On Active Service
"His coolness and skill as a pilot"
Lieutenant Hugh Broomfield flew an observation plane in France. (OSA)
A pilot in the making
The year after Irishman Thomas Broomfield became a U.S. citizen
in 1895, he saw the birth of his son, Hugh Dent Garvin Broomfield, in
Illinois. The family soon moved to Minnesota, where Hugh graduated early
from high school in 1912. After attending three other colleges and spending
a brief time teaching school in North Dakota, he earned a degree in 1917
from Reed College in Portland.
The same day that war was declared on April 6, 1917, Hugh Broomfield
took the physical examination to enlist in the Army
camp at the Presidio in San Francisco, California in May. After
three months he was asked to transfer to the aviation section of the
Corps. By October, Broomfield completed aviation school in nearby Berkeley,
California and boarded a ship for duty in France as a second lieutenant.
Over the next months, he served
in several areas in France and earned a promotion to first lieutenant.
summer of 1918,
Broomfield joined the 90th Aero Squadron of the American Expeditionary
Force, just before the St. Mihiel offensive in September. He controlled
the field operations for the squadron. As such, he oversaw the prompt
of all air missions during the offensive. On the field from dawn until
dark, he helped the squadron fly an unusually high number of missions.
After the offensive, Broomfield began his service as a pilot in the
squadron. He flew frequent missions over the next several weeks in
and under enemy fire from the ground. His job was to
enable his observer to bring back the most complete and accurate reconnaissance
of the enemy's strengths and movements.
the scenes of air war
While Lieutenant Broomfield
flew airplanes over the front lines of battle in France,
others worked behind the scenes in support. For example,
(shown above) of The Dalles served as a hanger chief and
and master electrician in the aviation branch of the Army.
He, and many others such as Lieutenant Broomfield's mechanic,
embodied the increasingly technical and specialized nature
of modern warfare.
Many Oregonians served
in World War I but did not see battle directly. Instead,
they worked behind the lines or, in
Hoffman's case, thousands of miles away in California. (OSA)
The corps commander sent a message to the squadron on October
21 during an offensive at Verdun, one
of the war. He urgently needed a plane to penetrate the German
lines and bring back information about the enemy's ability to launch
a counterattack. Lieutenant Broomfield and his observer, Lieutenant
immediately volunteered for the mission and, eager to go, left the
squadron's aerodrome at 10 a.m. They flew into a very dangerous sky.
The low-lying clouds gave the advantage of surprise attack to the enemy
planes and ground machine guns since Broomfield was forced to fly at
very low altitude. Dodging enemy fire, the two lieutenants made it
over the German lines and began observations.
Meanwhile, back at squadron headquarters, flight commander Norris
Pierson waited for the mission to return. They should have been back
by noon. Pierson waited as the afternoon began. He called all of the
balloon and ground units that he could reach by telephone. They reported
that an American plane had been seen falling at 11:15 a.m. behind the
German lines. While anxious about the news, Pierson called off his
investigation, hoping to hear that the pair was safe, even if prisoners.
But he heard nothing.
"There is no question about their identity"
two weeks later, the Allied offensive moved forward into the territory
distributed 500 circulars
describing the plane and asking for help in locating it. He soon heard
by telephone about a wrecked plane in the area that Broomfield's had
been thought to fall. The squadron surgeon volunteered to investigate.
And, despite the continued danger from enemy artillery in the area,
Broomfield's loyal chief mechanic begged to go. The next day they found
the plane and identified the bodies.
Two days later Lieutenant Pierson attended the funeral and burial
services. The only available chaplain was Catholic. Adapting to the
situation, Pierson asked the "excellent and broad-minded" priest to
read the Protestant service from Pierson's Episcopal prayer book. Before
he left, Pierson also made sure that Broomfield's headstone had the
proper inscription and noted its location:
"The grave is 89, plot No. 2, section
D, American cemetery at Souilly-sur-Meuse..."
The honors flow
Distinguished Service Cross
Early the next year, the U.S. government posthumously awarded
the Distinguished Service Cross to Broomfield in recognition of his
"extraordinary heroism in action on the day he met his death."
In the fall of 1919, the Portland City Council passed an ordinance
that gave Broomfield's name to the city's aviation field
"his work at the front as a daring and skillful pilot."
Within two years, the Broomfield Aviation Field was slated to be abandoned.
His parents, while disappointed with the planned closure, were still
proud of their son. They wanted "the naming of the first field
to be part
his history as recorded in his state." It was important to the
mother who wrote: "We have had so much sickness and misfortune
in the family since the boy went away...."
In the spring of 1920, the Bethany Baptist Church near his parents'
house on Tacoma Avenue in southeast Portland dedicated a tablet, or
memorial marker, to Hugh Broomfield. Mr. and Mrs. Broomfield may have
taken some solace from the earlier remarks of Lieutenant Foster, a
squadron friend, who remembered that "Hugh had spent some time
reading his Testament
French aerial ace Georges Guynemer flies off
to engage the enemy. Out of 600 combat missions, he was shot
down seven times and recorded 54 victories before he was killed
in 1917. German pilot Manfred von Richtofen, also known
as the "Red Baron," had 80 victories, the most in the
war, before he was killed in 1918. Top American ace, Eddie Rickenbacker
had 26 victories. (OSA, Oregon
Defense Council Records, Photos, Box 2)
|View airplane and pilot photographs.
|View observation balloon photographs.
War in the sky
Broomfield's aviation career was not unlike those of many others
during World War I. It was short, required great skill and courage, and
ended in his death. When the war began in 1914, airplanes were still
relatively primitive. Many of the airplanes were general use "pusher"
models, not dissimilar in
from the plane first flown by the Wright Brothers just over a decade
before. Some commanders were skeptical of their utility.
But airplanes quickly proved themselves in battle. They combined with
observation balloons to help determine
the capabilities of the enemy.
the American involvement in the war, great strides had been made in
aviation technology, strategy, and tactics. Specialized airplanes such
as fighters and bombers
evolved rapidly. in addition to the observation duties, by the end
of the war airplanes engaged in strategic and tactical bombing, ground
attack, and naval warfare.
A growing role for air power
However, despite the rapid improvements,
airplane did not play the decisive role in World War I that it was
to play in World
War II and
of the war, it was clear to many that its time had come. One of these
believers, U.S. Army Brigadier-General Billy Mitchell, tirelessly promoted
of air power
to revolutionize war. As a major in the early stages of the American
involvement in World War I, he argued that General Pershing should
build a large air force within the American Expeditionary Force.
Pershing agreed and put Mitchell in charge of organizing and training
awarded this medal to Billy Mitchell in 1946. (National Air and
The war ended before he could prove his theories about the importance
of strategic bombing. In later years, the blunt and outspoken Mitchell
alienated much of the leadership in the Army by pushing for an independent
for the air force. He won no friends in the
Navy by his claims that surface naval fleets were effectively obsolete.
Finally, after frequent clashes, Mitchell was demoted and later court
martialed for insubordination. He resigned in 1926 and died ten years
later during a period when his ideas were largely ignored and U.S.
air power had withered.
Just a few years later, World War II proved Mitchell's
theories and Congress soon vindicated him, posthumously awarding
him the Special Congressional
1946. Moreover, by 1947, his dream of a separate air force branch
of the military came
(Oregon State Defense Council Records, Personal
Military Service Records, World War I, Broomfield: Box 2, Clackamas
County, School District No. 115; Hoffman: Box 7, Wasco County,
School District No. 12)