Alva Harvey, World Aviator

This is the third in the Historical Newsclippings series, with many details taken from newspaper articles from various cities throughout the United States from 1902-1992. More details will likely be found in hometown papers where event occurred, as I only had access to papers from other cities that used news feeds.

Taken 17 July 1924, Sand Point, Washington. The seven members of the world flight crew beside one of their Douglas World Cruisers aircraft. L-R: Sgt. Turner, Staff Sgt. Henry H. Ogden, Lieut. Leslie Arnold, Lieut. Leigh Wade, Lieut. Lowell Smith, Major Frederick L. Martin and Staff Sgt. Alva Lee Harvey, who was teamed with Martin in their plane Seattle. This image is a feed from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum website <https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/events-flights-world-1924-douglas-world-cruisers-crew-photograph>.

Three years before Charles Lindbergh made his transatlantic flight, Alva Lee Harvey was part of a United States Government aviation team to first circle the globe by plane. Alva was son of Luther and Cordelia Keiler (Martin) Harvey, Luther being son of Russell and Sarah Harriet (Loy) Harvey. Sarah’s father Jeremiah was son of Martin Luther Loy, whose father John was son of Martin Loy (to America 1741).

Alva’s parents left Adair County, Kentucky for Texas shortly after their October 1892 marriage and before their first child Maude Ella’s August 1893 birth in Bell County, Texas. The next child, Ova Florence, was born three years and three months later, although I haven’t yet found record of which county in Texas she was born. By the time Alva’s brother William R. was born in 1898, according to William’s place of birth on his death certificate, the family had already moved to Johnson County, Texas. In the 1900 Johnson County Texas census Alva’s family was listed in Justice Precinct 2, on a rented farm. (As Cordelia’s parents owned a mortgaged farm in prior household, it’s possible Luther was renting part of his in-laws’ farm.) The census taker came on 21 June 1900 and, as only those born on or before 1 June could be enumerated, Alva just made it with nine days to spare.

A little over two years later, in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, while Cordelia was eight months along with a fifth child, Luther wrote a letter to the folks back in Adair County, Kentucky. He sent the letter to the editor of the Adair County News in Columbia, that it might be published to reach all kith and kin. On the tenth of December, Luther’s letter appeared in the paper.

                                                    RONO, TEXAS.
      Perhaps a few lines from this section would be of great interest to readers of the News.
      Owing to the continued drouths for two years crops of all kinds are short. Wheat will only make from six to fifteen bushels per acre. Corn is selling at 65c per bushel; oats 45c; hay $10.00 per ton; cotton 7 1/2 and cotton seed $17 per ton.
      Stock of all classes are very high. There seems to be plenty of money in circulation, which make land sell from six to fifty dollars per acre. Most of the citizens own their places.
      This, Johnson county has three railroads, one new one just completed and two others mapped out. They will be a great help for we need more railroads.
      What has become of the Fairplay and Glensfork correspondents? If they new how much their letters were appreciated they would write oftener.
      I was born and reared near Columbia. Success to the News and all my friends.

LUTHER HARVEY.

The above, I transcribed exactly as the article read. “Rono, Texas” should have been Bono, Texas. Beginning with the Great Depression, Bono’s small population dwindled further until it became a ghost town. The same Adair County News typographer was likely the one who also misspelled “knew” as “new.”

The following month, the fifth child, a daughter, was born. She was “Lela” in 1910 census, “Emma L.” in 1920 census, and “Lela D.” in Social Security, death, and cemetery records. After Lela came two more daughters: Lora Elma, born 1905, then the seventh and last child, Floy Edna, born 1914.

On 12 September 1918 Alva, now of military age, was among the many young men who registered for the WWI draft. He listed his father L. Harvey as his employer, and his mother Cordelia as nearest relative. His description was given as tall, with slender build, having brown eyes and dark hair. Armistice was signed two months minus a day later. Nevertheless, the following year he enlisted in the U.S. Army, being assigned into the Army Air Service, the original name for the Air Force.

