On this day, World War I Ace/ Brother / Major James “Jimmie” Armand Meissner, US Army Air Service (NY Beta / Cornell ’19) – regarded by many as the of the Alabama Air National Guard – died of pneumonia in Birmingham, Alabama.
The son of a U.S. Steel board member, James Armand Meissner was born on 30 JUL 1896 in Loudoudery, Nova Scotia. After graduating from Brooklyn New York’s Erasmus High School in 1914, Jimmie enrolled at Cornell University. Majoring in engineering, Brother Meissner was a Private First Class in Cornell’s Cadet Corps and a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.
Two months after President Woodrow Wilson requested a declaration of war against Germany from Congress, Jimmie dropped out of Cornell, and enlisted in the Army Signal Service (the branch of the Army then tasked with flying) as a Private First Class on 28 MAY 1917.
By mid-July, “about a week after beginning this initial pilot training, Private First Class Meissner boarded a ship for France where he, like many other American Pilots in the First World War, continued his training under French military instructors. After completing his flight training in Tours, France, Brother Meissner was commissioned as a First Lieutenant on 20 NOV 1917.”
On 08 MAR 1918, First Lieutenant Meissner reported to Major John Huffer, commander of the 94th Pursuit Squadron. Known as the “Hat in the Ring Squadron”, the 94th was the first entirely American unit to fly a fighter patrol. Two days before Jimmie arrived at the unit however, another young Lieutenant by the name of Eddie Rickenbacker reported to the 94th. Lieutenant Rickenbacker would go on to be the highest scoring American Ace of the war, shooting down 26 enemy aircraft. In addition to these new pilots, the 94th was also made up of veteran American pilots that had flown with the French before America entered the war. Named the Lafayette Escadrille, the squadron was made up entirely of American pilots – including Brother / Lieutenant Kiffin Yates Rockwell, French Air Service (VA Epsilon / Washington & Lee, 1911) flew to fame as not only the first pilot in his squadron to engage in battle, but the first documented American to ever score a victory in aerial combat.
On 02 MAY 1918, while flying the French-made Nieuport 28, Brother Meissner won his first aerial kill. This action earned him his first Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), one of the highest honors bestowed by the U.S. military. On 15 MAY 1918, the French too showed their appreciation for his exploits on this mission when they awarded him their medal for bravery, known as the Croix de Guerre. About two weeks later on 30 MAY 1918, he was recognized with the awarding of a second DSC after he shot one plane down and “forced the other back into its own territory”. Brother Meissner would gain another two kills to his credit before the Army Air Service realized that a man with his skill and knowledge needed to be placed in a leadership position. In JUL 1918, 1LT Meissner was made the commander of the 147th Pursuit Squadron. With this squadron, Brother Meissner began flying the improved French built Spad XIII fighter and would use it to claim another four kills becoming one of the few Aces of WWI.
Based on my research, Brother Meissner is the only SigEp to be awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses.
After the Great War ended in Europe, Jimmie returned to the United States and was discharged from the Army on 25 MAR 1919, having reached the rank of Major just five months before. Shortly after returning to the States, he returned to Cornell University and received his Masters Degree in Engineering in 1919. The same year, Brother Meissner moved to Birmingham, Alabama.
Late in 1919, James Meissner along with Henry Badham created the Birmingham Flying Club. However, simply starting a flying club was not enough for Jimmie. The war hero from New York wanted to continue to serve his country and his new state so shortly after forming the club, Brother Meissner set out to get it formally recognized (and therefore funded) by the federal government as an air service unit of the National Guard.
The process of gaining Federal recognition was not easy. At the time, the National Guard did not have many air service units. When Brother Meissner and other members of the flying club finally overcame all of the setbacks, the War Department organized the 135th Observation Squadron and allotted it to the state of Alabama, under the command of Major Meissner, on 21 JAN 1922. As such, the new observation squadron became the very first Air National Guard Unit in the state of Alabama and only the seventh such unit in the United States.
When Brother Meissner died the city held a memorial service including a flyover by the planes of the unit he had founded. Additionally, his old friend and brother in arms Eddie Rickenbacker returned to Birmingham to be an honorary pall-bearer for his old wingman. Four months later on 02 MAY 1936, the Major’s ashes were buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Respect can be paid to Brother Meissner at Section 2 Site 4791.
