What is the Tunnel Wall?

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Friday, July 8, 2016

A mother's solace: A letter from a World War I enemy

Smithsonian

Tan envelope with eight green postal stamps and German text

Portrait photograph of man standing on steps in German uniform
" 'You will look upon my writing, no doubt, as something unusual, and rightly so, for it is indeed not exactly usual for a former enemy of his own accord to report about his opponent in the World War. I was myself a German officer in the World War.' "

"Emil Merkelbach was the leader of a German balloon squadron stationed in o 'ccupied northern France in August 1918. Balloons were used by both the Allied and Central powers during the war as a way to observe enemy targets at a greater distance and from behind the front lines, allowing armies to more accurately aim their long-range artillery. Antiaircraft machine guns defended the balloons from the ground and patrolling airplanes protected them from the air. Armies' reliance on balloon observations, and the firepower employed to protect them, made balloons both an important and dangerous target for fighter pilots like Louis Bennett Jr., Mrs. Bennett's son."
. . . 
"During the ten days he served in combat before being killed in action, Louis shot down three enemy planes and nine balloons, four of which he shot down in one day. These feats not only earned him the distinction of being named a flying ace, and West Virginia's only World War I ace, but also placed him among the top of all World War I flying aces. Merkelbach saw Louis's impressive skill and total fearlessness first-hand on the battlefield, which he remembered years later and which eventually prompted him to write to Mrs. Bennett."

Read the full story at the link, which closes with these words:  Although never given an official award for his service, Louis Bennett Jr.'s courage and skill clearly inspired those around him to honor his memory in their own way: from the enemy German army that buried him with full military honors, to his mother who memorialized him across multiple countries, and finally to Emil Merkelbach, an enemy officer, who was inspired to write a glowing, respectful letter in memorial four years after they had fought on the battlefield.
"I hope that the foregoing lines, a memorial to your son, will be received by you living—he was my bravest enemy. Honor to his memory. With respect, Emil Merkelbach" 

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