If you’re a serious aviation buff, or perhaps a WWI buff, you may already know all this, but it was new to me.
The “Hat in the Ring”* Squadron was the nickname for the 94th Aero Squadron of the United States Army Air Service (USAAS) during World War I. Formed at Kelly Field in Texas, it was the first American pursuit squadron to fly in combat in the war, and the most famous thanks in large part to the exploits of highly decorated flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker and his fellow flying aces.**
I must admit, I am not a serious aviation buff, though I am aviation-buff adjacent thanks to My Own True Love. The things that caught my attention about the squadron were
1) the nickname, which referred to the fact that the United States had finally tossed its hat in the ring of the war, and
2) the insignia painted on the nose of each of the squadron’s aircraft, a literal representation of Uncle Sam’s red, white and blue top hat going through a ring.
Together they make a powerful statement about the role played by a small group of volunteers.
If you look closely at this version of the insignia, which is from the plane flown by flying ace H. Weir Cook, you will see seven representations of the German Iron Cross on the inside of the hat band, signifying the three aircraft and four observation balloons that Cook shot down. How cool is that?
*My Own True Love tells me that though most readers know what the phrase “hat in the ring” means, you may not know where the phrase comes from. It’s a boxing term from the early nineteenth century. Anyone who wanted to take his chances in a bout would literal throw his hat in the ring, which was not the roped-off square of modern boxing but simply a circle of spectators around the combatants.
**It’s worth noting that “flying ace” or “air ace” is the technical term for a military aviator who shot down five or more enemy aircraft. It is unclear to me if Snoopy qualified.