Alva was listed twice in the 1920 census. In January 1920, Alva was listed among the numerous servicemen at Kelly Field, Bexar County, Texas, which was the U.S. Army air base. His occupation was Private for the U.S. Army. On 27 February 1920, when the census taker visited his parents’ household, Alva was also enumerated, with occupation being United States Army.

Four years later, on Tuesday, 8 January 1924, the Eugene Guard (Eugene, OR) published an article that originated in the San Diego, California news that same day:

AROUND-THE-WORLD FLIGHT PLANS FINISHED BY ARMY
      San Diego, Cal. – Plans and details of the round-the-world flight to be taken by the army aviators was definitely completed and given out today by Major Henry H. Arnold, commander of Rockwell Field.
      It is estimated that the entire route covers 30,000 miles. Twenty-two countries will witness the epochal flight…

The article continues by listing names of the four airmen that would participate (Alva and the other three servicemen to accompany these four were not mentioned) and the flight route. The article ended with mention that on same day the United States would begin their quest for circumnavigating the globe, 2 April 1924, Portugal and Great Britain each planned their own race to win that distinction first, through their own national air crews.

However, the U.S. event overshadowed any plans Portugal and Great Britain made. During the months leading up to the expedition, and well into it, public excitement rivaled what history has told us of Lindbergh’s later achievement. Newspapers all over the United States and the world gave day-to-day accounts of the event’s anticipation and progress.

The aircraft vessels to be used for the flights were designed and created by Douglas and Northrup; back in the days these were Donald and Jack, actual men, and not their corporations. The planes were called “Douglas World Cruisers,” or DWC for short. Representing every corner of the U.S., the DWCs were named for U.S. cities in the West, East, (Central) South and (Central) North: Seattle, Boston, New Orleans, and Chicago. Major Fredrick L. Martin flew the lead DWC, Seattle, accompanied by Staff Sgt. Alva L. Harvey serving as mechanic. (At this point, Alva was not yet a pilot.) First Lieut. Lowell H. Smith piloted the Chicago, accompanied by Lieut. Leslie P. Arnold serving as co-pilot; First Lieut. Leigh Wade, the Boston, accompanied by Staff Sgt. Henry H. Ogden, serving as mechanic; and First Lieut. Erik Nelson, the New Orleans, accompanied by Lieut. Jack Harding as co-pilot.

The expanded list of cities in their route can be found in other references. For brevity, I’ve condensed the route to just U.S. states and countries as follows: the state of Washington in U.S. starting point; British Columbia in Canada; Alaska in U.S.; Nikol Skoye in Russia; Kuril(e) Islands [for centuries the islands have been disputed between Russia and Japan]; Japan; China; French Indo-China [modern Vietnam]; Thailand; Burma, then under British rule; Bangladesh, then under British rule; India, then under British rule; Pakistan, then under British rule; Iran; Iraq, then under British rule; Syria; Turkey; Romania; Hungary; Austria; France; England and Scotland in U.K.; Iceland; Greenland; Newfoundland and Labrador (now in Canada), Nova Scotia in Canada; Maine, Massachusetts, New York state, Maryland, Washington D.C., Ohio, Illinois, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, California, Oregon, and finally back to starting point in Washington.

On the 4th of April the cruisers were flown from Santa Monica, California to Sand Point, Washington (a neighborhood of Seattle), the official starting post. Fog and a few mechanical mishaps (including with the Seattle) caused several delays. But on the 6th, with enough clearing weather, the crew finally began their journey. But on the 15th, the Seattle had to make a forced landing at Cape Ikvak on Kodiak Island in Alaska [Coordinates: 57° 25′ 60″ N, 156° 1′ 0″ W.] due to a crack in the crank case, which was causing a fuel leak. By this time, the three other planes had arrived at Chignik. Martin and Harvey spent the night in their plane. Meanwhile, Lieut. Nelson of the New Orleans was able to radio two U.S. destroyers for help, the Corry and the Hull. The Hull was able to pick up the stranded crew members and DWC. A new engine was necessary, which was being sent from Unalaska Island. This would delay the Seattle’s flight schedule by one week. The Thursday, 17 April 1924 Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, CA) contains an Associated Press Leased Wire that details the Seattle’s plight.

