On March 11, 1918, WWI ace pilot Paul Frank Baer scored the first American military aviation score. Born on January 29, 1894 in Ft. Wayne, IN, Baer developed an early desire for aviation and after enlisting in the Franco-American Lafayette Flying Corp in 1917; he soon discovered the thrill of flight stating in letters home he often found his heart in his mouth during flight lessons.
Modern day sky power looms at the center of the Armed Forces History Museum’s parking lot. The commanding MiG-21 supersonic jet with its engine and afterburner cannot be ignored. You can almost hear the radio transmissions as the pilot calls for instructions or to report his successful downing of an enemy aircraft. Before stepping inside the museum, take a look inside the cockpit.
A Brief Look at Baer’s WWI Service
Though his career in World War I was brief – 1917-1918 in the French Aeronautique and then US Army Air Service from 1918-1919, Baer managed nine confirmed aerial victories and seven unconfirmed. On May 22, 1918, Baer made his ninth score (making him the leading American ace). During this flight, however, he was shot down and taken prisoner by the Germans. He remained a POW until after the armistice – the agreement between the Allies and Germany to end the fighting of WWI.
Paul Frank Baer’s WWI Honors and Awards
Distinguished Service Cross – During his March 11, 1918 initial victory, Baer was recognized for his heroism when he independently pursued and shot down seven enemy aircraft.
Distinguished Service Cross Oak Leaf Cluster – This award was presented for a culmination of Baer’s victories including the destruction of two German armors and his 8th enemy plane.
In February of 1919, Paul Baer returned to his hometown – Fort Wayne, IN – where he received a hero’s welcome. His post service adventures included a position as a test pilot for an aeronautical lab, inspector for the Department of Commerce and later he flew to South America and assisted in establishing an air mail service. On December 9, 1930, Paul Frank Bear – the WWI individual who made the first American Military Aviation score - was killed in Hong Kong when his aircraft crash landed.