Profiles from the Archives: Robert O. Lindsay

Author: 
Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

Robert Opie Lindsay (who went by “Opie”) was born on December 25, 1894, in the town of Madison in Rockingham County, N.C., to William Raleigh and Nannie H. Meador Lindsay. Robert excelled in football, basketball and baseball as a youth. While at North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering (now North Carolina State University) in Raleigh, N.C., he was active in the Leazar Literary Society, the Debate Club, and the German Club. Lindsay also served as the business manager of the Red & White student publication, and was associate editor of the N.C. State yearbook the Agromeck. The 1916 Agromeck described “Opie” as possessing “business ability and good judgment.”

Having studied textiles, Robert Lindsay graduated from N.C. State in 1916. He volunteered for the U.S. Army and applied for admission into the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. However, it was found that Lindsay had appendicitis, and was rejected for the ROTC program. After receiving a successful appendectomy in Greensboro, N.C., Lindsay traveled to Roanoke, Virginia, where he enlisted for service in World War I in the Enlisted Reserve Corps on June 28, 1917.

Having expressed an interest in aviation, Robert Lindsay was sent for aviation training at the School of Military Aeronautics (SMA), an aviation ground school held at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. He spent two months at the ground school, studying aviation theory and the mechanics of aircraft. On August 25, 1917, Lindsay graduated from the SMA; and ordered to Chandler Field in Essington, Pennsylvania, for flying training on August 27, 1917. Chandler Field—lying on the Delaware River just southwest of Philadelphia—provided specialty training in what was then called “flying boats,” “hydroplanes,” or “seaplanes.” Lindsay learned to fly in Glenn Curtiss flying boats. After passing all of his aviation tests faster than anyone else at this base, Lindsay was recommended for a commission as an officer.

Lindsay was transferred to Hazelhurst Field in Mineola, Long Island, New York, on November 10, 1917. Hazelhurst Field offered him flight training in regular aircraft. Unfortunately, due to a lack of communication to his commanding officers, Lindsay was not allowed to fly while at Mineola. He was next transferred to the Aviation Supply Depot in Garden City, Long Island, on December 25, 1917. On January 15, 1918, Robert Lindsay was discharged from the Army Reserves in order to accept a commission as a First Lieutenant.

In order to receive flight training in regular aircraft, Lindsay was transferred to one of the U.S. Army’s main aviation training locations at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas, leaving on January 28, 1918. After arriving at Kelly Field on February 2, 1918, Lindsay was assigned to the flight instructors school. On February 23, 1918, he left Hoboken, New Jersey, for Europe, arriving in Liverpool, England, on March 6, 1918. A few days later, Lindsay crossed the English Channel aboard the ship Lydia, and landed in Havre, France.

On March 20, 1918, Lindsay arrived at the Third Aviation Instruction Center in Issoudun, France, which was the main American flying school in France. Due to the large number of aviators awaiting air training, Lindsay had to wait three months before he would actually receive training in a plane in the air. This flying school took an aviator beyond his preliminary training and studying received in the United States, and assigned the individual to the department within the operation of an aircraft for which they seemed best suited. Lindsay sailed through the flight training; he was transferred to Casaux, France, on July 5, 1918, for flight gunnery training.

After three weeks of gunnery school, Lindsay returned to the Instruction Center at Issoudun on August 1, 1918, to finish his flight training. During this period, much of his training centered on combat practice. After completing his training, Lindsay was ordered to the American Aviation Park at Orley, France. During this period of the war, American aviators were usually grouped or assigned with more experienced French or English units at aviation bases throughout France. Lindsay was assigned on August 28, 1918, to the 139th Aero Squadron (Pursuit Squadron), 2nd Pursuit Group, U.S. Army Air Service. The 2nd Pursuit Group was stationed at Toul, France, where it operated over the St. Mihiel sector of the front lines during WWI.

Robert Lindsay flew as a pursuit pilot along the St. Mihiel sector, using a French SPAD XIII biplane. Lindsay was wounded in action on the opening day of the St. Mihiel offensive. Recovering from his wounds in less than a week, he scored his first victories on the afternoon of September 18, 1918, shooting down two Pfalz D.IIIs over Pagny-sur-Moselle, France. Around the end of September, the 2nd Pursuit Group was moved to Belrain, France, to take part in the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

On October 27, 1918, company with two other planes near Bantheville, France, 1st Lt. Lindsay attacked three enemy Fokker-type planes at an altitude of 3,000 meters, and after a sharp fight brought down one of them. While engaged with the two remaining machines, eight more Fokker-type planes came at him from straight ahead. Lindsay flew straight through their formation, gained an advantageous position, and brought down another plane before he withdrew from the combat. In total, Lindsay was credited for six victories. For this action, he received from the U.S. government the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action. The six victories meant that Lindsay became the third highest scoring ace in his squadron, and the only WWI ace aviator from North Carolina.

The 139th Aero Squadron and aerodrome moved with the Allied advance on the German line until the Armistice in November 1918, where Lindsay was stationed at Suilly, France. On December 21, 1918, Lindsay was relieved from duty with the 139th, and assigned to the Third Aviation Instruction Center in Issoudun, France. Lindsay left from Brest, France, on February 9, 1919, for the United States aboard the ship Rotterdam. He arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on February 17, 1919. Lindsay would spend two months at the aviators’ recreation hospital in Cooperstown, New York. He was honorably discharged on June 7, 1919, at Mitchel Field on Long Island, New York.

After the war, Robert Lindsay returned to Madison, N.C., where he took a job as the Secretary-Treasurer for the Madison Hosiery Mills, Inc., entering the field for which he studied in college. During World War II, Lindsay served in the U.S. Army Air Force, and was commanding officer at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for a short time. He retired in 1945 with the rank of Colonel. Lindsay would marry Anne Bryan Lindsay.

Lindsay would become a founding member of the Civil Aeronautics Administration (forerunner to the modern Federal Aviation Administration). He assisted as a Tennessee aeronautical engineer for the development of Berry Field in Nashville, Tennessee. Lindsay remained actively involved in civil aeronautics throughout much of his life. Robert O. Lindsay died on August 1, 1952, in Fort Worth, Texas, and was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee.

To learn more about Robert Lindsay’ WWI service, check out the Robert O. Lindsay Papers (WWI 74) in the WWI Papers of the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh, N.C.

This blog post is part of the State Archives of North Carolina’s World War I Social Media Project, an effort to bring original WWI archival materials to the public through the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ (NCDNCR) various social media platforms, in order to increase access to the items during the WWI centennial celebration by the state of North Carolina.

Between February 2017 and June 2019, the State Archives of North Carolina will be posting blog articles, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts, featuring WWI archival materials which are posted on the exact 100th anniversary of their creation during the war. Blog posts will feature interpretations of the content of WWI documents, photographs, diary entries, posters, and other records, including scans of the original archival materials, held by the State Archives of North Carolina, and will be featured in NCDNCR’s WWI centennial blog.