DAYTON, Ohio - (Left) British Royal Flying Corp cap, tunic, trousers and flying equipment worn by Capt. William C. Lambert during World War I. The bar decoration below the RFC wings on the tunic was the ribbon design for the original British Distinguished Flying Cross. (Right) Uniform items worn by Lt. Stephen W. Thompson on Feb. 5, 1918, when, while flying as an observer with the French, he became the first person in U.S. uniform to down an enemy airplane. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The first man in U.S. military service to shoot down an enemy airplane was Lt. Stephen W. Thompson of Dayton, Ohio. Since his American squadron had not yet started flying missions, Thompson visited a nearby French bombing squadron on Feb. 5, 1918, to observe preparations for a combat flight. A French observer became ill and Thompson was invited to replace him. Once inside German territory, Thompson Breguet bomber was attacked. While defending it, Thompson shot down an Albatros fighter over Saarbrucken. Because of Thompson's unique status on this mission, he was not granted credit for his victory during the war. However, with the assistance of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, he was finally granted official recognition for the victory in 1967.
The sock with bullet holes and the German bullet on display are mementoes of another of Thompson's memorable flights. While Thompson was an observer of with the 12th Aero Squadron, German fighters attacked his Salmson airplane on July 28, 1918. He shot down two enemy planes before his own plane was shot down by the famous German ace Erich Lowenhart. Thompson's pilot, Lt. John C. Miller, was able to land the Salmson inside friendly lines before he died of a bullet wound in the stomach. Thompson received a bullet in the leg and, because of the lack of immediate first aid in the front line area, he had to dig the bullet from his leg with a pocket knife.