Aug. 24 marked the 99-year anniversary of Louis Bennett Jr.’s death during WWI.
Bennett served in the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom. At the time of his death, Bennett had flown 25 maneuvers against the Germans.
Bennett formed the West Virginia Flying Corps, who were commissioned by Governor Cornwell on July 26, 1917.
The U.S. Army, however, refused to accept the corps, which led Bennett Jr. to enter flight school with the British Royal Air Force in Canada.
On the day of Bennett’s death, his aircraft had burst into flames after being hit by ground fire. He never received a medal for his actions in combat. His mother, Sallie Maxwell Bennett, ensured her son’s death would not be in vain, and Lewis County is home to a war memorial in his honor-the Louis Bennett Public Library in Weston. Bennett is interred at Machpelah Cemetery in Weson.
Maxwell Bennett lost not only her son, but also her husband within weeks of each other. Maxwell Bennett spent the rest of her remaining years honoring her son for his service. Three different countries have memorials in honor of Bennett Jr., the United States, England, and France. Maxwell Bennett came from a wealthy family in Wheeling, and married into a wealthy family in Lewis County so money to honor her son was of no consequence.
The first memorial was erected in Wavrin, France, with
Maxwell Bennett not only erecting a memorial, but rebuilding the church that was destroyed by the retreating German Army. The church was rebuilt in dedication to honor Bennett Jr.’s memory on the anniversary of his death in 1919.
The rebuilt church also served as a thank-you to the village that helped smuggle her son’s remains out of France back to the U.S. for burial. This was in violation of French law. On the same day in 1919, St. Paul’s Espiscopal Church held a memorial service for Bennett Sr. and Bennett Jr.
The next memorial to be erected was in Wheeling on the campus of the Linsly School. There stands a seven and a half- foot-tall sculpture of her son in his flight coat with wined arms. After this, Maxwell Bennett commissioned a stained glass window for Westminster Abbey in England in 1922.
The stained glass window overlooks the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. The window is dedicated to Bennett Jr. and members of the Royal Flying Corps who lost their lives in WWI. In the lower right hand corner of the window is the WV State Seal, which is the only American state seal to be represented in the Abbey.
Finally, in 1922, Maxwell Bennett donated her home and book collection to Lewis County to serve as a war memorial and library in honor of both her husband and son. The library opened in 1923. The home still houses the library, with a war memorial on the second floor.
One thousand, one-hundred and twenty West Virginians were killed in action during WWI. Bennett Jr. was just one of those, and WV’s only WWI ace, placing ninth on the war roster of aces.