Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Cumberland Lincoln 05-23-2019

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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CUMBERLAND LINCOLN EDITION | VALLEY BREEZE | MAY 23-29, 2019 CUMBERLAND 9 The Stearns sketch notes, "The fact that he became a pilot and went through the school of acrobacy at Pau speaks well for his determination and pluck for he hated flying from the beginning, and often told his friends that he dreaded the thought of going into the air and disliked the very sight of a flying machine." It quotes one of Stearns' letters to home during his training in June: "We are a few miles out of Belfort, which I like immensely and which gets bombed often. The German machines fly over our airdrome quite frequently and then the anti-aircraft guns get busy and we have quite a time. My work consists of escorting bombing planes, patrolling and hunt- ing. "I am given my regular machine tomorrow, which I regret to say is a type out of vogue and which enables the crafty Hun to make circles around me. However our entire esca- drille changes to Spads in 10 days and there is no better machine out than that ..." He wrote that Aviation "requires perfection in all of a man's faculties and I am trying to keep myself in the best physical shape possible. One false step might mean the end … I have become a fatalist as every avia- tor does and am prepared to accept whatever awaits me." The Lowell volume notes that Stearns flew at the front in late 1917 as a member of Escadrille 150, Groupe de Combat 16. On one occasion while traveling over the lines alone, three German planes attacked him but he eluded them and returned in safely. It was another letter home, appar- ently written during his training days, that detailed life as a new aviator. He was writing in a Belgium café just hours of after surviving a blinding rainstorm in one of his least favorite planes, a vintage of 1860, he wrote. He had only gone about an hour when big black clouds began to fill the sky. "Then I realized I was in for a storm. Below me were what looked like good fields to land in but I would have been isolated had I landed there and besides they don't like it if you land in the country and leave the machine to stand in the rain, etc. I decided to keep on and trust that I would reach my destination before the trouble began." His course by that time had been somewhat changed as he had lost his way on the map and was steer- ing by compass. He wrote that he was "rocked and tossed around like a ship in an angry sea and way down below me I saw a mist settling on the ground which would in a few minutes completely shut off from sight every- thing that was underneath me. I had only to go on." And then, a scenario "nothing less than hell" happened, as a heavy rainstorm beat against his face, feel- ing "like so many bullets" and nearly blinding him. "Finally, I got along by shutting my eyes and then opening them for a short time. Thank the Lord, my des- tination was not far away," he wrote. "When I thought it was time to go down, I just tipped the old bus right down on nose and headed for good old mother earth." He landed at a nearby Belgian avia- tion camp. "This game of war isn't what it's cracked up to be. Much love," he wrote. Stearns served until May 1918 when he received a furlough from France and then entered the U.S. Service of the Marine Flying Corps. He was sent to Florida as second lieu- tenant but honorably discharged on account of a "nervous breakdown" that today would have been referred to as PTSD. About two decades later, Stearns was in Aiken, South Carolina, when he died suddenly in 1938 of what the official death certificate terms as "sta- tus epilepticus," a prolonged seizure that can be caused by a number of conditions. His sister Margaret would con- tinue life as an unmarried woman much loved in the Arnold Mills area where she summered at The Elms on Abbott Run Valley Road. The community house she donated served as both a village library and meeting hall for local groups includ- ing the Cumberlandites. She died in 1977 and like her brothers, was buried at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. Included among the property dona- tions she made to Arnold Mills was the land for the fire station where her brother's monument was erected. - Green is the former editor of The Valley Breeze. From preceding page BREEZE PHOTO BY ROBERT EMERSON JOSH DIDICK, left, and DANIEL O'FLAHERTY, of Total Lawn & Landscape, posi- tioned the memorial close to the Arnold Mills Community House on May 9.

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