On this day, the USS Hissem DE-400, a destroyer escort of the EDSALL class, was commissioned. This ship is named in honor of Brother / Ensign Joseph Metcalf Hissem, U.S. Navy Reserve (IL Alpha / University of Illinois ‘39) who fought valiantly with other members of Squadron 8 at the Battle of Midway and was declared Lost in Action / Missing at Sea following the battle.
On this day, WWII and Korean War Veteran / Brother / (then) Brigadier General Anthony Clement McAuliffe, US Army (WV Beta / West Virginia University) began command of the 103rd Infantry Division of the U.S. 7th Army which he led until JUL 1945.
World War I Veteran / Brother William Munford Tuck, US Marine Corps (VA Delta / William & Mary and VA Epsilon / Washington & Lee University ‘21 (unsure where he became a SigEp) began his single term as the 55th Governor of Virginia.
Brother Tuck had a long history of serving the residents of Virginia. Prior to being elected governor, Brother Tuck served as a member of the State house of delegates (1924-1932), the State senate (1932-1942), and as Lieutenant Governor (1942-1946).
Subsequently, he was selected as chairman of the Virginia State Democratic Central Committee in 1952, and in 1953 began nearly 16-years of service in the U.S. Congress.
World War II Veteran / Congressman / Brother / Major William Pat Jennings, US Army (VA Kappa / Virginia Polytechnic Institute ’41) began his eight-year service as Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. (See last week’s entry for more accomplishments of Brother Jennings).
Brother Jennings entered the United States Army in JUL 1941, and served in the U.S. for two years and in the European Theater of Operations for two and a half years with the Twenty-ninth Infantry as platoon leader, company commander, and operations officer. He also taught ROTC at the University of Illinois. Major Jennings was discharged from the Army in MAY 1946.
World War I Veteran / Brother / Second Lieutenant Cralle Fauntleroy Blackwell, US Army (VA Epsilon / Washington & Lee ’18) died on this day. Brother Blackwell was born in Lenenberg County, Virginia on 26 AUG 1897. He attended the local public schools, and finished his law education in Washington and Lee University, which he attended during the sessions of 1916-17 and 1917-18.”
“He was graduated LL. B. in 1918. He was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon social fraternity at Washington and Lee. About the time he was granted his diploma he volunteered, 13 JUN 1918, and was assigned to duty in the Coast Artillery Corps at Fortress Monroe. He was on duty there until 22 NOV 1918, and on that day was commissioned a second lieutenant of coast artillery and given his honorable discharge at the same time. He now holds a reserve commission with that branch of army service.”
Ever the public servant, Brother Blackwell also served as Mayor of Kenbridge, Virginia (1924-1938) and as a member of the Virginia state house of delegates (1938-1949).
His burial location is unknown.
The first day in office for Governor / Brother Roy Romer, US Air Force – legal officer (CO Gamma / Colorado State University ’50) as the 39th Governor of Colorado.
A long-time servant of the people of Colorado, before becoming governor, Brother Romer served in the Colorado House of Representatives (1958–1962), the Colorado Senate (1962-1966), and from 1977-1987 he served as Colorado State Treasurer.
During his tenure as governor of Colorado, Brother Romer served as chair of the National Governors Association (1992-1993), chaired the Education Commission of the States (1994-1995), and in 1995, was part of a bipartisan effort by the nation's governors to reform Medicaid. In 1997, he along with Michael O. Leavitt when he was governor of Utah, and Jim Geringer when he was governor of Wyoming led a bipartisan team of 19 state governors in the founding of Western Governors University.
While governor, Brother Romer remained active in national politics as well. In 1991, he chaired the Democratic Governors Association, and the next year he was co-chairman of the Democratic National Platform Committee. Roy served as national vice chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, and was a national co-chairman of the Clinton-Gore '96 campaign. In January 1997, Governor Romer was elected to serve as general chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
This day marks the last day in office for Brother Roy Romer, US Air Force, (CO Gamma) as Governor of Colorado. Brother Romer was the last individual to serve the people of Colorado for three terms as governor.
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Don't forget to check out the SigEps Who Serve group on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=5903232706
This group is open to and comprised of ONLY SigEp patriots who serve or have served in the U.S. military. Brothers-in-Arms from all the services are welcome whether they are currently in ROTC, Reserve, Active, National Guard or have left the service and/or retired.
Fraternally and Respectfully,
NY Eta/Buffalo State College