Military aviator Louis Bennett Jr. (September 22, 1894-August 24, 1918) was West Virginia’s only World War I fighter ace. Born in Weston, Bennett was the son of Louis Bennett Sr., the unsuccessful 1908 Democratic candidate for governor, and Sallie Maxwell Bennett. Bennett died in France of injuries sustained when his plane was shot down by German anti-aircraft fire. With 12 combat kills, including three aircraft and nine balloons, Bennett placed himself ninth on the World War I roster of aces. This record was accomplished in just ten days after assignment to his combat unit on August 14, and with only 41 hours of combat flying time.
While attending Yale, from which he graduated in 1917, Bennett conceived the idea of a flying corps based on the concept of the French Escadrille Lafayette. He hoped to command the unit in Europe. When Governor Cornwell provided $10,000 in state funds, Bennett left Yale and returned to West Virginia and formed the West Virginia Flying Corps, whose flyers were commissioned by the governor on July 26, 1917. But when the U.S. Army refused to accept Bennett’s corps as a unit, his eagerness to participate in the war led him to enter flight school with the British Royal Air Force in Canada. He was serving with the RAF at the time of his death. Bennett’s mother erected monuments in the U.S. and Europe to commemorate and memorialize his sacrifice.
This Article was written by L. Wayne Sheets
Last Revised on September 25, 2012
Sheets, L. Wayne. Able Courage: The Monumental Sallie Maxwell Bennett. Goldenseal, (Spring 2000).
Bennett, Louis Jr. "Louis Bennett Jr. Papers." West Virginia & Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries.