First Responders

American World War I pilots joined up early by serving with Britain’s Royal Air Force.

American pilot Oliver Ralston received flight training in Canada before heading to England in 1918, where he learned to fly bombers. (Courtesy Gavin Mortimer)
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George Vaughn

(Courtesy Gavin Mortimer)

George Vaughn was a student at Princeton University in 1917, when he put his name down to join the fledgling Aviation Corps. He wrote his family on May 4 to explain that after undergoing an equilibrium and eye test, he was subjected to a thorough medical “that has put a good many fellows out of the Corps.” In fact, he was one of only 36 Princeton men out of more than 100 volunteers who would meet the rigorous medical requirements to become a pilot. During the war, Vaughn destroyed 13 enemy aircraft. “All you had to do was fly the plane and shoot the guns,” he said modestly, shortly before his death in 1989 at age 92.

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