WATERLOO — At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Allies and Germany signed an armistice that halted hostilities in World War I.
Fifteen minutes later, U.S. Army Air Corps 1st Lt. Charles d’Olive was being photographed wearing a jaunty smile and in uniform, standing next to his fighter plane at Toul Airdrome in France.
That photograph turns 100 today.
“I call that Dad’s ‘I-lived-through-the-war’ smile … such joy on his face. He’s holding his flying coat,” says his daughter, Susan d’Olive Mozena, 73.
D’Olive was a World War I flying “ace” — the last World War I American pilot to be named an ace. The honor has been bestowed on fewer than 100 American pilots who are credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft.
The Alabama-born d’Olive retired as vice president of Chamberlain Manufacturing in Waterloo, and died from cancer in 1974 at age 78. He was active in the Waterloo Rotary Club and Waterloo Elks Club, as well as the American Legion Post 138.
Former Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley described WWI pilots in a Smithsonian Air & Space magazine article as “the founding fathers of early combat aviation.” D’Olive also fought alongside famous WWI ace Eddie Rickenbacker, and he can be seen in early newsreel footage that documented Rickenbacker’s fourth Distinguished Service medal.
D’Olive often gave talks to metro-area groups about early aviation. He was among the first class of American pilots trained to fly the French SPAD S.XIII fighter during the Great War.
The pilot was 22 years old when he shot down his first German aircraft Sept. 12, 1918. The next day, he and a fellow pilot were outnumbered in a dogfight with German Fokkers. D’Olive helped win the day, shooting down three enemy fighters. On Oct. 18, he shot down his fifth enemy plane. On Nov. 10, 1918, he was presented with the Distinguished Service Cross for his three Sept. 13 air victories.
But it wasn’t until 1963 — 45 years later — that d’Olive was officially named an “ace.” It took that long for the Air Force to correct a record-keeping error that had failed to recognize his third downed aircraft.
Although d’Olive always considered himself an ace, he was “very excited and proud about receiving that designation,” says Mozena, a 1963 graduate of Northern University High School in Cedar Falls, what was then known as State College High School.
She grew up surrounded by his memorabilia, including the control stick taken from the last German Fokker he shot down in 1918. A retired hospital administrator, Monzena is now a Presbyterian minister living outside of Detroit.
In September, she was given a flight in a B-52 bomber at Barksdale Air Base in Louisiana, where the 93rd Bomb Squadron of the 307th Bomb Wing is based. It is part of the Air Force Reserve Command and successor to d’Olive’s old squadron. The ace pilot’s combat ribbons hang from the 93rd Bomb Squadron’s battle flag.
Mozena’s flight Sept. 21 marked the 100th anniversary of WWI. She wore a copy of her dad’s Distinguished Service Cross on a gold chain, tucked inside her flight suit.
The flight was one of “pure beauty. It was a very emotional experience for me — from the pure joy of the adventure of it all, to the sentiments of loving and missing my father, all wound up in the appreciation of the current 93rd squadron’s appreciation of their history and Dad’s place in it,” Mozena says.
The d’Olive family was honored at a squadron centennial dinner where Mozena was invited to give the invocation.
“I was completely honored and touched by the whole thing, even down to the detail for the wings on my flight suit. They went to the trouble to use wings that were the design of Dad’s WWI-era wings. I asked them to use Susan d’Olive for my name plate — again, honor and memory.”
Mozena credits her son, John, for researching his grandfather’s squadron and making contact with the Barksdale public affairs officer. Public affairs officers later visited Monzena’s home to examine her father’s memorabilia. “I gave them the piece of fabric Dad cut from the wing of his fifth downed German plane. It’s been hanging in my house for as long as I can remember,” she says.
Several Christmases ago, she gave to her daughter Charles d’ Olive’s official ID bracelet.
“This is the 100th anniversary of the ‘war to end all wars.’ We need to remember how horrible that war was. Millions of people slaughtered. In France and among my dad’s age group, they lost a generation of men — bled dry, wiped out,” Mozena says.
“My dad was born and raised in the rural South, and he’d been a hunter his whole life. He’d seen the newsreels about trench warfare. He didn’t want to fight in the trenches. Before the war started, he’d seen some Army airplanes, and he was fascinated. He wanted to be a pilot and enlisted.
“We’re still asking men and women to go into harm’s way. I’m very respectful of people who choose to serve their country. For my dad, it was that tradition of service and patriotism.”