In 1922, four years after her American son was killed in action in World War I, Sallie Maxwell Bennett received a letter from Emil Merkelbach, a German officer who had fought against her son in the battle that ended his life.

“You will look upon my writing, no doubt, as something unusual, and rightly so, for it is indeed not exactly usual for a former enemy of his own accord to report about his opponent in the World War. I was myself a German officer in the World War.

I had an opportunity to admire the keenness and bravery of your son; for this reason I should like to give you the following short description of Louis’s final battle. I had been up several hours observing, and was at a height of 1000 meters. Over the enemy’s front circled continuously two hostile airplanes.

I immediately gave the command to my men below to haul in my balloon. When still about 300 meters high, I saw anotherGerman balloon plunge to earth burning. At the same moment I saw the hostile flyer (Louis) come toward my balloon at terrific speed, and immediately the defensive fire of my heavy machine rifles below and of the anti-aircraft guns began; but the hostile aviator did not concern himself about that.

He opened fire on me. I saw the gleaming fire of the missiles flying toward me, but fortunately was not hit. The hostile machine was shot into flames by the fire of my machine guns. The enemy aviator tried to spring from the aeroplane before the latter plunged to the ground and burned completely.

I hope that the foregoing lines, a memorial to your son, will be received by you living—he was my bravest enemy. Honor to his memory.
With respect, Emil Merkelbach”

Emil Merkelbach was the leader of a German balloon squadron stationed in occupied northern France in August 1918.

During the ten days Louis served in combat before being killed in action, Louis shot down three enemy planes and nine balloons, four of which he shot down in one day. These feats not only earned him the distinction of being named a flying ace, and West Virginia’s only World War I ace, but also placed him among the top of all World War I flying aces. Merkelbach saw Louis’s impressive skill and total fearlessness first-hand on the battlefield, which he remembered years later and which eventually prompted him to write to Mrs. Bennett.
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As we always say here at Battles and Beers (TM) Every soldier has a story, and every story deserves to be told.