Our namesake Lt. Ervin Shaw
By Christopher Koonce , 20th Fighter Wing Historian
/ Published August 08, 2016
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. – --
Ervin Shaw was born Sept. 30, 1894 in Alcolu, South Carolina. Throughout his life, he was known as “Molly” to everyone in the area because he would often use the exclamation “hot tamale!”
In June 1917, two months after the U.S. entered World War I, Shaw enlisted in the U.S. Army and headed to the United Kingdom. In September 1917, Shaw arrived in England and was attached to the American Expeditionary Force as a private first class. Hungry for action and to get to the frontline quicker, Shaw petitioned the Army for his release in order to commission as a first lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Air Service signal corps.
After commissioning, he crossed the English Channel and arrived in France. While attached to the Royal Air Force, Shaw became one of three “Yanks” in the 48th Squadron, British Expeditionary Force.
Over the next three months, Shaw flew several missions behind enemy lines, downing two enemy aircraft and earning the reputation as one of the squadron’s best. However, on July 9, 1918, Lt. Shaw piloted his final mission.
Shaw, along with RAF observer Sgt. Thomas Smith, left Bertangles Aerodrome, France, in a new Bristol F2B fighter on a reconnaissance mission to take pictures of German positions near Albert, France, for a future allied attack. Once in the air, Shaw and his observer completed their task and encountered three enemy aircraft upon their return.
According to an advanced battery position which observed the battle, Shaw’s aircraft broke apart high above the clouds before plummeting to the ground. The first reports listed the men as missing, but later it was confirmed that they perished.
Shaw was just shy of his 25th birthday and his British counterpart, Smith, was only 18. Both men were buried next to each other at Regina Trench Cemetery, Courcelette, Somme, France, where Shaw became the first and only American Airman laid to rest there.