While the other crewmen continued their flight, Major Martin and Sgt. Harvey stayed to repair their plane, intending to catch up with their team after repairs were completed. However, after repairs were completed, shortly before noon on the 30th they left Chignik to catch up with the team at Dutch Harbor, on Unalaska Island. Besides strong winds they had already encountered, they also had to contend with heavy fog. After an hour and a half in the air, the Seattle became lost in fog near Port Moller, Alaska, crashing into a mountain.

The missing DWC and two man crew were major stories in newspapers all over. On page 2 of the Saturday, 10 May 1924 The Bridgeport Telegram (Bridgeport, CT) there were two extensive articles concerning the event. The first, with headline: Coolidge Regrets “Apparent Loss” of World Fliers — But Promises All Possible Aid Government Can Give in Locating Maj. Martin and His Aide. This article continues to detail the search for the missing men aboard the Seattle. The second article, beside it, tells of the Martin and Harvey families, eagerly awaiting news of their loved ones. It is composed of three articles, one taken from San Diego, California newspaper concerning the Martins and two taken from Cleburne, Texas newspapers concerning the Harveys. The headline reads: Martin’s Wife Declares She Is Confident He’ll Return — Friends Trust in His Great Skill as an Airman to Extricate Himself from Danger — Mother of Harvey, His Mechanician, Weeps Over Son’s Last Letter. The last sentence of the paragraph that segues into these three sub-articles says: In Cleburne, Texas, the elderly parents of Harvey, while distracted with grief, were also insistent that their son would survive. [Note: In those days, apparently you were “elderly” once you hit your 40s!! At that moment, Luther was 51, to be 52 in July, and Cordelia was 48, to be 49 the last part of May.]

The two Cleburne, Texas sub-articles are as follows:

                                                    His Last Letter
      CLEBURNE, Texas, May 9 — “My son hoped for fame. I would sacrifice all that I ever hoped for him for just one word that he is safe.”
      Mrs. Luther Harvey, mother of Alva G. [sic] Harvey, Major Martin’s mechanician, caressed the last letter from her son, worn and thumbed with reading and re-reading. It was written from Sitka, Alaska, an exuberant, boyish letter, telling of his enthusiasm, and the glory that was to come from the great adventure. A day or two later, the boy was engulfed by the storm. On the mantel of the little village home was the picture of the youth who four years ago joined the air service.
      The parents of Harvey sent a telegram to government officials asking for news of their boy’s fate. The reply was that information would be forwarded as soon as possible.

      CLEBURNE, Texas, May 9 — “I think that God is watching over us and will carry us safely around to our dear ones in the states.” This was Alva L. Harvey’s last message to his mother here, just before the youthful mechanician and Major Frederick L. Martin were swallowed by the Arctic wilderness, in their attempted world flight. The message contained in a letter mailed at Kanatak, Alaska. The latter was in part as follows: “Dear Mother: I will certainly be glad to get out of here. We have been here since the fifteenth. Our motor went bad, so we are putting in a new one. We expect to be on our way again in a very short time. We are having lots of good luck, along with a little hard luck. So I think God is watching over us and will carry us safely back to our dear ones in the states. I would like to see you and everyone but that will be sometime in October or November, I think possibly earlier. Do not get discouraged because it takes a long time to fly around the world. With love to all. Alva.”

After their plane crashed into the mountain, Major Martin and Sgt. Harvey, both unhurt, managed to salvage some of their records and rations from the wrecked aircraft. After making it down the mountain, with some hardships and extremely rationing what rations remained, on the morning of the 7th of May they found an unoccupied trapper’s cabin alongside the beach. After a week of tramping in the wilderness in extreme cold weather, finding the cabin was a miracle. Once inside the shelter, and building a fire for warmth, the survivors found much-needed food. They were so exhausted from their ordeal, they rested two days in the cabin before heading to the beach. Meanwhile, the U.S. Government had spared no expense organizing countless search parties. On Sunday, the 11th, rescuers found them.

