“Her Sons Have Triumphed Again”: The United States Army Balloon School’s “The Arcadian Observer,” 23 November 1918

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This is the third post in this blog to highlight, from the museum’s holdings, an issue of the rarely found Arcadian Observer, the official newspaper of the United States Army Balloon School, which was located in Arcadia during the last few months of and immediately after the First World War. This seventeenth number of the paper came less than two weeks after the armistice was signed following Germany’s unconditional surrender that ended the horrific four-year conflict.

The school was created to train personnel to use balloons for aerial observation during the war and with the end of the conflict, a main article here was “Keeping Our Cause Clean.” It began by stating, “amidst all the joy and unbounded enthusiasm with which America greeted the announcement of democracy’s victory and the thought that once more the world was at peace, the worry, the suffering and bloodshed was at an end, there were doubtless many who had been struck deepest by the outrages committed by German[y]’s soulless hordes, held a feeling that we had not punished them enough.”

The question was whether an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” mentality was to apply in dealing with the conclusion of the war, even as one German general was quoted as suggesting that modern warfare does “demand far more brutality, far more violence, and an action far more general than was formerly the case.” This was seen, it was added, in the German treatment of the Belgians and Poles, in poisoning wells, in bombing places not of military importance, and the sinking of passenger vessels on the open seas. Instead, “we fought to disprove the right of might to maim and murder and destroy just because it has the might, and to uphold liberty and love.”

The writer contrasted German atrocities with the civilized behavior of British and Italian forces, who could easily have availed themselves of the levels and degrees of brutality utilized by their common enemy, but chose not to do so. Yet, it was noted, “one thing which may be said in favor of ‘fighting fire with fire,’ insofar as it extends to the actual armed forces of the enemy” was that “if they use poison gas and flame, these things may be turned against them with redoubled energy, and this we have done, and the Huns know it. But the Allied nations will not dip their hands in innocent blood.” We will not suffer a smear of scarlet shame drawn across the glorious shield with which he guarded the gracious things of human life.”

Rising in emotion, the piece continued that “neither will our sword, drawn to the defense of justice at the cry of those ravished and murdered women and children, and dedicated to an everlasting ending to all such horrors, be sheathed in the soft flesh of non-combatants.” Rather, the peace concluded with emphasis,” we have fought like men with men, and not with women and baes; and though these men with whom we fought proved themselves to be most inhuman brutes, we have not sunk ourselves to their low estate, nor shared in their crimes and made ourselves unworthy to judge the criminals and avenge the wronged! We have, and always will, keep our cause clear.”

At the end of the magazine is “The Case of the People Versus the Kaiser” in which the prevailing question with the war ended was “Shall the Kaiser go unpunished for the atrocities committed by his orders?” It was reported that British courts issued arrest warrants for the deposed Wilhelm II, along with submarine commanders who were involved in the sinking of neutral and passenger ships. It was acknowledged that nothing could “atone for the defenseless women and children who have suffered at the hands of the war-crazed Huns” and “the fiendish brutality of the German troops.” Not even the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, it was averred, was as terrible “compared to the methods of the German troops diring their invasion of Belgium and France.”

Violations of treaties and international law were apparently trivialized by the German high command and the rights of neutrals were disregarded, as were those of prisoners of war. Despite the alleged inhuman behaviors of the defeated, “pleas for lenient armistice and peace terms are being voiced throughout Germany and her colonies.” This led to the questions, “is the perpetrator of these crimes against the world to escape the penalty of his deeds? Shall he be permitted to live out his life of luxury in a castle surrounded by a few loyal followers?” The hope was that the plans of English prosecutors would come to fruition and “this arrogant ex-ruler will be brought to trial and if convicted given the punishment he so richly deserves.”

An interesting piece, reprinted from the American Army Gazette was concerning a proposed bill in Congress that would establish the rank of “ensign” in the Army, comprising those appointed by the Secretary of War (now the Secretary of Defense) “and who will rank below a second lieutenant but above a first sergeant and a sergeant-major.” Much of the reason why this proposal was supported was because it would create another officer position that would lend more prestige, not to mention pay, and provide an incentive to the “line soldier,” to move into the ranks of the officer. It was noted that the ensign “would be the buffer between the non-coms and the commissioned officers, and every man in the Army would receive a stimulus to do good work, having in mind that if he was not qualitied for a commission he might be able to obtain a warrant [as ensign] from the Secretary of War.”

Also of import was the reprinting of a War Department memo from the Commander of the Army Balloons in the First Army concerning those “observers who have made parachute jumps on the line under fire.” A dozen instances were cited, with one in which two men jumped from a balloon that, in July, was attacked and caught fire, though the men went up in another craft just four hours later “and continued the work.” One of these, Lt. Paul N.A. Rooney, was in another battle in late September and had to make another jump when his balloon was attacked by three German planes. 1st Lt. S.V. Clarke, had to make a parachute jump in late August and again just under a month later and, during this second action, “both observers showed coolness in jumping, one waiting for other’s parachute to open before going over.” There were other instances of great heroism for these balloon observers working under terribly exposed circumstances.

