Was the American aviator Keeling Gaines Pulliam, Jr., wounded in a fight the Germans in the night skies over London in January of 1918? Or did he make up this story, and if he did, for what reason? My research into the military career of Keeling Pulliam began with questions about his brother, Harold Pulliam, who was also an American flyer (for the Navy).

Both Pulliam brothers, like me, attended the University of Kentucky, and both were, like me, members of Sigma Nu fraternity. I was an undergraduate in the early 1960's and can recall the old fraternity house. In that house-a beautiful old English Tudor style building-was a dedication stone with the following inscription:

THIS CHAPTER HOUSE
OF GAMMA IOTA OF SIGMA NU
ERECTED A.D. 1920 AS A MEMORIAL TO
ENSIGN HAROLD A. PULLIAM .U.S.N.
WHO GAVE HIS LIFE IN THE SERVICE OF HIS COUNTRY
APRIL 4, 1919

While I was president of the fraternity, a new house was built, but the plaque was was saved and incorporated into the new structure. Hoping to find a World War I career to research and write about and remembering the dedication stone, I contacted the Delta, the Sigma Nu Fraternity magazine. The magazine staff was very helpful and sent me information not only on Harold Pulliam but on Keeling Pulliam as well. Here's what I learned. Harold Pulliam died while flying directly over the main street of Norfolk, Virginia; he was assigned to the Hampton Roads Naval Air Station. He crashed in front of the Hotel Chamberlain, was pinned beneath the engine with both legs broken, was rushed to the hospital, operated upon, but died as he was coming out from under the influence of the anesthetic. As for Keeling Gaines Pulliam, Jr., the following is a quoting from the Delta of May, 1918:

Brother [fraternity brother] Pulliam took the Mechanical and Electrical course at the Kentucky University, but because of his injuries at Indianapolis, from which he did not recover for a year, he was compelled to give up his studies the following spring, just three months before graduation, and had expected to complete the course the next term. He assisted in the organization of the Kentucky Signal Corps in 1914, as a private, and was later made the chief electrician of the company. When it was taken into the Federal service in June, 1916, and sent to the Mexican border, he was commissioned First Lieutenant. In January, 1916, he had his left arm broken while on duty near El Paso, Texas, both bones protruding through the flesh. He soon recovered, and was on duty again within a few weeks. He returned to Lexington with his company the last of March, 1916, where he was mustered out of the Federal service.

On April 14, 1917, just after the declaration of war against Germany by our country, Brother Pulliam returned to the Federal service, and was sent to the army aviation training school at North Island, California, for training as an expert flyer. He graduated the middle of the following July, as Junior Military Aviator, but continued there as an instructor in aero dynamics and cross-country flying. He is a member of the Aero Club of America and a licensed pilot. In October he took an examination for entrance into the regular army, and passed it with his usual high average, and within a month was given the commission of Captain. While at North Island he took all the records for fancy stunts, elevation, expert landings, etc. He was selected as an officer in the 135th American Aero Squadron, which is said to be composed of experts, and with it was sent East in December, and embarked shortly after Christmas for overseas duty. The squadron was halted in England for rest and additional practice. Here Captain Pulliam requested detached service with the British flyers in the defense of London for the experience to be gained in flights by night.

In the big raid of London by the German flyers on the night of January 16 or 17, he was brought down by shrapnel intended for the enemy or by enemy guns, but landed safely (we have never been able to get full particulars), and was in a British military hospital until February 17, when he cabled his father that he was recovering from his injuries, which were in his left arm and shoulder. A letter on the subject states that the surgeons assure him that he will in a month or two recover the use of the shoulder and arm. His cable also stated that he was going up to Edinburg (sic.), Scotland, to try to recuperate his strength. A cable received Monday, the twenty-fifth, states he is improving nicely, but is not able to say when he will be well enough to return to duty and take another try at the Huns.

He is at present in Paris, France, recovering from wounds received when he was sot down by a German raider from a height of 4,000 feet. At the time he received his wound he was doing night patrol over London, being a member of the 135th Aero Squadron. For a time it was thought his wounds would prove fatal, but he pulled through, and no doubt will soon be back in active service.