The rescue made front page headlines, nationwide. This day happened to coincide with Mother’s Day and some papers featured articles about Major Martin’s and Sgt. Harvey’s mothers. The Monday, 12 May 1924 The Galveston News (Galveston, TX) was one of those papers. This is the front page article about Mrs. Harvey:

                      A Glorious Mother’s Day for Mrs. Luther Harvey
      Cleburne, Tex., May 11 — Mother’s Day programs were held in all the churches here today, but one mother’s heart was gladder than all the others. That mother was Mrs. Luther Harvey, whose son, Sergeant Alva Lee Harvey, round-the-world-flyer, was rescued in Alaska today.
First news that her son was safe was received by Mrs. Harvey in a telephone message from the Dallas Morning News shortly after 5 o’clock this evening.
      “Thank God!” Mrs. Harvey said with a catch in her voice. “Was he injured? Well I am glad he was not, and Major Martin? Is he safe?”
Mrs. Harvey was so overcome with emotion for a short period. She turned to her husband, Luther Harvey, farmer and real estate man of Cleburne. Mr. Harvey was overjoyed.
      “We prayed constantly,” Mrs. Harvey said. “Not for a moment did we lose hope. And, oh! how grateful I am to those Christian friends who joined in our prayers. And Alva, too, started his journey with a prayer. For I got a letter from him Saturday: ‘I think God is watching over us and will carry us safely around to our dear ones in the states,’ he said.
      “Please thank the management of the News on behalf of Mr. Harvey and myself for their interest in conveying this good news directly to us. Today will be for the rest of my life the finest Mother’s Day of all.”
      Sergeant Harvey will be 24 years old on May 22. He has been in the air service for five years. Mr. and Mrs. Harvey have six other children.

The expedition, begun on 6 April, ended on 28 September. More details on the expedition can be found in the Additional Reading links below. Only two planes from the original team completed the round-the-world quest. The Boston encountered engine failure between the Faeroe Islands [self-governing but part of Denmark] and Iceland. After being forced down, Lieut. Wade and Sgt. Ogden were rescued by the USS Richmond. While the Boston was being towed through the turbulent North Atlantic, it sank. Wade and Ogden continued their itinerary with the Boston’s prototype, the Boston II.

The DWCs themselves have held interesting stories afterwards. Although the Boston was gone (and later the Boston II), the Chicago was donated by the U.S. War Department to the Smithsonian, where it has been on display since 1925 and was restored in 1974. The New Orleans was given to the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio, where it has been on display since 1957, with exception of periods being loaned to other museums. In 1961, the Seattle’s wreckage was recovered and is currently in the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum. In 2001, a veteran pilot and his wife made plans for a replica of the Seattle and after 12 years, the Seattle II was ready to make its first flight.

I saw this First Day Cover for sale on eBay awhile back. Alva signed this cover, which commemorated his group’s 1924 expedition.

The year 1924 marked an eventful year for Alva’s family. First, the family’s fear they had lost their son in the plane crash. Then the joyful news he was safe. Then in July and worse yet at the end of October, tragedy came. The news item appeared not just in Texas papers, but even in San Diego and Oakland, California. This below is from Saturday, 1 November 1924 Dallas Morning News (Dallas, TX):

LUTHER HARVEY DIES SOON AFTER AUTO PLUNGES OFF BRIDGE NEAR CLEBURNE
Special to The News
      CLEBURNE, Texas. October 31.— Luther Harvey, 52 years old, Cleburne, father of Sergt. Alva Harvey, United States round-the-world flyer, died Friday afternoon in a hospital here following injuries sustained in an auto smashup. Alone, Mr. Harvey was driving over a concrete bridge just northwest of Rio Vista. The car plunged over the bridge, the driver fracturing his skull.
      Mr. Harvey is survived by his wife and seven children. Sergt. Harvey, one of the sons, as mechanician to Major Martin, crashed against a mountain in Alaska and was forced to abandon the flight.
      Another son of Mr. Harvey’s was hurt badly here last July when he fell down a grain elevator.
      Funeral arrangements are held up pending the arrival of a relative from California.