In a Weekly News Letter for the period ending 9 November, there were instances of emergencies for those in training here in the San Gabriel Valley, including one mentioned by a lieutenant from the Arcadia school who was involved in an incident in which a wind storm tore the balloon loose from its mooring cable while at an altitude of 2,500 feet. While the ground crew was instructed by Lt. H.C. Hahlbeck to bring the balloon down and it was hauled by the winch to within a hundred feet of the ground, a gust hit and the cable snapped, with the balloon quickly rising to near 10,000 feet. While Hahlbeck was able to get to the valve cord and prevent the balloon from bursting and also to get it to drop to 7,000 feet, he “got my position as above San Gabriel, rapidly going southwest toward the ocean.”

Hahlbeck noticed, however, that “seeing the balloon almost two-thirds empty, [I] realized I had valved it too much” and the craft was “coming down too fast for safety, descending four thousand feet in about two minutes’ time, and I decided to jump.” He set up the balloon so that it would not be lost and could land in a field, so “I ripped the balloon and vaulted over the side of the basket, taking care to adjust all the straps of my harness before ripping, and looking to see which was the correct side to jump from.”

Having utilized his training properly, Hahlbeck “landed safety in a tomato patch on the north side of the field I had in mind, landing backwards on my heels, turning a complete somersault over onto my feet again and then running to the parachute, holding the edges down before the wind could open it and drag me. I then unfastened the hooks on my harness and rolled up the parachute in time to give it to the ambulance driver as he came out. I landed without a scratch or a bruise.” As for the balloon, it “was carried over the field I had in mind into a wash bordering the west side of it, landing on some barb wire.”

The first article was an homage to Colonel W.N. Hensley, Jr., who was the commander of the Arcadia school from March 1918 when work was being planned for the commencement of construction on its buildings, which was in June, until August, when he was transferred to a field east of Sacramento and then briefly returned to Arcadia before being reassigned early in November to Dallas to work for aeronautical section of the Southwestern Division. A graduate of West Point, Hensley was described “as a capable leader and one who every man is proud to say he has worked under. He is of a type that draws the immediate respect and admiration of every men, both officer and enlisted. He is a man among men, and ever working to upbuild the moral and military capability of the ones serving under him.” Hensley, who achieved distinction in 1919 as the first officer to cross the Atlantic in a dirigible, was a major at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio when his health rapidly deteriorated. In March 1929, at just 48, he was on a train heading for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, when he died in Wisconsin.

Much of the publication is devoted to news from various sections of the school, including cadets, quartermasters, the Knights of Columbus group, staff from the Y.M.C.A. contingent, and several companies including the 37th, 38th, 51st, 52nd, 64th, 65th, and 66th. There are also some remarkable cartoons by Robert Sparks, a talented private who had seven of his drawings printed in the publication. Some were humorous, including “We Get Our Woolen Uniforms” which made fun of ill-fitting uniforms that were too small, too large and in other strange configurations; “The Eternal Masculine,” with one soldier telling another to stop using his toothbrush to shine his shoes “every time one of these war worker girls comes around” or “I’m gonna start a new battle!”; and “He Must Have a Soft Job,” where a buck, or private, asks a commanding officer of a company “now that th’ war is over, I’d like to get a little information on re-enlistin’ for the duration of peace.”

Another of Sparks’ creations employs the racist, but all-too-common, stereotype of the black African cannibal with exaggerated lips in his “A Hard-Boiled Sergeant” showing one of these officers in a large pot over an open fire. A full-length rendering is “They Did Not Die In Vain,” which shows a maiden holding an honor roll and a sword with five banners attached to it showing victory of American forces in 1815, 1848, 1865, 1898 and 1918. A statement reads “Her Sons Have Triumphed Again, And May That War Torn Land O’er Which They Fought And Bled Forevermore More Remain In Peace.” The original owner of the newspaper was so enamored of Sparks’ work that tow clippings of cartoons from the issues of 14 and 21 September were found tipped in between some pages.

We conclude with two poems, one humorous and the other solemn and reverent. The first is “The Siege of Arcadia” and apparently penned by an unidentified member of the 52nd Company. Some of its light lines include:

Now that the war is over,

And the Arcadian Siege is won,

We are going home to mother

As fast as the train can run.

We have a reputation

From the mountains to the sea.

We’re just about a fine a bunch

As any gang could be

We’ve dangled on the “G” string,

As ballast, we are there.

No better bunch of sand bags

Can be found anywhere.

We’ve flown the giant gas bags,

But no in Sunny France;

We’ve been sleeping here in stables

Waiting for our chance.

And now we’ll close this little rhyme,

We hear the call for mess.

We’ve a date in Pasadena,

So long; you know the rest.

Then, there is the striking poem, “Only Sleeping,” the author of which is identified only by the initials “E.D.T.” It is a solemn and reverent work about three fictional brothers who died at Gallipoli, France and on the ocean, and here are a couple of stanzas:

You tell me they’re dead, those sons of mine

That they nobly fell and died—

But it’s hard to believe that boys so fine

Should be taken away from my side.

Not dead! not killed! but gone above

To a bed where they’re gently sleeping;

No! dead they are not, for God in His love

Has gathered them into His keeping.

No! tell me not sadly that my love lie dead,

For a mother’s heart should know,

And the grave to her is just God’s bed

Where he wills a sleeper to go,

I shall meet my boys at the Break of Dawn,

When the Sun of God’s love is peeping,

And we’ll wake afresh with sweet, new-born

Lives that are now but sleeping.

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