Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Great War aviation and commemoration: Louis Bennett, Jr., Commander of the West Virginia Flying Corps
by Dusch, Charles D., Jr., Ph.D., West Virginia University, 2009, 441; 3377522
Abstract (Summary)

To better understand the American experience of the Great War, one must look at it through the lens of the American Civil War. The surge of voluntarism seen in the Preparedness Movement, especially the formation of élite volunteer units, could trace its roots to the mid-nineteenth century. Not surprisingly, the ceremonies and reunions that marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil War were fresh in the minds of many Americans when war was declared in 1917.

After the end of the war in 1918, American efforts to commemorate World War One were similar to those of their predecessors after the Civil War, both officially and privately. The United States Government sought to establish a national cemetery system in post-Great War Europe modeled after the Union's National Cemetery System that was created throughout the Reconstruction South. These cemeteries were intended to send a message about America's world power status and the cost of its victory. In contrast (or in many cases defiance), individual citizens tried to bring their fallen loved ones home for private burial and commemoration.

This dissertation is a narrative history of one such family from Weston, West Virginia, the Louis Bennett family. Their experience in World War One is an example of these forces at work.

The family's son, Louis Bennett, Jr., a student at Yale University, organized, trained, and equipped an aerial militia unit in his home state when war was declared. Lou wanted the West Virginia Flying Corps, as it was known, to be comprised of promising young men from many of the state's more influential families. In this regard, it mirrored the élite volunteer units of the Civil War that were locally organized and funded. Lou tried to model his unit on another combat aviation unit of the Great War, the Lafayette Escadrille, a select group of young Americans who were flying and fighting in France.

After Lou was killed in combat in August 1918, his mother, Sallie Maxwell Bennett, responded as many American Civil War mothers did. She left her home and went to the battlefield to search for her son's remains. Once she found them in northern France, she conspired with the local parish priest to have them smuggled back to the United States in violation of French law. In gratitude, she erected a memorial church to her son's memory for the townspeople, whose church was destroyed in the war. This was the first of some twelve memorials to her son in France, Britain, and the United States. Most of these monuments were established in West Virginia.

This dissertation examines the history of the West Virginia Flying Corps, and Sallie's motives for building the memorial church in France. It also studies the commemorative stained glass window she placed in Westminster Abbey, London, and an impressive bronze statue of her son at Linsly School in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Lewis, Ronald L.
Commitee:
School: West Virginia University
School Location: United States -- West Virginia
Source: DAI-A 70/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Biographies, American history, Womens studies, Military history
Keywords: Aviation, Bennett, Louis, Jr., Bennett, Sallie Maxwell, Civil War, Combat aviation, Commemoration, Commemoration and memorials, Great War, Militia, West Virginia Flying Corps, World War I
Publication Number: 3377522
ISBN: 9781109440683