Historical Marker #2300 in Pine Knot remembers Corporal Edward Ward, the first US soldier named to the military’s new aviation program in 1907.
To say that the US military was intrigued with the possibilities of the Wright brothers’ invention and demonstration in 1903 is an understatement. The military had used hot-air balloons as far back as the Civil War to observe enemy troop movements and for signal communications. But now, there appeared to be the real possibility of controlled, sustained flight. What that meant to the military in terms of defensive or offensive combat was yet to be seen, but fascinating nonetheless.
In its embryonic stage, the Aeronautical Division of the US military was a part of the more established Signal Corps. When it was officially created in 1907, Kentuckian Edward Ward was the first soldier assigned to the new department, which was in control of “all matters pertaining to military ballooning, air machines, and all kindred subjects.”
Ward was born in McCreary County, in 1881. After starting his working life on the railroad with his father, Ward enlisted in the army and worked his way up to quartermaster sergeant before reenlisting and landing in the Signal Corps. He got his start with ballooning in Virginia where he earned his balloon certificate.
With the invention of the airplane, Ward was on hand to see its introduction into the armed forces. He admitted that he was more interested in the mechanics of the flying machine than actually operating it. Ward eventually spent twenty-nine years in the military, holding a number of official positions: Master Signal Electrician, Master Photographer, Balloon Pilot, and Mechanic, as well as many other unofficial duties.
Ward served in World War I and, after the conflict, with the 6th Balloon Company, the 96th Bomb Squadron, and the 2nd Photo Section. In 1930, he retired to Dayton, Ohio, where he died in 1964 at age 84.