At approximately 2.pm on Sunday, 29 September 1918, an Allied pursuit plane made a strafing attack on a group of German soldiers in the area of La Maisonette, a large building on a hillside about two kilometers south-west of Murvaux, Meuse, France. This attack consisted of several firing passes. During the attack, eleven German soldiers were killed. Although there were Frenchmen in the area surrounding the building, none were harmed by the attack. These Frenchmen engaged in cutting down trees for lumber, were working under the supervision of German military personnel. La Maisonette still exists of this date, and may be seen on the hillside in a south-easterly direction about one half kilometer from the road between Dun-sur-Meuse and Murvaux.
At approximately 3.30pm to 4pm on the same day, about three or four Allied pursuit airplanes engaged and shot down two German airplanes. This aerial battle took place south-west of Murvaux, in the direction of the town of Liny. Although we did not see the German aircraft after they crashed to earth, we did see them go down out-of-control. We believe the aerial battle took place as far away from Murvaux as Liny, which is approximately six kilometers from Murvaux.
Shortly after sunset on this same day, at approximately 6.30pm to 7.00pm, we saw an Allied pursuit airplane shoot down three German observation balloons in the space of just a few minutes.
The first balloon was destroyed at Villers-devant-Dun, the second at Sassey, and the third near the western end of Cote St Germain, about two kilometers west of Murvaux. During these attacks the airplane was fired upon heavily but did not appear to have been hit. The airplane hen flew eastward fro the direction of Murvaux, German troops began firing at it with revolver cannon of approximately 20mm to 37mm caliber. One gun was located on the hillside south of the church at Murvaux, and the other two were situated on the hillside south of the Cote St Germain at a spot north of Murvaux. However the aircraft was so low that it appeared difficult to hit it with this cannon fire It passed by the church at an altitude which was not much higher than the church steeple, and then made a turn to the left around the eastern side of Murvaux and began flying in the direction from which it had just come. At no time did it fire its machine guns at the village. About the time the airplane rolled out of it turn over the northern edge of the village, the pilot was apparently struck by the enemy gunfire, for the airplane suddenly went into a glide toward the ground, its engine still running. It banked slightly to the right, and then landed straight ahead at a point one kilometer west of Murvaux. When the plane landed, its engine stopped. The terrain where it stopped sloped slightly downhill to the south to a small creek. The place where the airplane came to a stop was north of both the Dun-Murvaux road and the small creek which paralleled the road to the north at about 200 meters distance.
German soldiers immediately headed for the airplane from both Murvaux and Cote St Germain. Since they believed the pilot of the airplane to be the same one who had attacked them so often in the past and who had caused so much damage and destruction to them, they wished to capture him before he escaped.
The Germans were very afraid of this man and had previously vowed to shoot him down, if given the opportunity. When they reached the plane about ten minutes after shooting it down, the pilot was gone.
Although it had begun to get duck, the German soldiers noticed a trail of blood leading from the aircraft southward toward the creek. The wounded pilot had crawled on his hands and knees approximately 75 meters to the creek. We do not know whether it was to get a drink of water because of his pain, to wash his wound, or to hide in the bushes lining the creek. As the German soldiers came down the slope and approached the creek while following the trail of blood, the pilot raised himself from the ground where he had lain wounded, drew his gun and fired it at the German soldiers. He immediately fell to ground dead. We do not know whether the German soldiers actually called upon him to surrender, but we are definitely certain, beyond any doubt, that they did not fire their guns at the pilot. His last act was one of defiance, and he died as a result of his wound in the air and not as a result of any wounds received on the ground.
The German soldiers immediately searched the body and found a notebook in which were notations, apparently made by the pilot, which indicated that he had shot down 24 enemy airplanes and observation balloons. The German commandant of the garrison in murvaux took the notebook as well as the pilot's flying helmet and goggles, and other items in the pockets of the pilot's clothing. A German soldier started to remove the watch from the pilot's wrist, but a German officer told him to leave it on the body. It was about this time that the German commandant made a remark to the effect, "Well, it was about time we got him."
The Germans decided to leave the body lie where it was for the night. They announced, however, that they would shoot any of Frenchmen who attempted to get to the body or the airplane.
The next morning the Germans ordered one of the men of our village, Monsieur Nicholas Vohner, to take his horse and two-wheeled cart to the spot where the body had lain all night by the creek and bring it back to the village for burial. Mr. Vohner was accompanied by his four year old nephew, Charles Hervieux, and Monsieur Delbart Cortine. Five to seven German soldiers accompanied them.
