A Memorial Day remembrance of my great-grandfather, John McGavock Grider, a Lieutenant in the US Army Signal Corp, assigned to The Royal Air Force’s 85th Squadron as commanded by Major Billy Bishop, and killed in action on June 18 1918 while flying his SE-5a over German-occupied France.
April of 1918. Hounslow Heath Aerodrome, England. Mac is second from the right, flight suit on, flanked by his squadron mates Springs and Callahan. In the weeks prior to this picture Mac had seen two close friends die in crashes during training flights. On May 22 1918 he would be sent into combat at Petite-Synthe, France, and be dead a month later.
L to R: Springs, Horn, Callahan, Grider, McGregor, with Sopwith Dolphin in right background
June 21, 1918. A portrait of the 85th and its SE-5a aircraft, near the trenches at St. Omer. Mac is not in this picture, having failed to return from patrol three days prior. A German plane would later drop a note confirming his death. His body was never found. Records of Mac’s service were stored in London and lost during fires of WWII. His name is on the Tablets of the Missing at Flanders Field American Cemetery.
June 21 1918 RAF 85th Squadron
Mac’s story has been told before, but on this warm, overcast Memorial Day in 2016 New York, what interests me is this: Mac spent a few days in NYC before sailing to Europe, and on August 31 1917 he wrote home to tell of attending “a parade of the militia up 5th Avenue”, which was the farewell parade to the 27th Division as shown in the photograph below:
Aug 30 1917 27th Division Farewell Parade NYC
And I wonder: is Mac in this image too? Part of the uniformed crowd gathered that day around Madison Square Park to say goodbye to men shipping off to war? Could that farm boy from Arkansas have imagined that someday his two great-grandsons would live and work within a stone’s throw of this place?
The warhorses, fabric biplanes, the people in the picture – all are long gone. But the buildings, streets and park – the Architecture of the place – are still with us, recognizable and useful a century later. Mac might be amazed by much “progress” of our world, but he’d find this corner of 23rd St & 5th Ave familiar.
And he, the veteran & casualty of The War to End All Wars, would know too well how some of those who serve today still pay the ultimate price.
A solemn Memorial Day to them all.