The First US Pilot Killed in WW1

On March 9th, 1918, Captain James Ely Miller became the first U.S. pilot killed in WW1.

He flew with the 95th Pursuit Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, Army Air Service.  They were later nicknamed, “the Kicking Mules.”

95th Pursuit Squadron

The “Kicking Mule” insignia of the 95th Pursuit Squadron, painted on the fuselage of their aircraft.

Miller signed up with the U.S. Army Reserve in 1914. But a year later, transferred to the reserve Aero Squadron where he qualified as a pilot and instructor.

When the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917, his unit was activated. And in August that year, he was appointed Commanding Officer of the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center at Issoudon in the Centre-Val de Loire region of France.

This was one of the largest flight training centers of WW1. Captain Miller’s remit was to create an American Flying School at this center.

Once he’d completed this task, he moved to Cazaux and joined the French Aerial Gunnery training unit. There he completed his training and qualified for aerial combat.

Captain J E Miller

Captain James Ely Miller by his SPAD aircraft


In early 1918, Miller was appointed Commander of the 95th Aero Squadron, and the unit moved to its new location in Villeneuve- les-Vertus.

In this location, they were only 20 miles from the German front line. Yet they had to wait on the arrival of their fighter aircraft.

James E Miller WW1

Smithsonian image of James Ely Miller 95th Aero Squadron

On March 9th, 1918, he was invited to fly with Major Davenport Johnson and Major Harmon on a short patrol over enemy lines. They were flying SPAD VII fighters borrowed from a French squadron.

Not long after they set out, Harmon turned back with engine trouble. But Miller and Johnson continued the patrol.

However, a short time later they ran into four German fighters.

And this is where the story takes an odd twist.

Just after they engaged these fighters, Johnson abandoned Miller and returned to base.

At a subsequent court martial, Johnson claimed his gun had jammed. However, reports state he didn’t warn Miller that he was leaving.

The inexperienced Miller was up against enemy two-seater fighters, and on his first aerial combat mission.

Newspaper clipping J E Miller

Newspaper report of Captain Miller being shot down or missing in action.

The odds were not in his favor and tragically he was shot down over Berrieux in France.

His aircraft was so badly damaged that he was unable to control it and he spiralled down to the ground.

The German pilots who shot him down, landed close by and discovered him in the wreckage. He was taken prisoner but died of his injuries.

Laon Cemetery France

He was buried in the German military cemetery at Laon, France. Which today no longer exists.

But a few years after WW1 ended, Captain Miller’s remains were transferred to the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in the north of France.

Distinguished Flying Cross

He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery in aerial combat.

Credits:,, www.pinterest/WW1
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