By Kris Leonhardt
On Aug. 13, 1919, a convoy disembarked from Hazelhurst Field in Mineola, Long Island. The squadron, referred to as the All-American Pathfinders, consisted of 13 aircraft and nearly 30 associated road vehicles.
As one of the aeroplanes passed over New York it issued a farewell from 4,000 feet in the air:
“From the commander of the All-American Pathfinder Squadron, I wish to express my sincere appreciation for the kindness and hospitality that we have received in New York. We are now starting out across the country to blaze a new trail. We only hope that we will meet with the same cordial hospitality. I will now play you a tune.”
As Lieutenant C.C. Shargraw’s words came to an end, the gentle strains of jazz signaled the start of a dance contest held at 42nd and Broadway. The broadcast was made possible by a new wireless phone system, a wireless receiver, and a Sonora phonograph.
This spectacular event signaled the beginning of the aerial squadron’s journey from the east coast of the country to the west coast, traveling 4,500 miles in a four month time period. The Pathfinders, the first of its kind, were scheduled to make stops in 171 cities in 15 states throughout America.
The purpose of the squadron’s expedition was to recruit for all military branches, map out aerial mail ways, record data, and photograph and plan landing fields.
Between 11 p.m. and midnight on Saturday, Sept. 27, Marshfield residents were startled awake by the loud commotion. Unaware of the Pathfinders cross country trek, many residents awoke in a state of confusion and looked out their window to a half mile long train of vehicles entering the city.
The land forces of the squadron consisted of 14 half-ton trucks, 5 five-ton trucks, three observation cars, and four touring cars and equipment carriers.
Upon hearing of the squadron’s stop in Appleton, the Marshfield Chamber of Commerce contacted Commander Lt. L.E. Cook and invited them to the city. As the motor company settled itself into Marshfield, the squadron was treated to as many forms of hospitality as the city could provide. The Elks and Eagles clubs catered to the temporary residents while the Adler and Trio theaters offered free movies.
While in the city, the newly formed unit demonstrated their capabilities with the field kitchen, the mobile repair shops, the illumination equipment for plane landing, and their searchlight.
The searchlight was set up on Central Avenue the following Monday for all to marvel. A curiosity for its time, its capabilities created a show of its own.
Residents were taken aback by its 110 mile distance as a spotlight and its night illumination capacity capable of allowing night work in a three mile radius. The mobile light shot high into the night sky for all to witness in delight.
While in the city, the squadron took the opportunity to record data on the area, including a visit to the Weber Farm landing field to register the property.
As the unit departed for their following destination, Minneapolis, the Chamber made a record of the squadron’s visit to the city, photographing and obtaining contact information on each of the men. It was noted that nearly every state was represented by the members of the Pathfinders.
The names and photos of the squadron were then hung in the Chamber of Commerce office to commemorate the event.