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A sketch by Michael O'Neal

Souvenier - A sketch by Michael O'Neal

A Sketch by Michael O'Neal

Just before sunset on 9 October 1918, Sergeant Harold O. Nicholls of the 7th US Balloon company was aloft ranging artillery fire for a nearby battery. Nicholls was a veteran balloon man, having had his balloon shot burned above him twice in the past three months.

Just west of Montfaucon, France, Lt. Max Nather, a 20-year-old Prussian native, spotted Nichollís balloon hanging in the evening sky. Although only 20, Nather was already a six-year veteran of the military. Wounded twice before his 16th birthday, he was promoted to Leutnant before reaching 17. Shortly afterwards, he transferred to the Air Service and before reaching his 18th birthday, has gained 8 victories and risen to command Jagdstaffel 62.

Nicholls and his passenger, Lt. Dasch Reeves, observer trainee, never saw Nather until they heard the gunfire as Nather closed on the balloon. Anti-aircraft batteries ringing the balloon site returned fire, but Natherís first burst had punctured the balloon. Nicholls helped Reeves over the side of the balloon and waited until he saw the parachute plume before he too jumped over the side. Seconds later, the balloon burned and fell away, leaving Nicholls hanging in his harness watching it fall past.

For his repeated coolness under fire and for preserving the life of his Lt Reeves, Sgt. Nicholls was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross Ė the only non-commissioned Air Service officer to be so honored. Ltn. Nather would continue to score victories right up to the warís end, scoring 26 of Jasta 62ís 48 confirmed victories. Recommended for the Pour le Merite, his award was never realized due to the end of the war and the chaos that accompanied it. After the war, Nather fought the Bolsheviks in the German border war with the Poles, but was shot down on January 8, 1919. He was still seven months short of his 21st birthday.

The fabric from this balloon was souvenired by the ground crew and found itís way to the United States in the possession of Sgt. Ernest Hudson. A section of that balloon, in the possession of the artist is what inspired this painting.

Souvenir - 11Ē x 14Ē Oil on Linen - 2000