The fifth child of William B. Fricks and Mattie Jacquess, Eugene Barto Fricks was born March 26, 1893, in Hill City, an area of north Chattanooga, Tennessee. His father was born in Georgia in 1862, while his mother was born in Kentucky in 1865. In 1910, Eugene Fricks lived with his parents and three of his siblings: Rose, Fay, and Gladys.1 Evidence suggests that Fricks may have received an elementary education, attending school until at least until the sixth grade.2 His education may have helped him find work as a blacksmith for the Lucey Manufacturing Corporation, which became one of the largest oil well machinery manufacturers in the world.3
When he registered for the draft, Fricks was already married with one child.4 His wife, Ethel, gave birth to their first son, Harley, on September 20, 1915.5 Their second child, Mattie Fricks, named after Fricks’ mother, was born less than two years later on January 24, 1917.6
Fricks reported for duty and trained at Fort Oglethorpe, an Army training camp in Georgia and just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee.7 Initially assigned to “C” company of the 302nd Tank Corps Battalion, he worked with brand new tank technology.8 His experience as a blacksmith likely proved useful. At some point he shipped out, and was assigned to the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) General Headquarters in Chaumont-en-Bassigny (Haute-Marne), France.9 While there, he may have also worked in tank maintenance. A passenger list from June of 1919 lists Fricks as returning from Brest (Brittany) as a part of Group D, Repair Unit 301, a motor transport corps.10 Working in the corps included the “design, production, procurement, reception, storage, maintenance and replacement of all motor vehicles, and accounting for the same.”11
Honorably discharged on June 20, 1919, Fricks returned to Hamilton County, Tennessee, little more than six months after his infant daughter Mattie’s death. Mattie did not make it far past her first birthday, dying on December 13, 1918.12 Her death certificate indicates she died of pneumonia. Her death occurred at the height of a worldwide Spanish Influenza pandemic. Although not listed as her cause of death, the influenza virus is a common cause pneumonia.13 The spread of influenza was linked to the demobilization of war: “The virus spread rapidly among the conduits of war and commerce to engulf the entire world in a matter of weeks.”14 The influenza pandemic resulted in millions of deaths in late 1918 and 1919; Mattie may have been one of them. Fricks sacrificed much in order to serve his country. He did not get to witness much of his daughter’s short life; he was called to duty in late April of 1918 when Mattie was only fourteen months old.15 Despite their devastating loss, the Fricks’ welcomed another daughter Jeanette Imogene Fricks on April 23, 1921.16
To provide for his family, Fricks became a licensed pilot, eventually becoming certified by the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA).17A new and growing profession, Fricks pursued opportunities in aviation, including a new sector of postal aviation. He eventually became a commercial pilot transporting mail for Pan American, National, and Interstate Airlines.18Fricks made front page news in 1928 when he piloted a plane that crashed en route to Atlanta, Georgia. The Tennessean reported that “a mail plane of the Interstate Airlines was wrecked and two passengers slightly injured when the motor balked, forcing a landing and causing the plane to strike a stump.”19 Fricks’ quick thinking meant he was able to force land his mail carrier plane when the engine failed. He left the accident with only a small laceration to his face. The other passengers, J.M. Wasson and W.M Cissell, were also injured in the accident but received treatment after being transported to the hospital by train. Despite Fricks’ injury, he upheld the mail carriers motto—nothing prevents postal employees from “the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Fricks salvaged the mail from the aircraft wreckage and aided in ensuring the mail made it to its final destination.20
As seen in this front page news article in Evansville’s The Sunday Courier and Journal, Fricks piloted the first flight ever between Evansville, IN, and Atlanta, GA.21 During the journey, the author of the article, J.C. Kerlin, accompanied Fricks.22 Kerlin dubbed Fricks the “Flying Mountaineer” because of his vast knowledge of the route’s mountainous terrain.23
Sergeant Fricks endured more unbearable losses: another child and his wife. Fricks lost his son Harley in January of 1933 when he was only seventeen years old to “acute indigestion.”24 Little more than four years later, Ethel passed away at the age of forty.25 Fricks remarried to Grace J. Halla few years later. The couple welcomed a son, Joseph E. Fricks, on July 7, 1939.26 By 1940, Fricks moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where he lived with his wife, his nineteen year old daughter Jeanette, and baby Joseph.27 By 1945, the family moved to Miami; the Dade County census indicates he continued his career as a pilot.28 Fricks and his wife divorced in August of 1956 after almost twenty years of marriage.29
Later in his career, Fricks worked for Pan American Airways, one of the first major passenger carriers in the US. When Fricks retired in 1961, he settled in North Fort Myers.30 Fricks was active in multiple twentieth-century technologies and innovations, including tanks and airplanes. Starting life as a blacksmith from Tennessee with a sixth grade education, Fricks embraced every opportunity offered to him. He died on May 23, 1976.31 He is memorialized at Florida National Cemetery, Bushnell, FL.
