2018 50¢ World War I: Turning the Tide
Value: 50¢ 1-ounce First-Class Letter Rate (Forever)
Issue Date: July 27, 2018
First Day City: Kansas City, Missouri
Type of Stamp: Commemorative
Printed by: Ashton Potter
Printing Method: Offset, Microprint
Format: Pane of 20
Quantity Printed: 20,000,000
By 1918, troops on the Western Front were weary from four years of trench warfare. With the Germans just 50 miles from Paris, the Allies got the boost they needed – thousands of fresh US troops.
From the outbreak of the war in 1914, the US chose to remain neutral, though hundreds of volunteers joined the fight in Europe. However, as the war dragged on, the Germans began attacking any ships that approached Britain, including American vessels. They also offered US land to Mexico in return for their support if the US joined the war. That offer, dubbed the “Zimmermann Telegram,” paired with the German sinking of American ships, pushed the US to declare war on April 6, 1917.
Though small at first, America’s army quickly grew. By the spring of 1918, there were two million US troops in France, with 10,000 more arriving daily. They were first tested at the Second Battle of the Marne and Belleau Wood, where they helped halt the German advance. These victories bolstered the Allied resolve, and in August, they launched the Hundred Days Offensive. Through a series of sweeping victories, they defeated the Germans and ended the war in a matter of months.
Of the four million Americans who fought, 116,000 never returned home. Each one played a crucial role in turning the tide of the war and establishing America as one of the world’s great military powers.
First U.S. Aerial Victory
On February 5, 1918, US pilot Stephen W. Thompson shot down a German aircraft, making him the first person in the American military to shoot down an enemy plane.
Born in Missouri, Thompson was a senior at the University of Missouri when the US entered World War I. His school then announced that seniors that joined the military before graduation would receive their diplomas in June. So Thompson enlisted in the Army and went for training at the Coast Artillery Corps. On the train there, he saw an airplane flying overhead for the first time.
Thompson was fascinated by aviation and visited a flying field near his training center. He got to ride in a plane and after that decided to apply for the Air Service. He was accepted and joined the US 1st Aero Squadron as an observer.
In February 1918, Thompson’s unit had yet to begin their combat operations, but they would occasionally visit a nearby active French bombardment squadron. On February 5, Thompson and a fellow member of his unit visited the French squadron, who were preparing to go on a mission. One of the French observers became ill and Thompson and the other American pilot were invited to join in the mission in his place.
After conducting a bombing raid over Saarbrücken, Germany, they were attacked by German Albatross D.III fighters. During that fighting, Thompson shot down one of the German planes. He was the first member of the US military to shoot down an enemy plane. (American members of the Lafayette Escadrille had shot down German planes earlier in the war, but they were serving as part of the French military.)
For his victory, Thompson received the Croix de Guerre with Palm from the French government. That May, Thompson was assigned to the 12th Aero Squadron. Then in July, he was conducting artillery spotting near Chateau-Thierry. His plane came under attack by four German planes. Thompson succeeded in shooting down two of them, but one of the other fighters shot his gun, disabling it. They also hit the pilot in the stomach and Thompson in the leg. The pilot managed to land the plane before dying from his wounds.
For several years, Thompson didn’t receive official recognition for the first victory, because he wasn’t serving with his own unit at the time. In 1967 the National Museum of the US Air Force helped him to get that official recognition. They also have his uniform on display to honor his role in history.