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Ernest A. Love was a lot more than Prescott's airport
By Alan Roesler and Michael Wurtz
November 30, 2003
Today is the 108th anniversary of the birth of Ernest Alexander Love. Many know his name since it graces our airfield and the local chapter of the American Legion Post. There is a scholarship in his name at Stanford University and his mother donated a pipe organ to St. Luke's Episcopal Church in his memory. Beyond that he may be known as a Prescott High School's football star and a pilot who lost his life in World War I.
Recently, through the guidance of Alan Roesler (an aviation historian), Fred Lindquist, Al Tecero, and the board of the Ernest A. Love Post 6 American Legion, a wonderful collection of correspondence of Love have been donated to the Sharlot Hall Museum's Archives. Over one hundred letters, certificates, photographs, and even sheet music round out a fascinating life of Ernest A. Love. His personal letters, probably given to the Post by his mother before her death, mostly describe his training as one of the few early military aviators, his travels through New York City and three different countries in Europe, and his last few weeks as a fighter pilot over the battle lines as the Americans were on the offensive during the closing months of the war. This new collection coupled with articles in local publications reveal a young man who was bright, charming, and fearless.
Ernest A. Love was born in Raton, New Mexico on November 30, 1895 to Allan and Louetta (Gregory) Love. Allan was a Scottish immigrant who worked with the railroad and eventually became an engineer. Louetta came from Kansas and was very active in Prescott civic groups. When Ernest was three, the family moved to Prescott and eventually resided at what is now 515 E. Sheldon (today's "Cherub's Cottage"). It appears that personal tragedy may have struck the Love family when Ernest's two infant brothers died in an epidemic that swept the town. The Henrys, close neighbors to the Loves, had two daughters, Ola and Amelia, who became Ernest's "little sisters." As the children grew older, the families continued this close relationship, illustrated in Ernest's letters from Europe addressing Ola as his "Little Sister." Ola was not much younger than Ernest, so for her birthday he wrote, "I was thinking of getting you some silk stockings [but] it would not be proper for a fellow to get his sister anything like that, would it?"
Ernest was a hometown football hero, being selected as an All-State guard in his junior year. After graduating from Prescott High School in 1914, he attended Stanford University to study mechanical engineering. After completing his junior year and upon America's entry in WWI in April 1917, Ernest enlisted in the U.S. Army, entering the officers' training camp in San Francisco. He successfully applied for pilot training and was sent to ground school at the University of California (Berkeley) for six weeks of training. Primary flight training in San Diego followed, leaving Ernest as the only remaining student of 15 to qualify. Powered flight was still quite young and Ernest felt that he should sooth the fears of his parents. He wrote, "it is not the least bit scary, I felt just as safe up in the air 1500 to 2000 ft. as if I was walking on the ground and a great deal safer than I have often felt in crossing some city streets."
Ernest then traveled by train to New York for embarkation to France with the 141st Training Squadron. It appears that he met with his family on his way east and may have even returned to Prescott while on leave. His time in New York was longer than expected, so he set up a code with his folks. He would tell them that he was "sending his watch" when he would be shipped off to Europe. He and his fellow aviators were treated like royalty in the big city. "Some rich club... spent $3500 on the twenty of us [aviators]." "The owner of the store, Mr. Fitch [of Abercrombie & Fitch] had us stay to lunch in the log cabin on the top of the store."
Also while in New York, the military doctors continued to examine the aviators. The fifth exam he had taken in the previous six months, "was a corker... If there is any thing the matter with me they should know it by now." Ernest "sent his watch" in January 1918. He first stopped in England and wrote to his father that railroad cars in Europe are "dinky" and the locomotives would "make a fair sized meal for any of the Santa Fe Engines."
He soon was in France and apologized for the "awfully silly" letters that he writes, since he was not allowed to give details of his location. In France he received advanced flight training at Issoudun and later was sent to Italy. He spent a great deal of time on the beach, but he was getting anxious to get to the front. One afternoon, he and his buddies met a princess and were invited to stay two nights at the castle. He decided that after the war he would "settle down and be a prince."
On July 24, 1918, 1st Lieutenant Love was assigned to 'A' Flight of the 147th Pursuit Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, which was still flying Nieuport 28 fighters at that time from an airfield at Saints, France. He confessed that "war sure is Hell" since he had to get up every morning at 3:30 a.m.! Several of his missions are described in his letters home, and Love came under fire for the first time in early August 1918.
On September 14, Love was scrambled from his airfield at Rembercourt just before noon to support American troops involved in the St. Mihiel offensive. Over the attacking ground troops, he and his squadron commander, James Meissner, found a German Rumpler airplane that they repeatedly attacked without results. Abandoning this one, they found another a short distance away and destroyed it. A day later he was delayed in taking off with the rest of his squadron. When he finally took off around 9:30 a.m. in a SPAD airplane, he headed for Verdun, an agreed rendezvous, but never arrived. He apparently was shot down and badly wounded near Tronville and was transported to a German field dressing station set up in a church where he died a couple of days later.
Ernest was buried in a local cemetery in Tronville until after the war, when he was removed to the St. Mihiel American Cemetery still in France. In 1921, he was moved once more to Arlington National Cemetery.
The letters of Ernest A. Love are now available for research at the Museum's Archives. (Roesler is an aviation historian who is working on a full military history of Ernest A. Love. Wurtz is the archivist at the Sharlot Hall Museum)