David E. Putnam

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David Endicott Putnam
Nickname(s) Dave
Born (1898-01-10)January 10, 1898
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
Died September 12, 1918(1918-09-12) (aged 20)
Limey, France
Buried at Lafayette Memorial du Parc de Garches, Paris, France
Allegiance United States of America, France
Service/branch French Foreign Legion, American Air Service
Years of service 1917-1918
Rank Lieutenant
Battles/wars World War
Awards Distinguished Service Cross (posthumously), the Croix de Guerre, with palms and stars, the Medallion Militarie, the Cross of the Legion of Honor, and the American Areo Club Medal.

David ‘Dave’ Endicott Putnam (born January 10, 1898, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, died September 12, 1918 Limey, France) was descended from General Israel Putnam, of Revolutionary War fame. He was to graduate Harvard Class of 1920, but instead went overseas and joined with the French Foreign Legion, and American Air Service. He was known as the “Ace of Aces,” for thirteen confirmed kills, and thirty cumulative unconfirmed. He was shot by ace Georg von Hantelmann in the heart.

Camp Becket

Putnam attended Camp Becket-in-the-Berkshires, as a camper from 1914–1916, and counselor in 1917 when he was a Harvard freshman. Swimming was one of his passions and it showed in as he became captain of the Life Saving Crew and Assistant Swimming Instructor. He was also an exceptional tennis player. He was popular among campers and received the 1915 Honor Emblem; 1916 Honor Button, the camp’s highest award. The dividend of Putnam’s character did not diminish as he described in the camp newspaper Seen and Heard as “Modest and unassuming, yet genial and a good mixer, of high moral standard he was without question the most popular boy in the camp.” He flourished as Becket director, Henry W. Gibson affirms that: “The sense of fair play, of consideration for the other fellow, of physical bravery, of moral courage—all of these qualities were given a chance to express themselves in his camp life.”

Military Service

Henry Gibson recalled that Putnam approached him at his tent and said, “I am going across the seas to get in the big fight.” He did indeed, by way of a cattle boat and joined the French Foreign Legion on May 31, 1917. He was transferred to the air service, trained at Avord, and assigned to Escadrille Spa94 on December 12, 1917, and was reassigned to Spa156 on February 7, 1918. In the latter escadrille he shot four planes and was subsequently transferred to Spa38 on June 1, 1918, and shot two more planes. He was discharged in June 1918.

When the United States entered the war, Putnam entered the United States Air Service as a 1LT and for a short time and briefly assumed command of the 134th Aero Squadron before joining the 139th Aero Squadron as a flight commander.

As a gesture of respect, his aviators gave him a dinner in Paris, all 150 under his command. Wine was to be served and he abstained from alcohol, to which he turned over his glass and the others followed suit. With the 139th, Putnam scored his last 3 victories before he was killed in action.

His adventures in battle were bold and daring, for he wrote to Gibson saying, “Can you imagine anyone falling 20,000 feet, nearly four miles, smashing a machine to kindling wood and only getting a broken tooth out of it all? No! Well, I am afraid you are going to try, for that is just what I did yesterday morning.”


Just before his death, Putnam remarked to his mother in a letter in light of a death of a friend, “Isn’t it glorious to give up your life for the great cause? What more could one ask?”

Putnam’s SPAD XIII was shot down by German ace, Georg von Hantelmann. He was shot in the heart. He was scheduled to return home before his death. The official cablegram read, “Lieutenant David Endicott Putnam, killed September 12, 1918; buried September 14, at Toul in a field golden with buttercups, beside Luftbury, Blair, and Thaw.”

During his time abroad, Becket director, Henry W. Gibson corresponded with Putnam until the former received a returned letter in his name, with the words ‘deceased’ written on the envelope. Gibson never opened it and then he used it to illustrate in the camp chapel service, we must always never delay telling what is on our hearts before it is too late.

Posthumous Recognition, Awards and Decorations

Putnam shot down thirteen confirmed planes, but unconfirmed totals range from thirty to twenty six in German territory.

He was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross (posthumously), the Croix de Guerre, with palms and stars, the Medallion Militarie, the Cross of the Legion of Honor, and the American Areo Club Medal.

A French battleship was named after him. He was also recommended for the Medal of Honor.