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Rickenbacker's Exploits Recalled By Colleague In World War I


Major Leland Of Benning Was In France With Eddie In 1918

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              One Fort Benning soldier smiled knowingly last week-end when he heard that Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, World War ace and one of America's foremost fliers, had been rescued in the Pacific after being long overdue on a flight.

The Fort Benning soldier with a personal interest in the news about Rickenbacker is Maj. Richard M. Leland, Jr,, member of an advanced class in the Third Company, First Student Training Regiment, who at one time was a sergeant in charge of motor repair-work at the original American Training Base in France in 1918 when Rickenbacker received his first military pilot training there.
It was while in France with Rickenbacker that Major Leland first noticed the superior ability of Rickenbaeker, the ability that made him America's No. 1 ace and enabled him to live through many crackups and other adventures during the war and in recent years.
"Rickenbacker came in as a sergeant and took his flying training in about 60 days," Major Leland said, when asked about his wartime experiences. "he soloed after twelve lessons, which was pretty good then. Eddie during those days was really on the beam, Right from the start he showed characteristics of those superior abilities which later enabled him to become both the first and the topmost of American  aces."
Major Leland landed in France in July 1918 and helped set up the first American Training Base at Issoudan. He was assigned to the Foreign School Squadron, which places him as a pioneer member in the first All-American Air Unit to operate in France. This squadron afterward was changed to the 29th Airo Squadron, while the school itself later increased the number of its flying fields from one to eleven.


Rickenbacker wasn't the only famous world war ace Major Leland serviced planes for and saw first hand. A great many of the school's original students and instructors were transferees from the famous LaFayette Escadrille and during its course, the Major stated, the school spawned such  illustrious pilots as Fauntleroy, Prince, and Cord Meyer.
"I saw all these men almost everyday while they were in training," he pointed out, "For the most part they were a quiet bunch, the majority were quite young. Many had already made names for themselves or came from well-known  families. Seth Lowe, Jr., son of a former New York mayor, was an early student in the school. Also a beginner in this group was Princeton's All-American football player, Baker."
The schools administrative staff had its share of  famous names too, according to Major Leland. Quenton Roosevelt was a member and the commanding officer was Col. Lawrence S. Churchill, later  stationed at Fort Benning.
Asked about the training methods of that time, Major Leland said the chief impression he retains after viewing the complicated cirriculum of the present, was that the instruction and knowledge necessary then would have been apple pie for a mere primary graduate of today.
The basic trainer of those days, he said, was called the grasshopper - a small simplified single  or double seater plane with wings shortened to the point where it could not leave the ground over a few feet. "Even with  precautions spills were not exactly rare,"  the Major added. "The fledglings of 1918 did not have the mechanical background of the present automobile generation to guide their reactions. Machinery was still a little imposing."
Except for some trainers which were received right before the Armistice, there were no completely American  planes operating on the front at any time while he was there, Major leland pointed out. "We had hybrid planes, such as the PH4, DH9, and SE5, all of which were part American and part French or English. The planes most preferred by the pilots were the French Spad and the SE5.  The average maximum speed of the fighter planes," he added, "was 100-160 mph,  with an absolute top  of ground 175. These planes were good for about 100 miles in the air over the fighting front."
Major Leland's work consisted of keeping the motors of these planes in flying condition. "Machinery was not so perfect then," he said. "It broke down much more easily than present day apparatus and required more servicing - using poorer tools than have now been developed, too. On the other hand even the simplest plane now days has a great amount of elaborate mechanism to fail. So it comes out about even in the end, I guess."


      As the battlefield moved north the training  fields moved with them. From Issoudan the Foreign School moved to Nancy,  then Toul. Major Leland's squadron was at Nancy 8 months and it was while there the Major experienced his first bombing.
        "It occurred while our crew was eating mess," he said. "Altho we had not worked together very long, each man knew just  what to do. Our teamwork was magnificent. No sooner had the first bomb hit then, in perfect unison, every man hit the mess hall floor - each man under the biggest table he could  find. The whole thing was over in about one or two minutes," he continued. "There were four or five planes altogether and their bombs blew up several hangers and buildings, including a barrack just recently evacuated by a portion of the working crew.
        Altho he encountered bigger bombings later, Major Leland states this one has always remained  the most vivid and seemed the most devastating.  "Of course, great improvements along this line have now been attained." he added dryly.  "I may change my mind later."
        Other recent happenings have also had a particular interest for the Major.  When he read of the sinking of the battleship Arizona at Pearl Harbor last December  for instance, it too brought back memories of 20 years ago. For it was this same battlewagon that, in 1919, bore him back from the battlegrounds of World War One.