Founder Spotlight: MAJ. GEN. HERBERT A. “BERT” DARGUE

President Calvin Coolidge presents Distinguished Flying Cross citations to the Pan American Fliers on May 2, 1927. The first to circumnavigate South America by air, they were (left to right): 1st Lt. Charles Robinson, Capt. Arthur McDaniel, 1st Lt. Ennis Whitehead, Maj. Herbert Dargue, President Coolidge, Capt. Ira Eaker, 1st Lt. Muir Fairchild, 1st Lt. Bernard Thompson and 1st Lt. Leonard Weddington. They received the actual medals at a later date.

Founder Member #1738

Wing Commander, 1936-37

Herbert Arthur “Bert” Dargue was born in Brooklyn, New York, on Nov. 17, 1886. After high school he worked briefly as an educator before deciding to become a soldier. He entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1907 and graduated in 1911. After a short tour in the U.S. he was posted to the Philippines. While there, he volunteered for service with the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. In July of 1913, he completed flight training and received his wings.

On Dec. 16, 1914, Dargue (as pilot) and Lt. J.O. Mauborgne (as wireless operator) became the first Army airmen to transmit and receive radio messages while in flight. Soon after, he was transferred to the Signal Corps Aviation School at North Island in San Diego where he reported for aircraft testing and instruction duty in March 1915. He remained there until his transfer in December to the 1st Aero Squadron in San Antonio.

The primary mission of the 1st Aero Squadron was surveillance, from their Curtiss JN-2 Jennys, of the U.S.-Mexico border for smugglers, armed incursions and other violations. In 1916, the squadron was detailed to Brig. Gen. John Pershing’s command to furnish air support and reconnaissance for the expedition to pursue Pancho Villa into Mexico. Dargue was the first Army pilot to make an operational flight across the border during this campaign.

In early April, Dargue was fired upon at Chihuahua City where he landed with dispatches from the U.S. Consul. On another occasion, Dargue barely escaped an angry mob that surrounded him and tried to destroy his plane. On April 15, he set a flight distance record on a long-range reconnaissance mission of 415 miles with only two stops.

Later, Dargue returned to the Signal Corps Aviation School at San Diego. Here, in July 1917, he and another pilot made the first planned Army night flight and landing. In September of that year, he helped establish, and later commanded, the School for Aerial Observation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Dargue went to France in August 1918 as inspector and observer of U.S. air training and combat units.

In the early 1920s, Dargue became an associate of Billy Mitchell and tried to persuade him that he would accomplish more for American aviation by working within the establishment than against it. Dargue and Hap Arnold were strong proponents of a separate Air Force, coordinated and coequal with the Army and Navy.

In 1926, an experienced flying leader was needed to command the record-making Pan-American Good Will Flight. This entailed the first aerial circumnavigation of South America and the risk of flying almost 21,000 uncharted miles. Dargue was chosen as commanding officer of a squadron of five Loening amphibians to make the flight. The planes were named after American cities chosen by their crew. Dargue and Lt. E.C. Whitehead flew in the “New York.”

Dargue experienced a close brush with death in a mid-air collision over Buenos Aires which took the lives of the two pilots of the Detroit and demolished the New York. Dargue and the other pilots completed the mission and returned to Washington, D.C., on May 2, 1927. There, President Coolidge awarded Dargue and the other members of the Pan-American flight the first Distinguished Flying Crosses. Only one aircraft survives of the five, the “San Francisco,” which currently resides at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

Dargue spent the waning years of the 1920s continuing his military education, graduating from both the Navy and Army War Colleges. In 1930, he was assigned as commanding officer of the 2nd Bombardment Group at Langley Field, Virginia, where he served until 1934. When he flew as group commander at Langley, he chose the top rear gunner’s cockpit in one of the group’s Keystone Bombers as his command position where he could control the group’s formations by hand signals from an open cockpit.

In 1934, he became assistant commandant of the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Alabama. While there, he worked closely with the Norden Company, helping to develop and test what would become the Norden Bombsight. In 1938, he was assigned to the 19th Wing at Albrook Field, Canal Zone. While there, he was promoted to brigadier general. The 19th included several bomber squadrons which Dargue led on a number of goodwill flights in Central and South America.

In the latter part of 1941, Dargue, by then a major general, took command of the 1st Air Force at Mitchel Field. Upon assuming this post, he placed all bombardment and pursuit units under his command on a 24-hour full combat alert. A few weeks later, Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Dargue was chosen by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson to proceed to Hawaii to head up an investigation of the lack of preparedness at Pearl Harbor and to take command of Army units there. En route, the B-18 Dargue was piloting crashed in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Bishop, California, killing all aboard on Dec. 12, 1941. For his life-long service and devotion to aviation, Dargue received the Distinguished Service Medal posthumously.

