A descendant of American Revolutionary War General Israel Putnam, David Endicott Putnam attended Harvard (class of 1920) before he joined the French Foreign Legion on 31 May 1917. Later that year he transferred to the French Air Service, receiving training at Avord. Assigned to Escadrille Spa94 on 12 December 1917, he was reassigned to Spa156 on 7 Feburary 1918. With this escadrille he scored four victories and was transferred to Spa38 on 1 June 1918 where he scored 2 more victories. Honorably discharged from the French army in June 1918, Putnam joined the United States Air Service as a 1st Lieutenant and briefly assumed command of the 134th Aero Squadron before joining the 139th Aero Squadron as a flight commander. With the 139th, Putnam scored his last 3 victories before he was killed in action. Putnam's SPAD XIII was shot down by German ace Georg von Hantelmann. At the time of his death, Putnam was the American "Ace of Aces." Thought to have shot down more than 30 enemy aircraft during the war, many of his victories were deep within German territory and never confirmed. Putnam was recommended for the Medal of Honor and posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
"...there is no question about the hereafter of men who give themselves in such a cause. If I am called upon to make it, I shall go with a grin of satisfaction and a smile." David Putnam, in a letter to his mother
The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, Sunday, 16 June 1918, page 1
Fort Wayne News Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Thursday, 19 September 1918, page 1
Distinguished Service Cross (DSC)
The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to David E. Putnam, First Lieutenant (Air Service), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action near Lachaussee, France, September 12, 1918. After destroying one of the eight German planes which had attacked him, Lieutenant Putnam was turning to our lines, when he saw seven Fokkers attack an allied biplane. He attacked the Germans and saved the biplane, but was himself driven down, shot through the heart.
General Orders 71, W.D., 1919
French Légion d'Honneur
An admirable and devoted pilot of exemplary endurance, will and courage. With his escadrille for only six months, he has revealed himself to be an exceptional pilot of skill and competency beyond compare. Untiring, seeks every occasion for combat, pushes his boldness to the limit, and has the initiative to attack the enemy 20 kilometers inside the lines. In less than a month, has officially downed six enemy planes bringing to nine the number of his victories. Already cited twice in orders.
Legion d'Honneur citation
French Médaille Militaire
By his spirit and disregard for danger, he has shown himself to be a pilot of the highest order. He recently attacked a patrol of nine enemy planes and downed one of them. The next day, during the course of a protection mission, he resolutely attacked a patrol of eight enemy planes and downed two of his adversaries, reporting therewith, his 5th and 6th victories. Three citations.
Médaille Militaire citation
French Croix de Guerre
Etant en patrouille de chasse, a attaqué un groupe d'avions ennemis et a abattu un de ces appareils.
Etant en patrouille le 19 janvier 1918, a livré un combat très vif à deux biplaces ennemis, les a poursuivis jusqu'à très faible altitude dans leurs lignes, abattant l'un d'entre eux qui est tombé en flammbes.
Pilote adroit et audacieux, recherche toutes les occasions de combattre. A attaqué deux avions ennemis et a abattu l'un d'eux en vue de nos tranchées.
Pilote de chasse de tout premier ordre. Attaquant une patrouille de dix monoplaces ennemis, a abattu l'un d'eux pendant que quatre autres tombaient désemparés et a mis en fuite le reste de la patrouille ennemie (septième victoire).