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This week in 1918 | Beyond the Call

Updated: Nov 11, 2018


29 September 1918


The Meuse-Argonne offensive has been underway now for 3 days. After initially surprising the Germans, American troops now faced fierce resistance.[1] As the Americans regrouped for a renewed push, Lt. Wistar Morris and Lt. Cassius Styles departed Rembercourt Aerodrome.

Their mission: locate and relay the positions of American troops near Apremont. [2]


They decided they could do more.


Before long, Morris and Styles completed their mission without much difficulty. Returning to Rarecourt, they air dropped their information to Army Headquarters below. Their mission now complete, the two realized they had extra fuel and decided they could do more.[2] Morris and Styles flew back to the Front near Fleville to see what other useful information they could find.


Arriving over the Front, they spotted an enemy artillery battery moving through an open field near the Aire River.[2] Such a vulnerable and valuable target proved irresistible. They promptly strafed it disabling two of the four cannons, several horses and a machine gun nest.[2] Having thoroughly driven off the enemy, Morris and Styles returned to Rarecourt to report their findings.[2]


...for a second time...they returned to the Front.


Back at Rarecourt, they reported their findings to Army Headquarters and once again, determined they had the fuel to do more. They had no orders to continue yet of their own accord, for a second time, they exceeded their call of duty returning to the Front.


Princeton Aviators WWI Lt. Wistar Morris
Lt. Wistar Morris Princeton Alumni Weekly Vol XIX No 9_27 Nov 1918 p.2

Now seven kilometers behind the lines, they found several soldiers gathered around the same battery they attacked earlier.[2] Morris rolled in strafing them again. This time, it was Morris who became the hunted. A hidden machine gun unleashed its fury crippling the attacking plane.[2]

Styles, helplessly watched two German soldiers sprint towards him, Lugar pistols drawn, faces red with rage.


Morris’ aircraft mortally stricken smashed to the earth at nearly 120 MPH.[3] Styles’ body surged forward from the impact snapping several wire struts before finally slamming into an empty rubber coated gas tank.[3] Styles, helplessly watched two German soldiers sprint towards him, Lugar pistols drawn,[3] faces red with rage.

“Raus mit!!!”


The sharp order rang clear. His would-be executioners halted their charge, holstered their weapons and awaited instructions.[3] Even in revenge, they retained their discipline.


A short statured Prussian 2nd Lieutenant hastened forward snapping orders. He had the two aviators extracted from the wreckage. Sensing the severity of Morris’ injuries, the Lieutenant wasted no time loading Morris and Styles onto his truck rushing them to the nearest field hospital. [3] On the truck, Styles watched enemy soldiers administer 1st aid to his stricken pilot.[3]


He wasn't the only one...


Only minutes ago, he and Morris were strafing these men. Now they were franticly attempting save his pilot’s life. He wasn't the only one going beyond his duty today. Moments before reaching the hospital, this 21 year old Pennsylvania native, took his last breath.


1st Lt. Wistar Morris joined the 12th Aero Squadron on 17 August 1918 just in time to participate in the Saint Mihiel offensive. Eleven days before his death, Wistar wrote home to his mother. In his letter, he admitted to being in combat on the Front. A fact he hid from her for three weeks out of concern for her well-being. Lt. Morris, determined to to all he could went above and beyond his duty, ultimately, he gave his all that September day.


Capt Stephen H. Noyes, 12th Aero Squadron Commander,[4] wrote the following to Lt. Morris’ parents:


“...The squadron deeply feels the loss of your son, whose work with the squadron began during the Saint Mihiel offensive. It may be said of him that his willingness to work was only surpassed by his bravery. Though mortally wounded, he landed his observer safely, and he will always be held in the squadron as one of the bravest and most gallant of its flying officers...”[5]


 


Editor's Note


"Raus Mit" roughly translated means "Get out or Out With" according to Google Translate. Lt. Styles states this is the command he heard and had it not been for this officer's intervention, he would have been executed.


Lt. Cassius Styles was held captive until the Armistice and was officially classified as “escaped” when he arrived in Switzerland on 6 December 1918 because he was never “officially released.” He simply walked out of his POW camp after the war. [2] He rejoined the 12th during the occupation and remained in the service until 1922. [6] After returning to civilian life, he became a well-known archer hunter in the United States.




SOURCES:

  1. American Armies and Battlefields in Europe: A History, Guide and Reference book. (1938). Washington: Government Printing Office. Prepared by the American Battlefield Monuments Commission

  2. Gorrell. (n.d.). Gorrell's History of the A.E.F. Section M Vol 10 POW Reports

  3. The Burlington Free Press (Burlington, Vermont) · 06 Feb 1919, Thu · Page 5

  4. Gorrell. (n.d.). Gorrell's History of the A.E.F. Air Service Section E. Vol 3. Squadron Histories.

  5. (1919, January 15). Princeton Alumni Weekly. p.281

  6. Identified WWI Pilot's Uniform Group,. (2007, November 7). Retrieved October 8, 2018, from https://www.cowanauctions.com/lot/identified-wwi-pilot-s-uniform-group-53931

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