(Courtesy of the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Enshrined in 1997)

“For exceptional contributions to American airpower and Army aviation, and to the eventual establishment of an independent Air Force, as well as his skill as both pilot and problem solver, Herbert A. Dargue is enshrined with pride and honor into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.”

An Aviation Visionary

  • On Dec. 16, 1914, Dargue (as pilot) and Lt. J.O. Mauborgne (as wireless operator) became the first Army airmen to transmit and receive radio messages while in flight.
  • In 1916, Dargue was the first Army pilot to make an operational flight across the border during the campaign to pursue and capture Pancho Villa.
  • In July 1917 at the Signal Corps Aviation School at San Diego, he and another pilot made the first planned Army night flight and landing.
  • In September 1917, he helped establish, and later commanded, the School for Aerial Observation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
  • In 1926, Dargue was chosen to command the record-making Pan-American Good Will Flight. This entailed the first aerial circumnavigation of South America and the risk of flying almost 21,000 uncharted miles.
  • President Coolidge awarded Dargue and the other members of the Pan-American flight the first Distinguished Flying Crosses.
  • In 1934, he became Assistant Commandant of the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Alabama. While there, he worked closely with the Norden Company, helping to develop and test what would become the Norden Bombsight.

Dargue’s Mackay Trophy is on display at the

Daedalian headquarters

 

 

Dargue’s Mackay Trophy was presented to the Daedalians at a meeting of the Atomic Flight at the Kirtland AFB Officers Club on Dec. 17, 1993, by his daughter-in-law, Elaine Green Dargue, the widow of Hereditary Member Donald S. Dargue. This fulfilled the provisions of Donald’s will, who had inherited the priceless artifact from his father.

Maj. Herbert A. Dargue and the other nine pilots were the 13th (chronological) recipients of the Mackay trophy. The trophy stands 26 inches high and is inscribed:

 

Presented to
Major Herbert A. Dargue
Leader
US Army Pan-American Flight
Which Cross
The Paths of the Eagle and the Condor
December 1926 – May 1927

 

Atop the brass base sits a finely detailed eagle with wings spread in flight. Resting atop the wings of the eagle is a large globe of the world with all the continents and major islands finely detailed. The route of flight is further raised above the surface of the globe and each stop of the flight is engraved. The trophy is crowned by a detailed model of the Loening COA-1 – even the three-bladed brass propeller turns.

Click on any of the images below to view the complete documents in pdf format

A letter from Colonel Dargue to the Bailey, Banks & Biddle Company, dated Nov. 23, 1936, in which he proposes “a very good scheme for selling some more Daedalian rings or pins.” His idea? “…send a letter to the wives of the members who do not already have a ring or pin, suggesting that they give their husband one for a Christmas present.”

A letter to Colonel Dargue from Col. W.C. McChord, dated March 24, 1937, in which McChord thanks Dargue for welcoming him as a member of the Daedalians. Sadly, McChord was killed while trying to land an A-17 near Maidens, Virginia, on Aug. 18, 1937. Tacoma Field in Washington was renamed McChord Field on Dec. 17, 1937. It became McChord AFB in 1947, and on Feb. 1, 2010, consolidated with the U.S. Army’s Fort Lewis to become part of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. McChord was Founder Member 581.

Dargue was the Daedalians Wing Commander from 1936-1937. This 4-page document is titled: “Comments of the Retiring Wing Commander made November 13, 1937, at the annual business meeting of the Order of Daedalians.” In his comments, Dargue writes: “The first project submitted to the Chief of the Air Corps was the proposal of a Daedalian Safety Trophy, carrying forward the standard of safety in flight which the legendary Daedalus passed down to us. Through the untimely death of Colonel McChord, a member of our fraternity and chairman of the committee appointed by General Westover to consider the matter, the final acceptance has been delayed but I am informed the other members of the committee have recommended the trophy be set up for wing competition.”

 

This official photo of then-Major Dargue is inscribed:

 

To Lieut. E.S. Hoag

With sincere appreciation of the constant assistance given me during your tour in the War Plans Section.

H.A. Dargue,
Major, Air Corps
Leader, Pan-American Flight

 

Hoag was Founder Member 33. During World War II, he commanded the India-China Wing of Air Transport Command, which operated over the “Hump” between India and China. He retired as a major general on Feb. 1, 1953. Learn more about him here.

The framed photo is on display at Daedalian headquarters.