Selfridge Honor Roll: Lts. Boyle & Eby

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Though now mostly forgotten due to the passage of time, the names of Army 2nd Lt. John Patton Boyle and 2nd Lt. Allen Dale Eby should stand at the head of any military honor roll at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

Boyle was killed in an aircraft crash while serving as an instructor pilot near what was then called Selfridge Field on June 26, 1918 -- the first Selfridge-based pilot to give his life in service to his nation. Eby was severely injured in the same crash, but survived. He would later go on to serve more than 30 years as a judge in his hometown in Indiana.

The two young Army officers were members of a training squadron at Selfridge, preparing for deployment to Europe for World War I. From 1917, when the air field was first leased for military use, until 1919, when the war ended, hundreds of pilots and more than 1,000 aerial gunners received training at the base prior to shipping overseas for what was known as The Great War.

Flying with Boyle on the day of the crash was Eby, an aircraft "observer." According to one account, Eby was "very badly injured and, while living, is likely to die." A newspaper story the next day stated that Eby did indeed die from his injuries, a couple of hours after the crash. That news report turned out to be in error: Eby died June 10, 1966, at the age of 73, back home in Indiana.

Though they were on American soil at the time of the accident, Boyle and Eby can rightly be memorialized and honored as early casualties of World War I, as both men were preparing for service in what became the first war to make significant use of military air power. Memorial Day, marked this year on May 30, is a day set aside by Congressional decree to honor the service and sacrifice of men and women such as Boyle and Eby.

Originally begun to honor those who died in the Civil War, Memorial Day was broadened after World War I to honor all of America's fallen war heroes.

Though Boyle's death occurred 93 years ago, it is not forgotten. Neither is it the Boyle family's only connection to Selfridge. In the middle 1950s, Patton Boyle's nephew, James M. Boyle, served as an Airman at the base for his first duty assignment. James Boyle eventually retired from the Air Force as a chief master sergeant in 1980.

"I assume my great-grandmother was thrilled when her grandson followed in the footsteps of Patton, because she pulled strings to have him stationed at Selfridge," said Michelle Raine, James Boyle's daughter and Patton Boyle's great-niece.

Raine has traced her family history and many of the members of the extended Boyle family are Air Force veterans, with service in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Raine herself is also an Air Force veteran. She and her father now live in the Denver area.

Newspapers are often called the first draft of history and that was true in the case of the Boyle-Eby crash, as the details of the incident were sketchy - and in the case of Eby, just plain wrong.

At least four newspaper accounts exist of the crash that killed Boyle, two of which appear to come from the Mount Clemens Daily Leader, a forerunner to today's Macomb Daily newspaper. Another account appears to be from a newspaper in Fond du Lac, Wisc., which was Boyle's hometown. An account also appears in the New York Times. Each of the accounts is only a few sentences long. Each of the papers spell Eby's name a different way - Eby, Ebey or Ebby. Two of the press accounts give Boyle's middle initial as "T," but the paper from Fond du Lac, his hometown, gives his middle name as Patton. In fact, Boyle generally went by his middle name, Patton. Eby likewise was generally known as "Dale" - though several of the newspaper accounts listed his middle initial as "B" rather than "D."

Boyle and Eby were likely members of either the 8th or 9th Aero Squadron, both of which were part of the Army Air Service and were assigned to Selfridge at the time. While the newspapers don't identify the aircraft they were flying, the Curtiss JN-4 Jenny, a biplane, was the primary aircraft at the base at the time.

At about 3 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, the two men were flying at an estimated 1,200 to 2,000 feet when the aircraft dropped from the sky and landed on the Lenfestey farm, according to the Daily Leader story. Today, Lenfesty Drive (note the spelling difference) is located just to the west of the base, between Joy Boulevard and M-59 and between Interstate-94 and Gratiot Avenue.

The cause of the crash was a mystery: "What occurred up there in the air may never be told," the Daily Leader reported.

In a 1963 interview with the Evanston (Indiana) Press, Eby easily recalled the exact date of the air crash, but he either did not offer or the paper did not report on what may have caused the crash. Eby stated then that injuries he received in the crash continued to cause him problems and pain throughout his life. The crash did, however, lead to a positive outcome for Eby - he would later marry the Army nurse who helped care for him at the Selfridge hospital. Ruth and Dale Eby were still married at the time of his death, nearly 50 years later.

A native of Princeton, Indiana, Eby served as a judge in Gibson County, Indiana, for 33 years. Other than college and military service, Eby lived in Princeton his whole life. Eby's attendance at law school was delayed due to his military service.

The eldest of nine children born to Irish immigrants, Boyle attended Carroll College (now University) in Wisconsin and was a member of a fraternity and likely an athlete at the college. The 1918-19 edition of the Carroll yearbook is dedicated to the memory of Boyle and three other Carroll soldiers "who gave their lives for our country in the great cause of Democracy."

After being inducted into the Army Air Service, Boyle attended the first officer's training camp at Fort Sheridan and then attended flying ground school in Austin, Texas. He was commissioned at Dick Field near Dallas and was sent to work as an instructor pilot at Selfridge in March of the same year he died.

After the crash, Boyle's remains were transported by a military escort to his hometown in Wisconsin, where he was buried with honors.

A plaque honoring Boyle as an "aviator - athlete" was made and is believed to have been affixed to the original base gym at Selfridge in a ceremony on Aug. 3, 1918. The plaque is now part of the collection at the Selfridge Military Air Museum. James Boyle, the nephew, told his daughter he remembers the plaque being on display at the Selfridge Officer's Club in the 1950s, when he was stationed at the base. There is also a Boyle Street in the housing area at Selfridge in his honor.

The two units at Selfridge during Boyle and Eby's era, the 8th & 9th Aero Squadrons, were both established in June 1917. Today, the direct descendants of those units continue to serve America. They are:

· The 8th Special Operations Squadron, part of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hulbert Field, Fla.

· The 9th Bomb Squadron, part of the 7th Bomb Wing, Dyess AFB, Texas. The 9BS is the oldest active bomb squadron in the Air Force and today flies the B-1 Lancer.

The U.S. Army Air Service, of which both men were members at the time of the accident, was established just a few months prior to the crash. The Army Air Service was created on May 24, 1918, replacing the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. In 1926, it would become the U.S. Army Air Corps and then the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1941. The independent U.S. Air Force was established in 1947.

Selfridge Field became Selfridge Air Force Base in 1947 and then became Selfridge Air National Guard Base in 1971.