July 26, 1917: West Virginia Flying Corps Commissioned
On July 26, 1917, Governor John Cornwell commissioned and provided funding for the West Virginia Flying Corps, headquartered at Beech Bottom in Brooke County.
The corps was the brainchild of 22-year-old Weston native Louis Bennett Jr., who’d become a pilot while attending Yale University. Bennett believed that airplanes—a relatively new invention at the time—could support the U.S. military effort in World War I. The U.S. Army, though, refused to accept the West Virginia Flying Corps as a unit, so Bennett entered flight school with the British Royal Air Force in Canada.
With the RAF, Bennett went on to become West Virginia’s only World War I ace. His 12 combat kills, including three aircraft and nine observation balloons, ranks Bennett among the top American-born aces of the war. He accomplished all of this in just 10 days in August 1918. On August 24, Louis Bennett died in France after being shot down by German anti-aircraft fire.
He was initially buried in France. After the war, Bennett’s body was returned to West Virginia, and his body was reburied in a cemetery in Weston.