The Beginning of Military Service: The National Guard, 116th Observation Squadron, 1930-1931

This post is the beginning of the series on Keith’s military experiences.  It is why this blog was named: The Man Who Lived Airplanes.  He loved airplanes, airplane engines and just being a mechanic.  His interests covered fixing anything with an engine including automobiles, boat engines and more…

It has been difficult to piece together the timeline for my Dad’s, military career. There is very little information written on the photos in his collection.  So I am doing a lot of guessing. We start with 1930 to 1931 when he served in the National Guard with the 116th Observation Squadron, 41st Division.

Keith by an airplane circa 1931

Keith by an airplane circa 1931

National Guard Document

National Guard Document

Keith B. MacDonald was appointed Corporal of the 116th Observation Squadron, 41st Division Aviation of the Washington National Guard on the 5 day of May, 1931 to discharge the duty of Corporal. Given under my hand at Camp Murray, Fort Lewis, Washington signed the 5th day of May, 1931 by Maurice Thompson, Brigadier General W.N.G., The Adjutant General.

Note:  I am pondering that the date of 5 May 1931 (underlined above) is not quite right but this is how the document reads. I think the next document is more accurate regarding his service.

He was Honorably Discharged July 16, 1931.

Honorable Discharge National Guard 1931

Honorable Discharge National Guard 1931

This is to Certify that Keith B. McDonald, Corporal 116th Observation Squadron 41st Division Aviation as a Testimonial of Honest and Faithful Service is hereby Honorably Discharged from the National Guard of the United States and of the State of Washington by reason of PP1 S.O. No. 90 A.G.O. 7-16-31 to enlist in Regular Army. 

Said Keith B. McDonald was born in International Falls in the state of Minnesota.  When enlisted he was 19-10/12 years of age and his occupation was apprentice machinist. He has Blue eyes, Brown hair and ruddy complexion and was five feet six inches in height. Given under my hand at Spokane, Washington this 16th day of July one thousand nine hundred and thirty-one by Edward J. Robins, Major 116th Infantry Commanding.”

On the back side of his discharge paper is his Enlistment Record:

He (Keith) enlisted January 5, 1930 at Felts Field, Parkwater, Washington. He served 1 year, 6 months and 12 days.  He had no prior service.  

Under marksmanship and gunner he is not qualified, and under Horsemanship he is not mounted.  No battles or engagements are listed.  His vocation was given as apprentice machinist, no wounds while in service, physical condition good, single, character: Excellent. Signed by Warren N. Wadsworth, Captain 116th Obsn Sq. 116th Obsn Sq. 

According to his many employment applications, Keith serviced airplanes with names like Ford & Fokker Trimotors, American Pilgrims, Douglas Basic Trainers, and Curtis Condor Bombers.  He was living his dream of becoming an airplane mechanic.

Here are some pictures of airplanes in his collection with the date of 1931 written on them. He was in several places in 1931 either Felts Field in Spokane, or Camp Murray, Fort Lewis, Washington which is south of Seattle. They might have been taken at March Field in California later in his service?  I am leaning toward Washington for these photos.  I have tried to identify these airplanes but I am not an expert on this subject. I do believe they are probably one or several of the ones he lists above.  I just think the photos are very cool. I have also tried to figure out the buildings in the background, because you can place events by doing that.  The two photos below looks like the same aircraft from different angles but maybe not?

MAirplane413USArmy1931 MAirplaneManwalking1931

There is no way for me to know the exact models that he worked on.  Following is a bit of trivia about some of these airplanes that he mentions in the above description.

Ford Tri-Motors – See History of the Ford 4-AT-E Tri-Motor, at EAA the Spirit of Aviation webpage:

Henry Ford mobilized millions of Americans and created a new market with his Model T “Tin Lizzie” automobile from 1909 to 1926. After World War I, he recognized the potential for mass air transportation.

Ford’s Tri-Motor aircraft, nicknamed “The Tin Goose,” was designed to build another new market, airline travel. To overcome concerns of engine reliability, Ford specified three engines and added features for passenger comfort, such as an enclosed cabin. The first three Tri-Motors built seated the pilot in an open cockpit, as many pilots doubted a plane could be flown without direct “feel of the wind.”

Fokker Trimotor at Acepilot web site:

American Pilgrim airplanes – the 1931 Fairchild American Pilgrim was restored and is on display in the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum.

Douglas Basic Trainer Airplane: You will need to scroll the following webpage link to this plane:

Here is the Virtual Aircraft Museum:

Curtis Condor Bombers:

Source: Aviation in the U.S. Army 1919-1939, online at Google Books page 430.

General White commanded some 7600 Guardsmen at camp. His aviation included the 116th Photo Section as well as the 116th Observation Squadron. Major Day and 12 other pilots moved with these units from Felts Field, Spokane, Washington, to Fort Lewis. They brought with them all 6 of the squadron’s airplanes (1 O-38, 2 O-38Bs, and 3 O-38Es) and borrowed 1 from the California National Guard. Six planes carried radios for working with infantry and artillery.  To avoid interfering with daytime operations, the squadron performed 20- and 40-hour checks on its aircraft at night. Since Fort Lewis lacked lighting for night flying, soldiers set highway pots to outline the field at night so the flyers could participate in operations with infantry…

About General White:

Keith writes another version of his experience with the 116th:   

Jan 1930 to July 1931: 116th Observation Sqdn. Washington, National Guard – Air Service Felts, Fld., WA. Operating of military aircraft, Supervisor: Maj. C.V. Haynes Commanding Officer. Left to enlist in Regular Army. Title: Corporal, salary $21.00 to $40/mo. Duties: Assistant Crew Chief, Wing, Wiper, Student Mech. [ ] Ground School, Passenger in Aerial flights, Military training.  

Source: Personal military papers of K.B. MacDonald

Here is a Wikipedia article on a Caleb V. Haynes the man Commanding Officer, scroll down to Air Corp duty on the webpage:

Another photo from the collection:

1930 Airplane

1930 ?? Airplane

More to come…

About BJ MacDonald

Interested in travel, really into genealogy and researching my family history, classic novels and movies, fantasy and science fiction, photography, history and more... Here is a tip. Make sure you are commenting on the blog you were visiting and the post you were interested in. My blogs are listed by hovering over my pictures and clicking. Clicking one of them will take you back to the correct blog. You can try me here:
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2 Responses to The Beginning of Military Service: The National Guard, 116th Observation Squadron, 1930-1931

  1. Janelle Cockney says:

    I am interested in the references for the National Guard – 116th …Felts Field ….I believe that my Great Uncle was a member of this group and would like to know where i can find repository for their enlistment records. Are you able to help?


    • BJ MacDonald says:

      Janelle: Thanks for stopping by. The National Guard I believe is Federal which means it is in the National Archives of the United States. There is a branch here in Seattle. Here is a link to the listing at the National Archives website: It looks like they are housed in College Park, Maryland or St. Louis, MO. I would check those branches, maybe make a call to verify that it is what you are looking for or do more digging on military records. This is not going to be easy. The airfield – Felts Field would be just the airfield. Various military groups would station there and you have to figure out when they were there, the unit in this case the 116th and have a good description. The actual enlistment records would be with the National Archives – I think this is – Army and Airforce. The problem with the military is they kept rearranging the units and renaming them. Have fun digging. Bonnie


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