On Aug. 7, 1941, with construction underway, Sumter Army Air Field became Shaw Army Air Field. It was an unusual move, as the War Department typically adopted the name of the nearest town for the hundreds of military installations springing up all over the United States as World War II approached. But Sumter's civic leaders were able to convince the South Carolina congressional delegation to pressure the War Department to honor a local, fallen warrior, which they successfully did.
Born Sep. 13, 1894, in Alcolu, S.C., 1st Lt. Ervin David Shaw died in aerial combat over France on July 9, 1918, during World War I, but not before downing two German warplanes.
Shaw's family moved to Sumter early in his life. According to his family, Shaw was sort of a dare-devil teenager who drove race cars at a race track in Sumter, which his grandfather, D. W. Alderman built for him.
He enlisted in the Army on June 27, 1913, and spent his first four years serving at Savannah, Ga. He became a member of the American Expeditionary Force on Sept. 18, 1917, as an aviation cadet (private first class).
The Army granted an honorable discharge on April 4, 1918, so Shaw could accept a commission as a first lieutenant (signal corps), Royal Canadian Air Service.
Within weeks, Shaw was in combat in the sky over France. He was flying with the Royal Air Force's 48th Squadron, British Expeditionary Force.
Another Yank, as they were called, 2d Lt. Bryan Batty later recalled, "To us, he was 'Molly,' a name he brought with him, though how he came by it no one can say. Molly . . . always did his best, but from the day of his arrival, his best was as good as the squadron's best. We all regarded Molly as the most daring and skillful pilot among us."
His family said Shaw's nickname sprang from a favorite exclamation of his during his teen years, "Hot tamales!" which he would shout when he was elated about anything. Today, fighter pilots would say Molly was Shaw's "call sign."
One of just three Americans in the squadron, Shaw was assigned to pilot Bristol F.2Bs, two-seat, fabric-covered, dual-winged fighters or observation planes powered by a 190-horsepower engine which gave them a top speed of about 100 miles per hour. Armament was one forward-firing, .303-caliber machine gun, and another, flexibly mounted .303 gun for the observer.
Shaw was the second American in his squadron to die in combat. On July 9, 1918, he and an observer, Sgt. T.W. Smith, climbed into a Bristol and lifted off alone for a reconnaissance mission behind German lines. They didn't return.
"The circumstances of his passing are not known to us here in any detail," Batty continued. "It is known that as he was coming back to the lines after a long reconnaissance, he was attacked by three (German) machines. Their fire must have cut some vital member of (his) machine's frame, for it broke up in the air, according to a report from one of our advanced battery positions."
Batty added, "Molly was my best friend out here. Though I had known him but a little while, I was proud of the knowing. Always at night, before he went to bed, he knelt by his cot and prayed. I loved him for that . . ."
Major K.R. Park, one of Shaw's superior officers, wrote, (He was) ". . . one of our very bravest and coolest lads, always cheery and stout-hearted, no matter what work was wanted."
Shaw was the only Sumter County aviator to die in WWI. He is buried in a common grave with Sergeant Smith in Regina Trench Cemetery, Courcellette, France.