The Daedalian Story


When war broke out in Europe in 1914, the airplane was hardly more than a dangerous plaything employed at fairs and circuses. Its potential was regarded lightly, when not contemptuously dismissed. Yet, in less than three years, it had gained such a measure of military respectability on the fighting front that when the United States entered the war, the Allies requested the United States furnish 5,000 combat pilots on the Western Front by early spring of 1918!

This was a gigantic order. In military aviation, the United States had lagged far behind. Only 40 military pilots had been trained in this country and 11 of those had been killed. Twenty-eight airplanes had been purchased by the government of which 16 had been wrecked. In the recent Mexican operations, the entire equipment of the Air Unit of the Army, which consisted of the 1st Aero Squadron, had been almost completely demolished. From this meager nucleus of military airmen, 5,000 pilots had to be trained in one year.

The call for volunteers went out, for then as now, no one would be required to fly against his will. From all walks of life and all parts of the country, some 40,000 young men answered our country’s call for pilots. By the time the Armistice was signed, some 11,000 had received their wings in the Army and another 2,000 in the Navy and Marine Corps. All were motivated by a patriotic desire to serve their country in its hour of need.

After the Armistice, many attempts were made to form organizations to solidify the bonds of aerial comradeship that had been molded in crisis during World War I. Several groups were formed by those whose foundations were purely social and retrospective gradually faded into obscurity. In 1921, while speaking to World War I pilots who had just flown for him to sink the Ostfriesland off the Virginia coast, Gen. Billy Mitchell urged the creation of an organization that would honor the World War I military pilots as the first to fly their country’s airplanes in time of war.

Concurrently, in the military establishments, small groups of officers informally discussed the formation of similar organizations, but seldom were any sizable number stationed in the same locality to take action. At some of the larger bases, organizations were established, but they soon expired. This mass demise was due not to any erosion of friendship but rather to the inevitable transfers which overwhelmed organizational unity. Additionally, for the military pilots dedicated to building a military air arm of the future, it was not enough to gather together for the principle of reliving the past.

In 1932, new impetus was given to the idea of establishing a formal organization of World War I military pilots. War clouds had begun to gather in Asia and Europe as nations began their retreat from powerful aggressors. The fear that apparently guided their decision seemed to penetrate our own national psychology. What was needed was some sort of standard, some solid reason that would remind us all and proclaim to the world that in the United States there was unity, patriotism, courage, and the spirit of self-sacrifice that placed service to the nation above personal safety. There was also in this country, in the form of our growing air power, the means to preserve the freedoms which our forebears had established.

In 1933, a representative group of World War I military pilots stationed at Maxwell Field, Alabama, consolidated these ideas which had long been forming. The result was that on 26 March 1934, there was formally instituted the Order of Daedalians composed of those commissioned officers who, no later than the Armistice of 1918, held ratings as pilots of heavier-than-air powered aircraft. These World War I military pilots, in the preamble to the constitution of the Order, stated as their purpose: “…to perpetuate the spirit of patriotism and love of country … and the high ideals of self-sacrifice which placed service to the nation above personal safety and position, and to further cement the ties of comradeship which bound us together at that critical hour of our nation’s need…”

Since, according to legend, Daedalus was the first person to accomplish heavier-than-air flight, it was considered the name “Order of Daedalians” was both fitting and proper for an organization composed of those who were the first to fly their country’s airplanes in time of war.