During the time that the body was taken through Murvaux to its grave, both the pilot's features and the wound in his body were clearly seen by many of is in the village. The body had been placed on the wagon on its back in such a manner that we could easily see the face and the opened eyes. The pilot had blue eyes and short-cropped blond hair. His size appeared to have been about average size and height and stocky build.
According to what we could see and what Monsieur Vohner told us late there was only one wound in the body. A large caliber shell had penetrated the chest near the right breast and came out under the left shoulder blade. The wound was a little over an inch in diameter where the projectile had entered the right breast and about two inches in diameter where it had come out of the back.
The body was transported in the wagon eastward along the main street of the village past the church around the church on the rear (east) side, and southward up a slope outside the east wall of the village cemetery. This cemetery was located along the south side of the church on a slight rise which gradually sloped upward to the south. The body was not conducted through the entrance of the cemetery.
The spot chosen for the pilot's burial place was outside the south wall of the cemetery about 50 feet up the slope and ten feet east of the path. Approximately six months before, the body of a German Army Captain had been removed from the ground where it had been buried in order to return it to Germany, and the ground had not been filled with dirt. So as not to have to dig another grave, the Germans decided to bury the pilot's body in the hole that remained.
One of the French women of the village requested permission to wrap the body in a sheet, but the Germans would not permit her to do so. Nor would they permit any of us French people to conduct any kind of burial service or to get near the scene during the actual burial.
The body was buried sometime between 9.00 a.m. No casket of an type was used, nor were there an Christian funeral services or rites performed by the Germans for the dead airman. His body was simply placed in the open grave, bare-headed and clothed in the same boots, trousers, and flying jacket as when the pilot died. The grave in which the body was buried was only approximately eighteen inches deep.
After the funeral and on the same day, two allied pursuit airplanes appeared over Murvaux but were driven away by German gunfire from the same weapons used to down the buried flyer. We, French people and the German soldiers in the area, believed that eh pilots of these two airplanes were searching for the downed airplane and its pilot.
The next day, Tuesday, 1 October 1918, all the inhabitants of Murvaux were evacuated form the village to Belgium on orders of the German authorities. At the time we left Murvaux, the downed airplane had already been removed. The mother of Charles Hervieux remembered seeing the Germans hauling the airplane away on a truck.
Two days after the Armistice, on 13 November, we returned to our village. No trace of the airplane could be found, nor did we ever learn what happened to it after the Germans took it from Murvaux. Other than the body in the grave nothing connected with the incident remained.
Early in 1919, some colored men from the United States arrived in Murvaux to remove the body. At the time it was removed from the grave, it was in almost perfect condition, except for a small spot on the right cheek where the skin had started to come off. The body appeared about the same as it did on the day that the Germans buried it.
An American lady also arrived at this time. She announced herself as the fiancee of an American aviator who had been shot down in the area. She viewed the body and said that it was not that of her fiancee. Since two other pilots had been shot down and killed in the area of Murvaux, and since the lady did not mention the name of her fiancee we have always believed that her fiancee possibly had been one of the two other pilots.
After being removed from the grave, the body was taken away form murvaux, by the Americans. It was subsequently buried in the US Military Cemetery at Romagne, about 12 kilometers to the southwest of our village. One of the Americans who removed the body is believed to be Sergeant Minot. He was white and from Pennsylvania.
During the time the Americans were here, some of them questioned us in what French they could speak as to what had happened to the dead pilot, and they asked us for or names. We related to them the same details as appear in this statement.
To the best of our knowledge, none of the people of Murvaux signed any kind of a statement as to what happened, nor were we requested to sign any statement. If Cortine and Monsieur Vohner ever signed such a statement, we certainly never knew it, nor did we hear them mention it.
The undersigned, who were residents of Murvaux in September, 1918: Leon Henry 28 years of age at the time; August Cuny, 21 years of age at the time; Gabriel Didier, 20 years of age at the time; and Charles Hervieux, 4 years of age at the time, give the above statement of our own free will and swear it is true and correct with reference to the details surrounding the death of the Allied airman later identified as Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., 27th Aero Squadron, Air Service, AEF.
Leon Henry Auguste Cuny
Didier Gabriel Charles Hervieux
Witnesses to Signatures
Larue Danielle Cote Jerte ESC K N: 10 Verdun
2nd Lt Howard R Brehme 1406 Broadview (Apt B) Columbus 21, Ohio
2nd Lt Gerald H Swedlow 162 South Remington Rd, Columbus, Ohio
Major Royal D Frey 22235 Yellow Springs, Springfield, Ohio