Sunday, January 30, 2011

From the Birth of Naval Aviation to the Jet Age in One Lifetime of Service

When Edward Aloysius “Ned” Wenz was born in Massachusetts in 1893, controlled flight was still only a dream. But by the time he graduated from Boston College in 1914, flight was taking its first ascents out of infancy. It was only five years earlier that British politician David Lloyd George had proclaimed “flying machines are no longer toys and dreams, they are an established fact.

In May of 1917, Ned enrolled in the U.S. Navy as a Seaman 2nd class. He then attended and subsequently graduated from MIT Ground School Training. He was commissioned an Ensign and earned his Aviator’s Wings in December of that year in Pensacola, Florida. His Naval Aviation Number was 224.

While in Pensacola, Ensign Wenz earned a commendation for bravery for his actions as part of Group 8’s actions during a hurricane. The War Bureau citation states it was “pleased to note that your action in this case has demonstrated that you are willing to take advantage not only of the responsibilities of the naval service, but also of its opportunities for service outside the routine of duty. Your action in this case is heartily recommended.”

The Navy sent him overseas to Budleigh Sallerton, England the following February, and in May, experienced a crash landing that sent him to the hospital for a month. Ned received his promotion to lieutenant in October of 1918 and was loaned to Britain’s Royal Flying Forces and based in Whiddy Island, Ireland.

Sometime between the end of the war in November of 1918 and 29 Jan 1920, Ned was enumerating the 1920 Federal Census in the Panama Canal Zone, listing the names and hometowns of the officers and sailors of the U.S. Naval Air Station Coco Solo in his own neat penmanship.On his way to Coco Solo, he met a beautiful young lady from Missouri who was traveling to Panama after graduation to visit with her stepbrother for two years.

While there, he took her up in an airplane and flew her over the canal. They were married in Missouri in 1922. After his marriage, Ned was sent to Naval Reserve Aviation Air Wing 92 at NAS St. Louis and Lambert Field in St. Louis as part of VF-75A.

Ned moved his wife and daughter to Michigan around 1929 when he received orders to command Naval Reserve Air Base Grosse Ille. The columns in the 1930 Federal Census include the columns“Occupation” and “Industry,” and they list him as “Commanding Officer, U. States Naval Base. The dedication ceremonies for Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge in 1929 featured a flyover by Lt. E.A. Wenz, USNR and ENS C.R. Olson, USNR, each flying an NY-2 seaplane from the base at Grosse Ille.

Between his time at Grosse Ille and the outbreak of WWII, Ned worked a series of civilian jobs while retaining his reserve status. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Even though he was now 48, he was recalled to active duty. He was sent first sent to Corpus Christi, Texas, and then to the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He graduated from the NWC in June of 1943, and was sent to Norfolk, VA. His service record lists his Navy Active Service for 16 Feb 1942 – 22 Jan 1946 as COMAIRLANT, Commander Air Force, Atlantic Fleet. At some point, he was sent to San Diego, and was in Saipan when peace was declared, although he did not fly planes due to his age.

After the war, he returned to St. Louis and retained his Reserve status until he retired from the Revenue Service at age 60 in 1953. He died in 1985 and is interred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis.

I never had the good fortune of meeting Uncle Ned; it was many years after his death that I learned about his amazing history in Naval Aviation. Would that I could have sat at his feet and heard his story! This is a work in progress and I hope to be able to add more information as I gather it. Good thing Chief Keillor is now stationed in Pensacola!