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Larry Callahan

Lawrence K. "Larry" Callahan, age 23, volunteered for aviator training when America entered the war in April 1917. Callahan and John McGavock Grider met on the campus of the University of Illinois at a ground school established for cadets who had joined the fledgling American air service. Later they were sent to flight school on Long Island, assigned to different units. Grider asked his sergeant, Elliott Springs, to have Callahan transferred. "Grider had found out that Springs played bridge and liked music," Callahan remembers, "so he said, 'I have a friend over here at this other place that's a good bridge player and plays the piano. You better get him over here.' So he did."

Callahan was born in Louisville, Kentucky. His father was a banker and moved the family to Chicago when Callahan was still a student. Unlike Grider and Springs, Larry Callahan never left a written record of his life and career as an aviator. For this reason many of the details of his life are unknown. We do know that he graduated from Cornell University in 1916 and had begun a career in the financial industry in Chicago when American entered the war in April 1917. Callahan was much less of a 'hell-raiser' than Springs and Callahan but apparently learned quickly as he and the other two 'Musketeers' became friends. According to Springs, Callahan was a better pilot than either he or Grider. When Callahan joined Springs in the U.S. 148th Squadron in the summer of 1918, Callahan was Springs' wing man. While Springs suffered through the anxiety described so vividly in War Birds, Callahan reportedly remained much calmer, helped no doubt by his affinity for music. In the best traditions of Hollywood war movies, Callahan often brightened the evening mess by playing Chicago jazz on the piano (and Springs always made sure there was a piano on the premises).

Callahan later was made a flight commander in the 148th and by war's end was officially an 'ace' as a result of having shot down five enemy aircraft. Callahan returned to Chicago after the war, keeping in touch with Elliott Springs and appearing in Springs wedding in the early 20s as best man. The rest of life is as much of a secret as his life before the war. We know that he became an intelligence officer with the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II. But there are no extant letters or memoirs from his later life, only the presentation he gave in 1968 before a group of World War I historians, recorded on audiotape and transcribed in Marvin Skelton's book Callahan: The Last War Bird (1978). Taking questions from the group in 1968, Callahan showed why he had been popular among his comrades back in 1917 and 1918, displaying an easy wit and charm and a total lack of pretense as to his accomplishments. He felt World War II pilots were much braver than those in the first World War, because their planes were so much faster and as a result much more dangerous. He did admit that having a parachute in World War I would have been 'nice'.

Callahan died in 1977 and is buried in Louisville, Kentucky.

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