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Almost Yesterday: The Death of Major Patrick Frissell


It seems like Almost Yesterday that the U. S. military planned the first transcontinental test of United States military aircraft. Under the direction of General Billy Mitchell, the proposal was for 74 planes to fly from New York to San Francisco and back - to document the performance of a variety of military aircraft.

One of the young aviators scheduled to participate in this, the greatest moment in aviation to that time, was 32 year old Patrick Frissell of Cape Girardeau. Born in Oak Ridge, Missouri, Frissell was married to Rebecca Houck and the father of beautiful three year old Mary Giboney Frissell.

Frissell joined the U. S. Army at an early age, and was quickly recognized as a man of intellect, and fierce determination to fly. Before and after World War I he spent much time in Europe and China, and by the autumn of 1919 was one of the most well known aviators in the world.

On September 15 of 1919, Frissell left his California home to fly to New York for the October 8 transcontinental flight. On September 17, he made a brief stop in Cape Girardeau, for the county fair, flew on to Indianapolis, and send a message to General Mitchell that the race be cancelled for safety reasons.

On October 4, four days before the race, Frissell, in heavy clouds and mist, came down to check his location, and hit the top of a large tree near Cuddebackville, New York. Frissell was killed instantly, his co-pilot, Lietutenant Gerald Ballard, only slightly injured.

Frissell's body was returned to Cape Girardeau and he was buried in the family plot in Old Lorimier Cemetery. A trunk containing his personal possessions was returned to the family home in Cape Girardeau, but not opened until September 12 of 2013.

It seems like Almost Yesterday.

Frank Nickell is a history professor at Southeast Missouri State University.
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