Minnesotan Fredrick Harrison Becker was sent to France when America entered into the ongoing worldwide conflict. He was one of a class of 13 U.S. Naval Air Service pilots trained for coastal patrol duty to watch over and protect convoys at sea along the coast of France.
Becker was born in Dodge Center and for a time, he was a resident of Grafton Township in the northwest corner Sibley County. His grave is in New York state.
Sibley County Museum at Henderson has one of the French-made fur-lined flight suits worn by Becker during his time in the service.
His duties included dropping bombs on German submarines bent on torpedoing the convoys.
The air ships assigned to Becker’s group were Tellier single-engine biplanes. Each cost $16,000.
They were “flying boats with Hispano engines of 220 horsepower, geared to a big wooden propeller” wrote Becker in a Feb. 15, 1949, article for the magazine “The Sportsman Pilot.”
Becker thought the air ships were beautiful.
In the article, he described the problems he and his observer, Dan Carey, faced — rough seas on takeoff or landing, a primitive radio, an erratic compass and a fuel supply of only 160 gallons.
Four homing pigeons were aboard. The birds were used to send messages when all other methods failed.
Evidently, Becker’s pigeons were not very well trained and they were most reluctant to leave the ship. He would shoot a pistol to scare a pigeon and “persuade him to make an honest effort to find his way home.”
The article included accounts of the five times Becker and Carey ditched at sea. They were rescued each time.
The planes went out two at a time, usually flying about 1,000 feet over the convoy they were watching. If forced down, the plane was usually in sight of one of the ships and rescue was speedy.
Bad weather or malfunctions caused most ditchings.
Becker and Carey came close to dying in the fifth dunking. They were in Tellier No. 5, one of a dozen ships assigned to their station.
On that occasion, they had followed a French submarine on a dash to Spain and were well outside the usual shipping lanes when their engine failed.
Down they went. The boat overturned, but the two men found a protruding breather pipe they grasped by their fingers.
“We clung to the plane for a long, long time … squalls came and passed … the hull was filling with water and sooner or later it would go down … we wore life belts but they were no protection from the cold … the end seemed not far off. A sound came to me over my left shoulder … Dan caught it too. It seemed about a week later when a strong sailor grabbed me by the neck, the most welcome feeling ever to come to me … he got us both into his boat … to a big ship. The doctor removed our wet clothes. The boys rubbed me so hard they made me dizzy.”
Becker’s sister and her husband, Esther Daisy and Arthur Sander, lived in rural Arlington. He gave his flight suit to his brother-in-law during a visit to Sibley County, probably in the 1920s.
Art Sander wore the suit while doing chores in the winter.
After her husband’s death in 1959, Esther Sander donated the suit and a photograph of her brother to the museum.
The flight suit is now part of the World War l display under development on the main floor of the museum.
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