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)

The Enemy

Manfred von Richthofen, fourth from left, chats with fellow pilots a month before he died after being shot down on April 21, 1918. Known as the Red Baron, the legendary German ace wrote his autobiography in 1917, after which it was translated into English. Americans were transfixed by the Red Baron. On April 30, 1917, Ohio’s Lancaster Daily Eagle was one of several newspapers to laud Richthofen, describing him as “brilliant and daring.” From the newspaper’s breathless prose, one wouldn’t have guessed that the United States had declared war on Germany less than a month earlier.


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