When World War I erupted in Europe after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, on June 28, 1914 by the Black Hand, the United States pursued a policy of non-intervention.
On April 6, 1917, the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany. Lake Countians began to volunteer for service in the war, and the Lake County sheriff was under orders to arrest all “slackers” or any man who wouldn’t register.
He was attached to the First Aero Squadron as an observer. In June 1918, he was promoted to first lieutenant. His job was to fly behind enemy lines in a two-seat reconnaissance plane, make observations and collect information and photographs of value to American gunners.
Dahringer had been a star athlete at Waukegan’s Central High School, and captain of the basketball team at the University of Illinois. By all accounts, he was outgoing and well liked.
|Homer Dahringer (2nd from right), circa 1913.|
“I am going on a dangerous mission, but we are all keyed up for it and do not anticipate any trouble. Tomorrow’s work is rather a culmination of all my efforts. We are going over the top together with the infantry. I am scheduled to fly an Infantry Liaison plane. It is the worst kind of work and everything rests with God. If I do not come back, you may know that I gave my all and my best to my country.”
He and his pilot, Lieutenant William Cowart, never came back from that mission. Their plane was shot down by a German Fokker, and they were reported missing in action on September 17, 1918.
Dahringer's family clung to the hope that he was alive and would come home from the war. The local paper ran headlines "Vanished Behind Foe Lines in Plane; Homer Dahringer, U.S. Air Observer, Missing in Action." Even the American Red Cross investigated and reported that he was alive and had been taken behind enemy lines. Soon even that report was questioned, since the family never received a letter from their son or any other news.
The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, but it was not until January 3, 1919 that Dahringer's family received another telegram from the U.S. Army stating:
"Your son, Lieut. Homer Walston Dahringer reported by message dropped from German plane as dead in Germany. Date and cause of death unknown. Will notify of any future information."
Still, the family refused to accept the news. Within weeks, his body was brought to France for burial and it was the final proof that his family needed.