitude of 3,000 feet; Clyde Horchem who had flown four and a half miles upside down and made 117 consecutive loops without losing altitude; and Elvina Fizer, who stood on the upper wing of an airplane white it "looped the loop". To climax the circus, a flight of National Guard planes piloted by Bill Robertson, Perry Horton, Frank Robertson, and Ray Wassall "bombed" a dummy battleship.
Some 5,000 spectators were on hand for the event. A survey of the crowd indicated that aviation was acquiring a distinct interest among local area residents. Men and women alike spoke knowledgeably of such aviation oriented terms as "falling leaf", "dead stick landing", and "nose dive".
The "Aerial Circus" was but a preview of the National Air Meet and Pulitzer Race which was scheduled for 1-3 October 1923. One could sense an air of tension and enthusiasm among the pilots of the newly formed 110th Observation Squadron in anticipation of this outstanding event which would focus the attention of aviation pioneers from throughout the world on St. Louis.
[Photo: Crew Chiefs, Sergeants with Commander, Major Phil Love (center with white scarf). Others identified: Cleon Freeman, Bill Brazil, Art Lauth, Jimmy Tate, Ed Burkhardt]
1930 Armament Crew [Enlargement]
MOANG O38's lined up inside hangar in 1930's Lambert Field. [Enlargement]
1929 Missouri Air Guard, Ft. Riley, Kansas [enlargement]
1933 110th Photo Section, 35th Division, Missouri Air National Guard.[Enlargement]
1933 Officers, 35th Division, Missouri Air National Guard [Enlargement]
1935 110th Observation Squadron, Missouri Air National Guard, while in training at Ft. Riley, Kansas. [Enlargement]
National Guard planes at old facilities downtown (possibly South Grand)
Early pilot undergoing a doctor review.
One of the first offices of the Missouri Air National Guard was in the upper story of Jewson's Grocery Store at 208 South Twelfth Street in downtown St. Louis. Source: The Show Me Spirit: A 50 Year History of the Missouri Air National Guard 1923-1973.
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