November 2010

Published Quarterly by the First Aero Squadron Foundation, Inc.


The First Aero Squadron Foundation sadly has learned of the death of a major benefactor, John D. Benham of Pipe Creek, Texas.  John D. (nobody called him just John) was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the FAF and his presence will be sorely missed.  He was 87.

In 1969, John D. was a co-founder of the International Cessna 170 Association and later served two terms as its president. The 170 Club is today one of the most successful of the General Aviation Type Clubs.  He was a Private Pilot and a licensed A&P mechanic who rebuilt/restored 20 Cessna 170s among other aircraft after his retirement from San Antonio’s Kelly Field as a civilian employee.  His most recently was restoring Model Ts and Model As.  The son of a horse and cattle trader, John D. was an enthusiastic auction goer and collector.

He was a Master Mason, a member of the Scottish Rite and Eastern Star as well as the Shriners.  He leaves his loving wife and soulmate of 51 years, Dorothy; a son Daniel (an airline pilot) and a daughter Gayla; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

John D. was an active supporter of the 170 Club Scholarship Fund, First Aero Squadron Foundation and a number of private philanthropies and scholarships.  President Bill Wehner and his wife, Mary McClain, represented the First Aero Squadron Foundation

at graveside services in Pawnee TX .  Other FAF members attending were Bob and Carol Coats, Missouri; Buddy and Jeanne McGown, Ken Peck and Naomi Goodlet, Frank Stephenson, and Jim and Lolly Wildharbor, all of Texas.

One of John D.’s primary interests was to see us able to restore flight operations to the old Aerodrome.  Unfortunately, as we stand on the brink of doing just that, John D. will not be with us to help cut the ribbon.  The thoughts and prayers of all of us go out to Dorothy and the family.

Late in September, your president was the guest of the White Sands Missile Range Museum and Learning Center near Alamogordo, NM.  FAF Advisory Board Member Pete Adolph of Albuquerque arranged for the meeting.  Trustees Austin and Pam Vick along with Registrar Collean Holly conducted an extensive tour of the facility.  One comes away deeply impressed by several things – the amazing amount of activity at the Range since 1945; the depth and variety of the collections; and the support and dedication of those involved with this unique museum.  This place is a must stop should you ever find yourself in the neighborhood of the Range or the National Monument.  For information: 575-678-8824 or

In the works, thanks to the efforts of First Vice President Martha Skinner is the donation to the Foundation of several Columbus Village vacant building lots.  The donation becomes a tax deduction for the owners, and become assets for the FAF.  If you know of someone who has real estate that has been crippled by the economy, we would welcome it.  The same hold true for the donation of other goods.  Reminder: if you have not completed your charitable giving for the year, keep us in mind.  We need it!

As usual, elections of First Aero Squadron Foundation Trustees will take place the end of the year.  Please mark you ballot (included with this issue) and send it in ASAP.  This is your organization – you run it – please do your part.  As you know, the nine Foundation trustees serve two year terms with four running in even years and five in odd years.  The trustees in turn elect the officers of the organization from their number at the Annual Meeting.  Running for reelection this year are Kris Lethin, Sharan Maxwell and Bill Wehner.  James Efferson is running as well; he was appointed to fill an unexpired term.  A brief bio of each candidate follows:

James Efferson currently serves as Treasurer of the Foundation.  His background is accounting; he has most recently served as the Treasurer of the Village of Columbus.  He was employed by St. Claire Wineries as HRM; he also serves as a financial advisor to Our Lady of Los Palomas, a local charitable organization.

Kris Lethin splits his time between Columbus and Seldovia, Alaska.  Kris is a pilot as are both his sons.  He has been a State Representative and was one of the drafters of the Alaska Constitution.  He and wife Judith operate Our Lady of Los Palomas here in Columbus as well as a bed and breakfast in Seldovia.  He currently serves as the Foundation’s Web Master.

Sharan Maxwell spent many years as the Curator of the Columbus Historical Museum.  She originally retired to Columbus after a career as a corporate executive secretary and now serves the Columbus Historic Preservation Commission in that capacity.  She currently serves as Secretary of our Foundation as well.

Bill Wehner is an instrument rated private pilot and co-founder, with the late John D. Benham, of the International Cessna 170 Assn.  He is retired from a landscape architecture and planning practice; is a past president of the Iowa Nursery and Landscape Assn.; and is past chair of the Columbus Historic Preservation Commission.  He now serves as president of the First Aero Squadron Foundation.

