COURTESY SCHIFFER MILITARY HISTORY
The Lanikai aviator helped put Hawaii in the air
There hadn't been a group like them since -- well, since Teddy Roosevelt's "Rough Riders," a polyglot mix of Ivy League credentials, tough ne'er-do-wells and roustabouts, farm boys, sharpies, drunks, religious zealots, rich and connected and poor and disenfranchised. What they had in common was that they were all Americans who wanted to fly aeroplanes against the Hun.
The fliers of the Lafayette Escadrille were famous all out of proportion to their actual accomplishments, the rock stars and star athletes of their day, and many died in battle. ("Flyboys," a film about this group of men, opens Friday in theaters.) The flyboy who survived longest, however, was Charles H. "Carl" Dolan of Lanikai, a pioneer aviator who also helped create the industry in the islands.
A couple of years into the Great War, public opinion in the neutral United States had shifted against Germany and Austro-Hungary, and Americans serving in the French military or Foreign Legion were organized into a flying squadron.
The Lafayette Escadrille referred to a squadron formed by Americans -- no more than 38 members -- while the term Lafayette Flying Corps referred to the 269 American aviators flying for France. When the United States entered the war, many stayed in the French squadron rather than take demotions in Yank squadrons.
One of the first recruited was Dolan, a brilliant engineer from Boston who was in France as a representative of the American autopilot manufacturer Sperry. He enlisted in the summer of 1916 and was assigned to the Lafayette Escadrille in the spring of 1917. He was popular among his squadron mates for his organizational and engineering abilities, and considered odd because he was the lone teetotaler in a group of binge-drinking adventurers.
On one occasion, according to his memoirs, Dolan was unable to restrain his friend Douglas MacMonagle, who, wild-eyed drunk after a leave in Paris, burst into the squadron commander's room late at night and rolled him out of his bunk. "Get up, you old sonofabitch!" he shouted. The French commander, furious, assigned MacMonagle the early-morning patrol flight.
Dolan spent the rest of the night trying to sober up MacMonagle, but his buddy took off woozily in the dawn.
An hour later, the French commander stuck his head into Dolan's tent and ordered him to retrieve MacMonagle's body. He had been shot in the head in a dogfight with German Albatros fighters, and was still wearing Dolan's flight helmet.
Dolan later met MacMonagle's mother at the local train station. She arrived in France just in time to attend her son's funeral.
Dolan's personal insignia on his Nieuport and SPAD fighter planes was a stylized red-white-and-blue monogram, CHD. The insignia has been duplicated on the movie mount of the hero in "Flyboys."
When the United States entered the war, Dolan joined the 103rd Aero Squadron, and as the war drew to a close was ordered to Washington to work with Col. Horace Hickam -- the Hawaii base is named for him -- advising Congress on aeronautical matters. Dolan was then named American aeronautical liaison to China, and on the voyage there, met and wooed Ramona Frances Morgan of Honolulu.
They were married in Peking, and Dolan helped the Chinese establish flight schools, airlines and air mail. Upon their return to Hawaii in 1925, Dolan was assigned by Gov. Wallace Rider Farrington to the Territorial Air Board, where he designed John Rodgers Field -- now Honolulu International Airport -- and persuaded a local steamship company to create the islands' first air transportation company, now called Hawaiian Airlines.
For the next couple of decades, Dolan served in a variety of engineering and manufacturing executive positions, including building military gliders in Kansas City. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War and later retired permanently in Lanikai.
Dolan was one of the most stable and successful of the postwar members of the Lafayette Escadrille, and could be counted on as a soft touch when an old flying buddy fell on hard times. He often represented the United States at French aviation memorials.
In November 1981, sick with lymphoma, Dolan attended the dedication of a Lafayette Escadrille memorial as guest of French President Francois Mitterrand. He flew back on the Concorde.
Dolan contracted pneumonia and died a month later, the last survivor of the original 38 daredevils of the Lafayette Escadrille.