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Keeping a Founder’s Memory Alive

By: Mr. John C. Mozena
Daedalian Hereditary Member #1207

My grandfather, 1st Lt. Charles R. d’Olive, USAR, was one of America’s early combat aviators, flying a Type XIII Spad in World War I. He had five victories in combat against German pilots and received the Distinguished Service Cross. For decades, our family has preserved and honored the history of the contributions — and sacrifices — he and his fellow pilots made over France. 

     Recently, the yellowing photos and aging historic documents took on new importance as we had the good fortune and great honor to connect his history to his modern-day brothers and sisters in military aviation. This connection to the past resulted in one of the more surreal experiences I have ever had: watching my 73-year-old mother go through ejection seat training at Barksdale Air Force Base.

     Understanding how we got to that point requires a bit of backstory.

     “Papa Charlie,” as I called him as a young child before he died in 1974, served in the 93rd Pursuit Squadron for the vast majority of his combat in France, being assigned to the 141st Pursuit Squadron as a flight commander just days before the end of the war. His five victories are all part of the history of the 93rd. Due to a mistake in his service records, he wasn’t officially declared an ace until he succeeded in having his records corrected in 1965. This created the historic quirk of him being the only WWI aviator to be named as an ace by the U.S. Air Force instead of the Army. (In fact, the June 8, 1965, letter from the USAF Directorate of Administrative Services spoke on behalf of both: “With these five kills to his credit Lieutenant d’Olive ranks as an ‘ace’ in the United States Air Service and the United States Air Force.”) The media picked up the story at the time, and he gained some public attention as “The Last Ace” of WWI. He had always understood the historic importance of the role he and his colleagues had played in the early days of American military aviation, and he was very proud of being a Founding Member of the Order of Daedalians (No. 1207). 

From left, Charles d’Olive, Daedalian Founder #1207, last American ace in WWI; Douglas Campbell, Daedalian Founder #1825, first American ace in WWI; Eddie Rickenbacker, WW1 ace, Daedalian Founder #169; and Reed Chambers, Daedalian Founder #1332, Rickenbacker’s wingman.

     He embraced the “Last Ace” title, which led to wonderful experiences such as in 1967 when he was honored at the USAF’s 50th anniversary celebration of Chanute Field in Illinois (into which he had flown in a Jenny in 1917), where USAF Chief of Staff Gen. John P. McConnell informed him, “Lt. d’Olive, you’re out of uniform!” and then pinned his own command pilot wings on my grandfather’s dinner jacket, just above his DSC and St. Mihiel/Meuse-Argonne campaign medals.

     After Papa Charlie died, the stories and artifacts of his experiences as a military aviator were largely kept within our family, with a few exceptions such as the Fokker D.VII control stick from his fifth kill he had donated to the USAF Museum and framed materials he had given to numerous WWI aviation buffs over the years, including some items hanging in the Order of Daedalians’ National Headquarters. That changed in 2009, when I accidentally discovered on Wikipedia that his 93rd continues to fly as the 93rd Bomb Squadron, with the same “Indian Head” insignia. The 93rd, a Reserve squadron based at Barksdale Air Force Base, serves as the formal training unit for B-52 crews for the Air Force.

     I called my mother, Susan d’Olive Mozena, Daedalian Hereditary Member #1207, immediately, “You’re never going to believe this. Papa Charlie’s squadron is still flying.” She emailed the public information contact for the 93rd to see if the current-day squadron would be interested in connecting to its founding history. Within hours, she received a response from then-squadron commander Lt. Col. Joseph Jones, who jumped at the opportunity and quickly dispatched two sergeants in a car from Barksdale to her home in suburban Detroit, Michigan. They pored over, photographed and scanned photos, documents and historic artifacts, for display in the squadron offices and bar.

     Our family’s connection to the squadron grew from that point. We were invited to participate in its centennial celebration in 2017. My mother, an ordained Presbyterian minister, was honored to give the invocation at the event. Later that evening, I leaned over to Brig. Gen. Jon Ellis of Global Strike Command who was seated at our table and said, “Next year is the centennial of the squadron’s first combat victory, which my grandfather got on Sept. 12, 1918. It seems like it might be a good PR (public relations) opportunity for the Air Force to celebrate that by having my mother participate in a B-52 training flight with the 93rd. Who would be the right person to start that conversation with?”

     “Me,” he responded. Ellis handed off the idea to then-Col. Rob VanHoy — now brigadier general — commander of the 307th Bomb Wing. VanHoy accomplished his mission, and on Sept. 20, 2018, I found myself where I started this story, in a training room at Barksdale, where an Air Force major undertook what must have been the most unusual B-52 emergency egress training he’d ever conducted.

     Having passed the flight physical, egress training and other requirements, my mother joined 93rd squadron commander Lt. Col. Bryan Bailey and his crew the next day in suiting up for a training flight in a B-52H. Not only did her flight suit carry the same insignia that had emblazoned her father’s SPAD, but the squadron’s equipment shop had gone to the extra effort of recreating WWI-era pilot’s wings for her name patch, on which she used her birth name, in her father’s memory and honor.

     My grandfather would have been so proud. Not just of his daughter, although that would have been part of it. He would also have been proud of the men and women of today’s 93rd, of the way they continue to add to the history he and his brothers in arms started writing a century ago. 

     Our entire family is touched by how many current and former members of the 93rd have made an effort to tell us how much they appreciate the connection we provide to their squadron’s history, and we are grateful for the friends we’ve made through that connection. 

     And, who knows? I’ve told them that I’m looking forward to my own flight in 2058 for the 150th anniversary — I’ll be 87 years old, and I expect they’ll still be flying B-52s.