Captain Pulliam has been connected with military activities for a number of years, having been a lieutenant in the old Signal Corps of the Second Kentucky, which saw much service on the border during the Mexican trouble. As soon as this country entered the world war he went into training as an aviator. He soon won laurels on the Pacific coast by his daring and energetic work, and the fact that he won a captain's commission is only a brief tribute to the hard work that he must have done. He holds the record for altitude and stunt flying on the Pacific coast. Immediately after he was commissioned he was sent to England, where he joined the London patrol.

Wow, think I, what an incredible story! I began to make inquiries of persons with expertise in World War I aviation. It was quite a comedown to learn that there was no raid on London or anywhere else in Britain on January 16 or 17, 1918. It is hard to accept that there was a mistake concerning the date because the nearest raids were January 28/29 and 29/30. They did involve London.

Furthermore, Keeling Pulliam's Statement of Service Card, the gold standard record for service of a World War I American military person, states he received no wounds in action.

Looking back at the article, it did seem a bit strange that he recuperated from the wounds received in the alleged air raid both in Edinburgh, Scotland and Paris, France. It does certainly seem strange, also, that he would recover in Paris from wounds received in England. This does seem, however, to be a reference to two separate incidents since the paragraph describing the Paris recovery states that he is at present (May 1918) in Paris, and the prior paragraph states he was in a British military hospital until February 17, apparently from the night of January 16/17 until that time.

It is clear from his military records that Keeling, born in Lexington, November 1, 1894, joined the Kentucky National Guard in 1915, was federalized in 1916 and served along the Mexican border during the Mexican Punitive Expedition. He did undergo training at North Island, California, as a student, and as a flying officer, from November, 1917 till December 31, 1917. He did depart North Island for England as Captain, Air Service, 135th Aero Squadron.

He did, in according to the record, serve with the Royal Flying Corps, attached from December 31, 1917 to March 6, 1918. He completed a six week advanced pilot training school at Gosport School, England, and a two week course in aerial gunnery at Ayre School, Scotland.

From March 16, 1918 to October 15, 1918, he was at Issodun, France, as Captain, Air Service, commanding 21st Aero Squadron, and "commanded Field No. 3 under command of Major Carl Spatz"(sic). Of course, the editors of the Delta could not know Spaatz would become the first Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. From October 15, 1918 till November 11, 1918, his service is described as, "Ferry Command, Orley Field, Paris, France".

I am unable to determine whether Pulliam actually flew combat missions or not; I have no evidence he did. Issodun, where he spent the large majority of his time in France, was a training center with 14 fields; combat missions were not flown from Issodun. Ferry Command would not have been combat duty.

Did Keeling Pulliam participate in a hoax? It's impossible to believe he did not. The May 1918 article in the Delta credits the cooperation of Keeling Pulliam, Sr., and Brother Grover H. Creech of Gamma Iota Chapter, Sigma Nu, with help in preparing the article. Creech must have been very close to the family: he was a pall bearer for Harold Pulliam. Grover Creech was the author of a short item in the March 1919 Delta about Keeling Pulliam, which repeated the earlier claims that he had been shot down over London and wounded while helping repel a German bombing squadron. This time Keeling was described as "slightly wounded".

Creech's article goes on to state that he saw many weeks of service during the great German drive of March and succeeding months and was later ordered to the pursuit school at Issodun, where he was field commander for several months. It states that just before the Armistice was signed, Keeling Pulliam was again sent to the front and was in at the final killing. He adds the claim that Pulliam came home wearing the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, having been decorated for work accomplished while flying as a volunteer with French Spad Squadron No. 102. There is no mention of such service in his military records, and the French have no record of his having been awarded the Croix de Guerre.

What is certain is that Keeling Pulliam did serve in the Second World War as Lieutenant Colonel, United States Army Air Corps, with service as a rated pilot, but inactive as such.

He died a resident of Los Angeles, California in 1974.
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