The “relative from California” was likely his daughter Ova Florence, who was in 1920 MO census with her first husband before their divorce and 1930 CA census with second husband before their divorce. (Incidentally, she was in 1940 CA census with third husband. She was married four times in all. Not long ago, I discovered when she died in 1982, her residence had been in same county my parents and I lived. I’d even passed through her town many times.)

From the Thursday 21 May 1925 El Paso Herald (El Paso, TX):

                                                    Fliers Honored
      San Antonio, Texas, May 21 (UN)
—Distinguished service medals for participation in the army round the world flight last summer were presented by Maj. Gen. John L. Hines, chief of staff of the army, to second Lt. Henry H. Ogden, and technical Sgt. Alva L. Harvey at Brooks field. Full military ceremonies marked the bestowal of the honor.

In 1926, Alva married Laura Marie (Hopkins) Cheshire, a divorcee. Laura’s previous husband Harry H. Cheshire was First Lieutenant in the Eighth U.S. Cavalry at Ft. Bliss, El Paso Co., TX, according to 1920 census, where Laura and their eight month old daughter Harriet Jane were enumerated with him. That summer, the El Paso paper featured articles detailing H.H. Cheshire’s participation in the Ft. Bliss public equestrian shows, held the 18th and 26th of June. In addition to the horse shows, Ft. Bliss also had aviation exhibitions. (Could this have been how Alva, stationed at another base, met Laura?) Laura’s father was also a military man, having fought in the Civil War, then enlisting from 1870 to 1905 with the Army in the “Indian War.” Although many of his children were born in Texas, he was later assigned to the Arsenal in Indianapolis, Indiana, where the family is listed in the 1900 census in the months before Laura was born. Laura’s father was listed with rank Private Second Class and named in the 1900 census three times, twice in military and once with his family. When Laura’s father retired from the military in 1905, it was probably then he brought his family back to Texas.

Besides stepdaughter Harriet, Alva and Laura had daughter Helen, born 1928. Then in 1937, when Helen was nine years old, Laura died of a heart condition. At this time, the family lived in Presidio County, Texas.

Alva had now learned to pilot an aircraft and in 1936 had been test pilot for the Flying Fortress B-17 bombers. Around the time of his wife’s death, Alva was reassigned to Langley Field in Virginia and in 1938 remarried to Lillian Fridell. That following year, he and Lillian had daughter Vivian.

In 1941, months prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, Alva had been stationed at Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico and, now a Captain, continued flying on important assignments for the military. Then came World War II, with even greater missions, such as flying U.S. diplomats to Russia for negotiations. He also oversaw construction of the B-29 bomber made by Boeing. As a Colonel, was a commander of the 40th Bombardment Group that had assignments in the Far East.

He retired from the Air Force in 1957 and relocated to the Washington, D.C. area. In 1978, the year his wife Lillian died, Alva wrote a 43-page book, “Memoirs of an Around-the-World Mechanic (1924) and Pilot (1941).” Although this book is no longer in print, there are other current books that include his biography or at least a good amount of mention: First Flight Around the World: The Adventures of the American Fliers Who Won the Race, by Tim Grove (2015); Around-the-World Flights: A History, by Patrick M. Stinson, and Around the World in 175 Days: The First Round-the-World Flight, by Carroll V. Glines (2016). [By coincidence, Patrick M. Stinson shares same surname as Alva’s sister Ova Florence’s first husband, though she had no children.]

Colonel Alva Lee Harvey died on 1 December 1992 in Alexandria City, Virginia, at age 92. At time of his death, his survivors included his two daughters Helen and Vivian, stepdaughter Harriet, six grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and his older sister Maude and younger sister Lela. Although Alva did not live an additional eight years to see the century mark, these two sisters accomplished that. Lela died at age 100 and Maude died at age 101.

Additional online reading:

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