A ¾ scale Curtis Jenny is being built by a Missouri instructor/pilot.  Clint Allen of West Plains MO is building a JN-4 which he describes as not a replica, but a look-alike for many practical reasons.  This writer had a chance to visit with Clint at some length; the project has been a challenging one for the builder, but the results look like they will be well worth while.  Clint, by the way, is well into his 80s.  He can be reached

Odds and ends… Treasurer Efferson reported a bank balance at the October board meeting of $7538, from which the cost of insurance, letterhead stationary and the new sign will have to be deducted.  Income for the month was $170.  The board had earlier determined that the proposed sign was too wordy to be easily read; changes were still being worked out.

RALPH ROYCE, by Ken Emery

Ralph Royce was the third commander of the First Aero Squadron.  A 1914 West Point graduate, he attended the Signal Corps Aviation School near San Diego, graduating in May of 1916, and joined 1st Aero inColumbus shortly thereafter.  By that time the original JN-2/JN-3s had been scrapped and replaced by Curtiss R-2s.  These planes, though superior to the Jennies arrived from the factory in dismal condition.  Many lacked parts and were carelessly assembled.  Because of the poor Curtiss quality control many of the aircraft virtually had to be rebuilt from the ground up.  Consequently, little time was spent in the air that summer.

Things improved and Royce became an adept and promising officer – so much so that when Townsend Dodd out of the unit, Royce was chosen to replace him as commander in March, 1917.  At first the command was temporary, but he was promoted in August and took full command.  It was he who led the squadron to Europe to become the first air unit of the American Expeditionary Force.

The squadron trained at Avord and Amanty; on April 11th 1918 made the first official all American mission into enemy territory, then (April 11, 1918) made the first official all-American mission into enemy territory. Captain Ralph Royce, Lt. Daniel P. Morse, Jr. and Lt. Stephen H. Noyes flew three Spad two-seaters on a photo reconnaissance near Apremont. In August, Major Royce was promoted to command the Observation Group; the 1st, 12th and 88th squadrons.  Their mission was visual and photographic reconnaissance within and behind enemy lines.

Promoted again to Lt. Col., he received the Croix de Guerre for his service in France with the citation:  “Commanding the first American Escadrille, he insisted on making the first reconnaissance above the enemy lines himself.  Gives to his pilots generally an example of admirable dash and intrepidity.”

After the war, he commanded the primary flying school at Carlstrom Field 1920 – 1926.  He was the commander of Brooks Field at San Antonio, then 1928 to 1930 he commanded the 1st Pursuit Group at Selfridge,Mich.  He led his command on the “Arctic Patrol”, a flight from Selfridge to Spokane, Wash. And back to test equipment under extreme winter conditions.  He was awarded the Mackay Trophy for this.  After stints at the Army War College and duty in the Philippines, he took command of the 7th Bombardment Group in 1939.

When the U.S. entered WWII he was the Military Attache for Air at the American Embassy in London, but in January, 1942 was sent to Australia as Chief of the Air Staff, U.S. Army Forces in Australia.  He led the attempt to break the Japanese blockade of Corregidor.  On April 11, ten B-25s and three B-17s left Darwin for Mindanao.  All arrived safely and dispersed to various fields.  Over the next three days more than twenty sorties were flown against targets at Cebu, Davao and Nichols Field on Luzon.   One B-17 was destroyed on the ground; the others returned safely to Australia.  This operation is known as the “Royce Mission” and he, now a Brig. Gen., was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Gen. Royce returned to the U.S. in Sept., 1942 and commanded the First Air Force from April to September, 1943.  Commands of the U.S. Army Forces in the Middle East and the 1st Provisional Tactical Air Force followed until January, 1945 when he returned home to command the Personnel Distribution Command at Louisville, Kentucky.  He retired on a disability in July, 1946.  He continued to work, however, and in 1948  became Director of the Department of Economic Development for the State of Michigan.

Major General Ralph Royce had a distinguished career.  Until his health failed, his “style” as stated in the Croix de Guerre citation and reinforced by his leadership in the U.S., Australia and the Philippines was “to lead from the front”. No less should be expected from survivors of the First Aero Squadron in Columbus, New Mexico.

Ralph Royce

Born                Marquette, Michigan
Died                 Miami, Florida
Served             U.S. Army:  1914 – 1946
Rank                Major General


First Aero Squadron
First Observation Group
First Pursuit Group
7th Bombardment Group
First Air Force
1st Provisional Tactical Air Force
Personnel Distribution Command


Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross
Croix de Guerre
Mackay Trophy

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