Sunday, May 02, 2010

He Makes a Mean Pizza Too

The dashing, decorated, fellow above is on Manfred von Richthofen a.k.a "The Red Baron" born this day 1892, in Breaslau, Germany. He began his military training at the age of 11, and soon joined a cavalry unit. The outbreak of World War I saw him still a cavalryman, but the trench warfare of the Western Front did not call for a lot of cavalry, and his unit began to be used as infantry. That did not suit the young Manfred, and he applied for, and was accepted into the German "Air Force" in May, 1915. He entered pilot training in October, 1915, and after a few training runs flying in two seater aircraft, gained his first confirmed kill on September 17th, 1916. After this first victory, he ordered a silver cup engraved with the date, and the type of machine killed from a Berlin jeweler (hey fly boys are arrogant pricks), he continued this until he had 60 cups, he could get no more silver from the jeweler due to the blockade of German ports, but I am sure he would have kept the little tradition alive till the end. He was not the flashy type of pilot that his brother, Lothar, was he preferred to dive upon his victims coming out of the sun, using it to blind them as he riddled them with bullets. He most famously connected with the Fokker Dr. I. triplane, it is the red one that we see in all the movies, but only 20 of his 80 victories were recorded in that type of plane. It was the Albatros D. III that he first painted red, and that was the plane in which he built his reputation. It was April of 1917 that was to be his highwater mark, he is credited with 22 kills in that month alone. He became effectively a wing commander (even though still a captain), and his group was nicknamed the Flying Circus. All well and good, but he also became a symbol, and that is part of the problem with him as a hero. He really was not the nicest fellow, and I guess if I had been alive during his lifetime, I would have been rooting for the other team, but he was one hell of a fucking fighter pilot, and I don't care for symbols that much. Who knows? If Germany had won World War I, things might have not turned out so bad in the next twenty years, and the Baron did his best to make that happen, and that is what a soldier is supposed to do. Whether he is flying in a gaudy coloured airplane in the clouds above, or shoveling mud in the trenches below. But he was not immortal or bullet proof, he sustained a serious head wound on July 6th, 1917, and was grounded until that October. The wound was to have lasting effects, causing him headaches and post flight nausea, and has even been thought to be a reason for his lack of judgement during his final flight in the great blue yonder. That flight happened on April 21st, 1918, when just after 11 a.m. he was hit by a single bullet (probably fired from the ground), and died a fairly speedy death. Before he died he managed to make a controlled landing, and the Allied soldiers that reached him recorded his last word to be "kaputt." And kaputt he was, I doubt he will be considered a popular hero, he was a stone cold killer, but you have to remember the people he shot down were trying to (and eventually did) kill him. It was war, and he did his duty, and that is all that matters. I am sure Snoopy would agree that he was a worthy, brave, flier that the likes of the world will not see again. So, for doing his duty, against the odds and usually better equipped opponents, Manfred von Richthofen (May 2nd, 1892-April 22nd, 1918, at the age of 25) you are my (247th) hero of the day.

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