Scott Air Force Base News

Meet an extraordinary Scott Airmen of the Lighter-than-Air Era: Col. John A. Paegelow

Col. John A. Paegelow meets Henry Ford in Michigan in 1926. Paeglow served as commander of Scott Field from 1923-33 as well as the Army Air Service Balloon and Airship School.
Col. John A. Paegelow meets Henry Ford in Michigan in 1926. Paeglow served as commander of Scott Field from 1923-33 as well as the Army Air Service Balloon and Airship School.

Of the hundreds of Army Air Service/Air Corps Airmen who served at Scott Field during the Lighter-than-Air Era (1921-1937), three stand out, including Col. John A. Paegelow.

Overall, Paegelow was the commander at Scott Field for more than 10 years, longer than any other commander in the installation’s 100-year history. He served with distinction in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, and World War I, was an Army Balloon Corps pioneer, and was the commander of Scott Field and the U.S. Army Air Service Balloon and Airship School at Scott Field (1923-33).

During the Spanish-American War in 1898, Paegelow was deployed to Cuba with the 16th Infantry Regiment and participated in the famous Battle of San Juan Hill. During the battle, he suffered a bullet wound entering one inch above the heart and exiting his back, requiring six months in hospital to recover.

His tenure as commander at Scott Field spanned most of the LTA era and gave Scott Field a prominent place in LTA history.

John, born Johann, Albert Paegelow was born in Berlin, Prussia, what is now Germany, May 9, 1870. After graduating with a civil engineer degree from Heidelberg University and completing his one-year mandatory service in the German Army, Paegelow emigrated to the U.S. in 1894.

After working for a surveying firm along the Hudson River in New York, a depressed economy forced him to move to Chicago, where he enlisted in the Army in January 1897 as a private. Among his first duties in the Army was surveying for military bases in the West.

During the Spanish-American War in 1898, Paegelow was deployed to Cuba with the 16th Infantry Regiment and participated in the famous Battle of San Juan Hill. During the battle, he suffered a bullet wound entering one inch above the heart and exiting his back, requiring six months in hospital to recover.

In 1901, Paegelow won a commission as a second lieutenant and was transferred to the Philippines with the 16th Infantry Regiment during the Philippine Insurrection, where he led scouting parties through the jungles and mountains in search of guerilla leaders. He earned fame by almost singlehandedly persuading Filipino southern Luzon guerilla leader, Gen. Ola, and approximately 1,000 guerilla fighters to surrender.

When the U.S. entered the war, Paegelow was hand-picked by Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force at the time, to command the first American balloon squadron in France. He trained alongside his LTA battalion, comprised of 70 Airmen from St. Louis at Ft. Omaha, Nebraska, earning his own aeronautics and observer ratings.

On March 12, 1902, Paegelow married Elia B. Wood of California, Missouri, who was a school teacher working in the Philippines under U.S. Government contract.

In 1910, he began his tenure as the military governor of the Island of Mindanao under his friend, Gen. John J. Pershing, where he gained a reputation as “the miracle man.” He and Elia remained in the Philippines until the U.S. entered World War I on April 6, 1917, when he was aboard the first transport back to the states to begin the next phase of his military career—the balloon corps.

When the U.S. entered the war, Paegelow was hand-picked by Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force at the time, to command the first American balloon squadron in France. He trained alongside his LTA battalion, comprised of 70 Airmen from St. Louis at Ft. Omaha, Nebraska, earning his own aeronautics and observer ratings.

The unit arrived in France in December 1917 to begin the fight against Paegelow’s former countrymen. Despite the anti-German hysteria of the time and his thick German accent, the loyalty of this naturalized U.S. citizen to the U.S. was beyond question.

Paegelow and his observation balloon Airmen participated in the Champagne-Marne Offensive, the Aisne-Marne Offensive, the St. Mihiel Offensive, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. For his leadership as commander of the Balloon Service of the 1st Army during the Second Battle of the Marne and in the St. Mihiel Offensive, Paegelow received the Distinguished Service Medal.

In July 1919, Paegelow was assigned as the commanding officer of the Army Balloon and Airship School at Langley Field, Virginia, and later Scott Field. In 1923, Scott Field was the center of the Army Air Service LTA branch and had the second largest airship hangar in the world when he assumed command.

In July 1919, Paegelow was assigned as the commanding officer of the Army Balloon and Airship School at Langley Field, Virginia, and later Scott Field. In 1923, Scott Field was the center of the Army Air Service LTA branch and had the second largest airship hangar in the world when he assumed command.

During his tenure at Scott Field, he knew almost all of the aviation greats of the day, including Charles Lindbergh. He retired at Scott Field in 1933, just four years before the end of the LTA era.

After retiring from the Army Air Corps, he and Elia moved into Elia’s family home in California, Missouri. Paegelow passed away on November 22, 1944, and is buried at the California Masonic Cemetery in California, Missouri, near Jefferson City.

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