Fight On, Lakewood High! (Or Was That "Fly On"?) The Amazing Story Of The NC-4!

Each year about this time, I start to think about the veterans of our armed forces who have done more for our country than most of us may ever realize. November 11th, of course, marks the traditional Veterans Day celebration in communities across our land. Lakewood area veterans will meet at the memorial in Lakewood Park at 11 a.m. on that day to honor those who have served our nation in uniform over the years.

A campaign is currently underway to renovate the monument area at the park. (People wishing to contribute to that campaign should contact Melissa Garrett at (216) 529-6650. It is possible to contribute a monetary donation, or to purchase a bench, tree, or engraved paver stone for the project.) On November 10th, veterans and their families will also be honored at Garfield School with a breakfast and recognition program. (Veterans and their family members interested in participating at the Garfield activities would need to contact Nora Steele, H20 Assistant Coordinator, at 216-529-4173 for reservations.)

As I write these columns, every once in awhile I try to let you know about veterans and their Lakewood connection. This particular column ties a specific Navy aircraft to Lakewood High School in a rather unique way.

After the first World War (1914-1918) it became apparent that air power was up-and-coming. The skies of Europe had thundered with machine guns mounted on fighter aircraft, as they added a new and frightening dimension to warfare. Bomber aircraft also began to be used to drop thousands of pounds of high explosives on troops and even cities. Clearly, air power was on the rise.

After the war, there was considerable concern about how and when airplanes would be developed that would have the capability to cross oceans. To that end, the Curtiss aircraft company and the United States Navy decided to embark on a project to accomplish exactly that mission, and more. Four large, multi-engined, open-cockpit, flying boat aircraft had been built during WWI, but were just completing development by the end of that war. It was soon decided that these airships would fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Although primitive by today's standards, every technological advance of the age was applied to the engineering of those aircraft. For safety, along the way, Navy ships were standing by along the route to assist the aircrews in the event of trouble. In the spring of 1919, three of the four aircraft took off for Nova Scotia on the first leg of their journey. The aircraft had been named NC (Navy Curtiss) -1, NC-3, and NC-4. (The NC-2 plane, having an unsatisfactory engine layout, was taken apart to supply parts for the other aircraft.)

Of the three remaining aircraft, the NC-1 had to land in the ocean, and the crew was rescued by a passing ship. It later sank beneath the waves. The NC-3 also had to land at sea, and its airworthiness was lost. It did, however, make it to the Azores as a surface ship! Only the NC-4 made it all the way by air to Portugal, then on to Spain, and from there to Plymouth, England. This was an outstanding effort at that time, and was the first successful trans-Atlantic air crossing. The NC-4 later returned to the United States and ended up at the Pensacola (Florida) Naval Air Museum, where it still resides today. Other flights made soon thereafter by an English aircrew, and of course the solo flight in 1927 made by Lindbergh, unfortunately moved the memory of the NC-4's heroic first Atlantic flight into history.

In the same year as that first flight, the "NC-4 March" was written by F.E. Bigelow, who dedicated it to the chief officer of the NC-4, Lieutenant Commander Albert Read. The stirring "trio" section of this Bigelow march was supposedly used as the basis for a number of college fight songs, and was also the melody adapted for the fight song of Lakewood High School. Although I was unable to ascertain whether the original Bigelow march had lyrics, our own Lakewood words were soon added to that great melody. Legendary Lakewood Hometown Band (and All-Ohio State Fair Band) Director Donald Santa-Emma informs me that his Alma Mater, West Tech, adapted a tune from Bigelow's other famous march "Our Director" for their own fight song. Don relates that the adapting of popular marches for school fight songs was a fairly common practice in those days.

There are many sublime contributions by veterans to our country. Some of these, like our freedoms, and the ability to sleep safely in our beds at night, are the obvious ones. Less obvious, but equally important, are efforts like the flight of the NC-4, and the song inspired by that effort--a song whose melody resounds through the stands of Lakewood's stadium, each and every football game, and will evermore resound in our hearts, and in the pulse of our city.

Thanks to Don for his information, and also to former Lakewood High band director Tom Selby for providing some of the historical background of the flight of the NC-4. Tom also tells me that there was once a big wooden model of the NC-4 in the AV room at Lakewood High School.


Read More on Pulse of the City
Volume 4, Issue 22, Posted 8:02 AM, 10.16.2008