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Willaim Thaw - FU Hero

Posted by aaron on January 8, 2010

Willam Thaw - FU Hero

William Thaw.  Many historians believe that the first American to be involved in aerial combat was Bill Thaw and, as such, is at least in the discussion of who was the first American fighter pilot. 
Thaw was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in August 1893. He left Yale University in 1913 to learn how to fly at the Glenn Curtiss school where he eventually became a flight instructor. When war broke out in Europe in August 1914, Bill volunteered for the French Flying Service but was turned down.  Determined to be a part of The Great War he joined the French Foreign Legion in September. By December he was allowed to join the Flying Service as a gunner/observer. Eventually he was trained as a flyer and was reassigned to the Lafayette Escadrille where he would become the American commander of the French run flying squadron. While part of the Escadrille he downed two enemy aircraft. After transitioning to the American 103rd Aero Squadron, which he would eventually command, Thaw achieved three more victories to achieve his ace status.
In addition to significant honors and awards he received for his exploits with American forces, Thaw was awarded the French Légion d'Honneur for his time with the Lafayette Escadrille.

Layfayette Escadrille


Members of the Lafayette Escadrille.  Bill Thaw, fourth from the left.

Lt. Colonel Bill Thaw would return to Pittsburgh a WW I hero where he lived until his early death in 1934 after a bought with pneumonia. Among his medals and war souvenirs his family found the Lafayette Escadrille's famous Bottle of Death. That Bottle of Death, signed by most of the aces of the squadron, had contained an 80 year-old bourbon whiskey. Each time one of the unit fliers scored an air victory he had been entitled to a shot from the Bottle of Death.
Bill Thaw was one of many men who answered the call. His performance was exemplary and brought great respect upon himself. He understood the respect he owed to the men he fought with and the traditions they had established. He had a kickass mustache that was, interestingly, groomed in the shape of his flying wings. Bill Thaw definitely warrants the lofty honor of FU Hero.
Thanks to Pete "Weiner" Meyer, Major, USMC Retired, great nephew of Bill Thaw who brought him to our attention.

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