We stand on the backs of their sacrifice. Their history is our tradition, as long as there are Americans to remember...
My name is Byrne V. Baucom. Some of my friends call me “Bauc.”
Born in Milford, Texas, the son of Dr. J. B. and Mrs. Edith Baucom, I joined the Methodist Church at age 14. My hometown was a bustling place with a population of about 1200.
I graduated Milford High School in 1915 and went on to college at the University of Texas, School of Arts & Sciences. There in Austin, I made many new friends; among them was a fellow student, Bill Erwin, whose road I would cross again.
During my school years, I worked at various newspapers as a reporter and also as a linotype machine operator. I was thought by many to be bookish. Some of my friends thought me to be too mild and gentle to be a good reporter, but I worked hard to prove myself worthy of the task at hand.
When it became apparent that America would be joining in the Great War in Europe, I left school to join the Army. My first training camp was at Leon Springs Military Reservation, about twenty miles northwest of San Antonio. Among other things we learned how to drill, use a bayonet, how to send and receive Morse code, how to affix messages to messenger pigeons, and how to roll on the spiral puttee leggings that army privates wore.
From there I moved on to the First Officer’s Training Camp at Leon Springs, newly renamed Camp Funston. After 90 days of training, I graduated and was commissioned a second lieutenant. My first orders were to report to Company B in the 343rd Field Artillery Battalion.
After a short time, I was transferred to the Aviation Section of the Army Signal Corps. I trained at Kelly Field on the edge of San Antonio. It was there where I was one of the very first to sign up for the Military School of Aeronautics conducted by the University of Texas. It was a six-week class covering all aspects of Army Aviation. After completing the course in Austin, my vision was set on the heavens. I wanted to fly.
Then it was on to Post Field at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where I trained as an observer. That meant riding the back seat of a two-seater. My job was spotting for the artillery, gathering intelligence, handling the machine-gun, handling the bombs, and in general, being the lookout... I loved the job.
In April of 1918 we shipped overseas, and upon finally arriving in France I was sent to the Aviation Instruction Center at Issoudun, France for more training. Finally deemed ready for action, I was sent to the front on June 11, and was assigned to work with a French squadron. They put me with the Observation Group of the 1st Army Corps, 1st Aero Squadron. And as providence would have it, they teamed me to fly with Lt. William P. “Bill” Erwin from my college days... Small world.
Erwin and I flew reconnaissance patrols in a Spad XI biplane. It had slightly staggered, sweepback wings and a 220 horsepower engine. I had a single Lewis gun in my cockpit and a trap door just behind my seat. Our old Spad just wasn’t up to speed with what the Germans flew against us, but we did things in that plane that the French manufacturer said it couldn’t do, whipping into quick vertical banked turns and such. It was glorious up there with the wind in our face.
It wasn’t too long before we graduated on up to fly the Salmson 2A2 biplane, with its 230 horsepower. It was a superior aircraft in every way. We now carried 500-pounds of bombs, and my cockpit bay had a twin machine-gun mount which improved my ability to rain fury down upon the Boche.
We were primarily supposed to be gathering information about enemy troop strength and gun emplacements, but whenever the opportunity presented itself we attacked them ourselves. Increasingly we flew low into the enemy lines, sometimes 50 feet above the ground and delivered to them the wrath of Uncle Sam.
During June and July, Bill and I flew throughout the Second Battle of the Marne River, attacking the German positions, breaking up their gun batteries and destroying lines of communication wherever we could. It was here at Chateau-Thierry where we Americans won our first decisive victory of the war.
One time Erwin and I surrounded an enemy machinegun emplacement by circling them and keeping them under the fire of my guns. Their commanding officer tried to escape on horseback, but I ended that ride with a short burst from my guns. At the sight of that, the rest of the German gun crew held up their hands and waited for the arrival of our ground troops. As strange as it sounds, they, in fact, surrendered to our plane.
Early in September, I spotted a unit of U.S. Marines moving into the area close to my airfield. I had a powerful feeling that my brother, Wirt Baucom, was there with them. I liked to have strained my eyes out looking for him, but being in a hurry, I had to move on about my business. The next day I was as restless as a cat. Figuring that I had little chance of locating him down there in that sea of people, I was hoping that Wirt would inquire about me since he knew my address.
That evening I had just finished my supper when one of the other lieutenants came to my table and said that someone outside wanted to see me. I went to the door and there before me stood a great big, broad-shouldered, stout-looking Marine under a tin Stetson hat, with a mustache about four inches long, a gas mask on his shoulder and a physique that looked strong enough to beat down a whole division of Prussian Guards. That heavy mustache fooled me for a second. But that voice and those blue eyes were the same as when I saw them almost two years ago. He was the picture of sturdy manhood in the prime of life, and I was proud that he was my brother.
We went to my room and visited until ten o’clock that night, and then I walked up with him to his camp and there we sat down on a sack of oats and talked until three o’clock in the morning. You never saw two happier brothers than we were that night.
End of Part One