3“World War I Draft Registration Card,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed March 29, 2017), entry for Eugene Fricks, Number 874206; “Optimism of Capt. Lucey: Lookout Boiler Mfg. Co. Sold to Lucey Corporation,” The Houston Post, January 28, 1919, page 4, Newspapers.com.
4“World War I Draft Registration Card,” Number 874206.
9Center of Military History, American Expeditionary Forces: General Headquarters Armies, Army Corps Services of Supply Separate Forces(Washington D.C.: United States Army, 1988), 8.
11Motor Transport Corps, Manual of the Motor Transport Corps, American Expeditionary Force, 1919.
12“Certificate of Death,” entry for Mattie Fricks, file number 166, registered number 43302.
13Morens et al., “Predominant Role of Bacterial Pneumonia as a Cause of Death in Pandemic Influenza: Implications for Pandemic Influenza Preparedness,” The Journal of Infectious Diseases 198, no. 7 (2008): 962.
14Howard Phillips and David Killingray, “Introduction,” in The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919: New Perspectives, eds. Howard Phillips and David Killingray (New York: Routledge, 2003), 1-6.
15National Cemetery Administration, “U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca. 1775-2006,” database, Ancestry.com, accessed May 24, 2017, http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&db=VAcemeteries&h=1104588&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=gss18&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&rhSource=60901.
16“Record of Birth,” database, Ancestry.com(http://www.ancestry.com: accessed May 24, 2017), entry for Eugene Fricks, file number 12635; U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index, “U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index 1935-2007,” database, Ancestry.com, accessed May 24, 2017, http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?_phsrc=gss22&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&gss=angs-g&new=1&rank=1&msT=1&gsfn=Jeanette&gsfn_x=1&gsln=Fricks&gsln_x=0&msfng=Eugene%20&msfns=Fricks&cp=0&catbucket=rstp&MSAV=1&MSV=0&uidh=exl&pcat=ROOT_CATEGORY&h=32880425&dbid=60901&indiv=1&ml_rpos=2.
18“Deaths and Funerals: Eugene Barto Fricks,” News-Press, May 24, 1976, page 20, Newspapers.com.
19“Nashville Man in Air Mail Crash at Chattanooga,”The Tennessean, December 10, 1928, page 1, Newspapers.com.
20“Nashville Man in Air Mail Crash at Chattanooga,”The Tennessean, Dec. 10, 1928. The quotation about the postal motto comes from: “Postal Service Mission and ‘Motto’,” The USPS, https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/mission-motto.pdf(accessed July 14, 2017), October 1999.
21J.C. Kerlin, “Passenger on First Flight From Evansville to Atlanta Is Gripped By Scenic Marvels,” The Sunday Courier and Journal (Evansville, Indiana), Dec. 9, 1928.
26 “Grace J. Helm Fricks Hall,” The Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Indiana, Feb. 6, 2001).;“1940 Federal Census,” ED 68-45; U.S. Public Records Index, “U.S. Public Records Index, 1950-1993, Volume 2,” database, Ancestry.com, accessed May 24, 2017, http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?_phsrc=gss31&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&gss=angs-g&new=1&rank=1&msT=1&gsfn=Joseph%20E&gsfn_x=1&gsln=Fricks&gsln_x=0&msfng=Eugene%20&msfns=Fricks&cp=0&catbucket=rstp&MSAV=1&MSV=0&uidh=exl&pcat=ROOT_CATEGORY&h=401942339&dbid=1732&indiv=1&ml_rpos=3. Grace J. Hall also used the family name Helm. In 1956, she remarried taking the name Hall. See the following document: “Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011,” database, Ancestry.com(https://ancestry.com: accessed July 15, 2017, entry for Grace J. Hall, Indianapolis, Indiana.
30“Deaths and Funerals: Eugene Barto Fricks,” page 20.
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