Walker Jagoe’s passion for aviation began in 1910 when he was 14 years old. He and fellow Denton High School student Robert Storrie built a biplane glider in Jagoe’s yard at his home at 600 N. Locust St., presently the site of the Greenhouse Restaurant.
Before graduating from high school in 1915, Jagoe became the 700th person in Denton County to purchase a Ford automobile. He completed his freshman year as a paid geometry coach at Purdue University in Indiana, and met future wife, Elsie Marie Siegler.
Although World War I had begun in 1914, the U.S. wasn’t involved until 1917. Aviation was new. The Naval Balloon Section’s tethered balloons were replaced by airplanes to observe activity behind enemy lines. Operations were developed in the field without prior knowledge, and the Army Air Service drew the most adventurous recruits.
A Sept. 15, 1917, call from the Army aviation corps directed Jagoe to report immediately to an Austin air base. After passing written exams, he received flight training at Fort Worth’s Benbrook Field, allowing Jagoe to visit his family several times by airplane.
After a promotion to second lieutenant, Jagoe received three months’ advanced air training in England. He sent a cable to his mother just before leaving for France. By the end of the war, seven Denton County men were pilots: John Bailey, David Faulkner, Alfred Grant, Jagoe, Sam Rayzor, Olin Shiflett and John Laurence Tompkins.
Jagoe was among America’s first group of pilots in the 135th Aero Squadron, nicknamed the “Liberty Squadron.” He flew alongside celebrated pilots like Eddie Rickenbacker and future generals Carl Spaatz and Benjamin Foulois. Pilots flew over German lines, performing reconnaissance on France’s Western Front, leaning over the edge of planes to photograph enemy activity.
Jagoe provided air protection for troops from Texas and Oklahoma. Although he wasn’t supposed to engage unless attacked, Jagoe was in several aerial combats and he was credited with two of the 135th Aero Squadron’s eight downed planes.
The term “D-Day” was first used during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, Sept. 12-15, 1918. Gen. John Pershing’s combined forces included 550,000 American Expeditionary Force soldiers and 110,000 French troops. The Army Air Service’s 1,400 planes played a significant role.
When Jagoe and fellow pilot Lee Duncan investigated dugouts after Saint-Mihiel, they rescued five German shepherd puppies left by retreating Germans. Jagoe recalled that “Duncan became quite attached to one puppy,” and it became Rin Tin Tin, an internationally famous silent film star. Jagoe eventually reunited with Duncan in Sherman and met Rin Tin Tin’s grandson.
The final Allied offensive was the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, including the Battle of Argonne Forest from Sept. 26 until the end of the war on Nov. 11, 1918. It was the largest and bloodiest battle of World War I, ending in Allied victory. Jagoe flew one of about 840 planes involved.
Jagoe came home to a hero’s welcome in Denton in July 1919. After finishing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering at Purdue, he returned to Denton and lived with his wife and two daughters at 1801 W. Oak St. He was a charter member of the Denton Country Club and the Denton County Fair. His interest in aviation continued, and he flew himself to contract jobs in other parts of the state.
He started the Public Construction Company, which completed its first project on West Sycamore Street. Jagoe directed the company for 48 years until it was sold and renamed Jagoe Public.
Ten years after the war, the Army notified Jagoe he had received the Silver Star for gallantry over France on Aug. 25, 1918. The citation reads: “Lt. Jagoe ... while on mission to photograph the enemy lines ... with two protection planes was pursued by an enemy formation of seven pursuit planes. One of the protection planes was in difficulty with the observer seriously wounded. Going to the assistance of this plane they succeeded in driving off the enemy, although the plane crashed behind our lines.”
Jagoe died in April 1969, just three months before U.S. astronauts walked on the moon. He’s buried in Denton’s I.O.O.F. Cemetery beside his wife and parents.