Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Flier Made Mark on Aviation, Faded after Lindbergh's Flight

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Flier Made Mark on Aviation, Faded after Lindbergh's Flight

Article excerpt

They said the general was the oldest flier in the world.

Older than the outfit the commanded, the U.S. Army air service,

but then most men were.

Played a lot of golf with other old foot soldiers like himself

before he ever learned to fly, in fact.

But in April 1927, a month before Lindbergh doomed him to

oblivion, Maj. Gen. Mason Patrick was about the best-known airman

in America.

Wouldn't know it when you first saw him in Jacksonville that

spring, though.

Mostly, perhaps, because he was at the train station, in light

civilian clothes, looking like any other tanned and dapper

Miami-bound old gent.

Which, in fact, was where the 63-year-old general was going, to

meet the most renowned flying force of its time and lead it in

to Jacksonville.

The little man on the train platform had just revived the

American military air arm and was about to kick-start a

never-ending campaign for a Jacksonville naval air station.

Patrick was on his way to Miami to meet four U.S. Army planes

completing an unprecedented 20,000-mile goodwill tour of South

and Central America.

The planes had completely circled the coast of America's

neighbors to the south. A fifth crashed in Buenos Aires.

It was the most extraordinary flight of its time. The eight

fliers were national heroes. The two who died in a Buenos Aires

crash were deemed martyrs.

The fliers' fame would be as fleeting as their flight

extraordinary, however. Charles Lindbergh's epic flight to Paris

a month later would make the Pan American flight as obscure as

Babe Ruth would render Home Run Baker that summer.

"A chief of the United States Army air service isn't worth his

salt unless he knows how to fly," allowed the dapper general at

the Jacksonville train station. Thus seven years before, after

West Point, raising the Maine and commanding communications for

the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, Mason Patrick took to

the air and assumed command of the peacetime air force and tried

to decide what to do with it.

The train whistled the general quietly south the April evening

he spoke to the press; but all Jacksonville strained to catch a

glimpse of his return a couple days later, flying at the head of

the most famous fliers on the planet. …

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