This postwar letter from one of Walter’s Army buddies reveals that he had bent the truth a bit when telling his parents how safe his aviation assignment had been. In addition to handling supplies for the squadron, he had also flown as a bombardier and reconnaissance photographer in the squadron’s Sopwith A2 aircraft, another detail he omitted from his letters home.
Flight “C” 800th Aero Squadron,
Le Valdahon, Sunday 27th April 1919
I am sorry to have to tell you about the misfortune that has befallen our little family here at this camp. But yesterday morning about 9:05 Pilot 2nd Lt. Oakley McKinney, Brooklyn, N.Y. and Sergeant Greeley Robbins fell in a Sopwith No. 11, from about 300 feet altitude, in a vrille, and crashed into the hill north of the barracks, where the sock is. Both were killed instantly. When the plane hit the gasoline tank exploded and went up in flames. We were all over to the plane about the same time, trucks, motorcycles, ambulance, and the mechanics on foot with fire extinguishers, but we were all too late. You can imagine the awfulness of the sight. Lt. Lawson and Sgt. Hoyt Hull were up about 1000 feet waiting for Lt. Cliff and Corp. Tullius, who were about 500 feet and also for Lt. McKinney and Sgt. Greeley Robbins to gain the same altitude so that they could ferry the planes to Colombey les Belles. Both the other pilots came down, Lt. Cliff was pretty badly broken up about the accident.
This is Sunday and today at 2:00 P.M. the funeral was held and I believe it was the largest ever held at the post. It started to snow about 1:00 o’clock but cleared up before 2:00 and the sun was out bright. There were two caissons drawn by six dapple white horses, a doughboy military escort or firing squad, all the officers of this post acted as pall bearers for Sgt. Robbins. The post band, the 140 F.A., headed the procession. A number of French Civilians, the Madam femme de chambre and Madam Peutlots, etc. The Motor Transports fellows were there and the Nurses as well as the Commanding Officer of the Post and the Camp Hospital; Colonels and Majors. Just after the services a Liberty Plane landed here at the field, they were just joy riding around, had landed up in Germany today. Just now another Liberty landed with a pilot to ferry the other Sopwiths to Colombey les Belles.
Did I tell you that Lt. McKinney was up giving me D.C. work about three weeks ago and the engine died on us and we had a forced landing on the Artillery range, making sufficient kindling wood for a good bon fire. Have been back from the Hospital at Dijon and they discharge me for duty saying that my eyes would get all right, my jaw was not broken, so they said, and would be always dislocated. But really I am feeling fine and the only thing that would make me feel better is to have one of them there honorable discharges from the U.S. Army, that would be perfect. Are there very many of the discharged soldiers that want to come back to France? I heard there was through a “Y” entertainer that just arrived. The states must be the h of a place if such is the case. However you know how much faith I place in the source of the information.
We are all expecting to get out of here the 15th of May 1919, but have no orders for the personnel as yet, except Capt. Brower and Lt. Payne two of the latest arrivals and the only two who requested continued service in the AEF have orders to proceed to Colombey les Belles for station and duty. So it looks pretty good for the rest of us. We have orders to get all material out of here and Tuesday the Motor Transport Co. is going to send three big trucks to 1st Air Depot with as much of our supplies as they can haul and continue to haul. The Q.M. have orders to be out of here the 15th of May, so we will have to get out.
Gee and Jones are on leave in England now. Hawkins, Banker and Gahan are in C.H. #12, with minor complaints. Otherwise all the fellows are O.K. They all enjoyed your last letter. With best of regards, I am,
Louis D. Leland