Ernest A. Love: How a PHS football star became Prescott airport's namesake
Ernest Alexander Love was born on Nov. 30, 1895, in Raton, N.M. Many know his name since it graces our airfield and the local chapter of the American Legion Post No. 6. There is a scholarship in his name at Stanford University and his mother donated a pipe organ to St. Luke's Episcopal Church in his memory. Beyond that, he may be known as a Prescott High School football star and a pilot who lost his life in World War I.
His parents, Allan and Louetta (Gregory) Love, moved to Prescott when Ernest was only 3 years old. Allan was a Scottish immigrant who worked with the railroad and eventually became an engineer. Louetta came from Kansas and was active in Prescott civic groups. The family resided at 515 E. Sheldon St.
It appears that personal tragedy may have struck the Love family when Ernest's two infant sisters died in an epidemic that swept the town. Neighbors and close friends the Henrys had two daughters, Ola and Amelia, with whom Ernest grew up. He called them his "little sisters" in letters he wrote from Europe during WWI.
Ernest was a hometown football hero, being selected as an All-State guard in his junior year at Prescott High School. After graduating in 1914, he attended Stanford University to study mechanical engineering. After completing his junior year at Stanford and, upon America's entry in WWI in April 1917, Ernest enlisted in the U.S. Army, entering the officers' training camp in San Francisco. He successfully applied for pilot training and was sent to ground school with 14 others at the University of California (Berkeley) for six weeks of training. Flight training in San Diego followed and Ernest was the only one to qualify for completion. Powered flight was still quite new, and Ernest felt that he should soothe the fears of his parents. He wrote home, "It is not the least bit scary; I felt just as safe up in the air 1,500 to 2,000 feet as if I was walking on the ground, and a great deal safer than I have often felt in crossing some city streets."
Ernest then traveled by train to New York City awaiting embarkation to France with the 141st Training Squadron. It appears that he met with his family on his way east and may have even returned to Prescott while on leave. His time in New York was longer than expected, so he set up a code with his folks that he would tell them he was "sending his watch" when he was shipped off to Europe.
He and his fellow aviators were treated like royalty in the big city. "Some rich club spent $3,500 on the twenty of us (aviators). The owner of the store, Mr. Fitch (of Abercrombie & Fitch), had us stay to lunch in the log cabin on the top of the store." Also while in New York, the military doctors continued to examine the aviators. The fifth exam he had taken within six months "was a corker. If there is anything the matter with me they should know it by now." Ernest "sent his watch" in January 1918.
His first stop was England, and he wrote to his father that railroad cars in Europe are "dinky" and the locomotives would "make a fair-sized meal for any of the Santa Fe Engines." On to France where he received advanced flight training at Issoudun and wrote home apologizing for the "awfully silly" letters, since he was not allowed to give details of his location. From France, he was sent to Italy where he spent a great deal of time on the beach, but anxious to get to the front. One afternoon, he and his buddies met a princess and were invited to stay two nights at the castle. He decided that after the war he would "settle down and be a prince."
On July 24, 1918, 1st Lt. Love was assigned to "A" Flight of the 147th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, which was still flying Nieuport 28 fighters from an airfield at Saints, France. He confessed that "war sure is hell." Love came under fire for the first time in early August 1918.
On Sept. 14, Love was scrambled from his airfield at Rembercourt to support American troops involved in the St. Mihiel, France, offensive. Over the attacking ground troops, he and his squadron commander, James Meissner, found a couple of German Rumpler airplanes and destroyed one of them. The following day, he was delayed in taking off with the rest of his squadron. When he finally took off in a SPAD fighter biplane, he headed for Verdun, an agreed rendezvous. He never arrived. He apparently was shot down and badly wounded near Tronville and was transported to a German field dressing station set up in a church where he died on Sept. 16.
Ernest was buried in a local cemetery in Tronville until after the war when he was removed to the St. Mihiel American Cemetery. In 1921, he was moved again to Arlington National Cemetery.
About 10 years ago, Sharlot Hall Museum archives received a large collection of Love's certificates, photographs, letters, etc. from the American Legion Post. His mother apparently had donated them to the post just before her death. In them, Ernest described his training as one of the few early military aviators, his travels through New York City and three different countries in Europe, and his last few weeks as a fighter pilot over the battle lines as the Americans were on the offensive during the closing months of the war. The collection reveals a young man who was bright, charming and fearless. A hometown hero, proud to serve his country.