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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Flight goggles; found at crash site; $48,875. Photo courtesy of James D. Julia.
From the way the Red Baron handled his blood-red fighter plane, you could tell he was a flying ace. Aerial combat and downing planes were simple number games for him. Conquest, credit and trophies were everything.

A lamp made from the engine of a plane he shot out of the sky hung from the ceiling in his dugout. At night, he lay awake rehashing his day and watching the grotesque shadows the light cast in the room.

“Death may be right on my neck,” he said. “I often think about it. Higher authority has suggested I should quit flying before it catches up with me.”

He couldn’t stop.

“I think of the war as it really is, not with a hurrah and a roar as the people at home imagine it. It is much more serious, bitter,” he said.

Despite his internal battle, the Baron’s aerial score kept rising. In 20 months of combat, Manfred von Richthofen (Red Baron) officially shot down 80 enemy aircraft for Germany, including 21 planes in the month of April, 1917 alone. It was more aircraft than any aviator on either side in World War I.

As his plane emerged from behind the clouds, the Baron’s adversaries dreaded seeing the “red bird.” A deadly game of cat and mouse was about to begin and they felt lucky when they lived to tell about it.

The Red Baron may have been unbeatable in the air but it was from the ground he ultimately gave up. A bullet from an Australian machine-gunner ripped through his chest as he soared in the sky.

It happened in what seemed like a matter of seconds. The Red Baron’s plane faltered and plunged earthward. It crashed in a field on the outskirts of the ruined village of Sailly-le-Sec in France.

Australians in near by shell holes approached the plane and waited for signs of life. Inside a German pilot sat upright still strapped to his seat. His hands clutched the control stick between his knees.

The soldiers removed the body. From the pockets a gold watch and some papers revealed the name and rank.

“My God, it’s Richthofen!” exclaimed one of the soldiers. “Christ, they got the bloody baron!” said another.

By the time souvenir hunters were done, not much was left of the Red Baron’s plane. Superstitious airmen took bits of fabric from his aircraft to carry with them on future combat missions. Anything that belonged to Richthofen seemed like a powerful omen.

Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron was ultimately laid to rest with all the honors of a celebrated warrior.

Pasquale J. Carisella developed an interest in the Red Baron after serving in the navy in WWII. He traveled all over the world interviewing and corresponding with veterans who witnessed the plane crash and were the first to arrive at the scene.

It was Carisella who established that an Australian machine-gunner ultimately brought the Red Baron down and that the bullet came from the ground, not the air. Many of the men he interviewed also claimed some war trophy from the plane. Carisella also acquired a number of those items over the years.

His collection went on the block on March 14-16, 2005, at James D. Julia’s Firearms auction in Fairfield, Maine. Here are some current values.

Red Baron

Lock of hair; from a locket given by Baron to his cousin; 2 inch strand; $6,325.

Embroidered handkerchief; initials MVR; worn at time of death; 19 1/2 inches by 19 inches; $23,000.

Machine gun lock and broken firing pin from his gun; $23,000.

Fabric section from plane; 10 1/4 inches by 13 5/8 inches; $24,725.

Silk scarf; worn at the time of death; 61 inches by 12 1/4 inches; $34,500.

Flight goggles; found at crash site; $48,875.

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