The Red Fighter Pilot - Webpage 2, pages 16-24

ear problems, which made further military service impossible. There was an officer in his unit who lost his grip on his horse while crossing the Oder River. The man feared he would drown. Overheated himself, my father jumped into the river in full uniform. The cold he got as a result led to incurable hardness of hearing. Our father witnessed his son Manfred's promotion and his death as well as saw him several times in battle when he was a district commander of the squadron in a village near Lille. In 1920 he was interred in Schweidnitz where our parents retired and where our mother lives to this day. Our mother, the protectoress and preserver of the memory of her fallen son, has created a memorial to Manfred von Richthofen at her home in Schweidnitz. On the fifteenth anniversary of his death on April 21, 1933 the space, which became more and more of a small museum, was opened to the public. Born in 1868 our mother came from a wealthy Silesian family with estates in Schickfus and Neudorff. Her maiden name was von Falkenhausen, a name carried by a family well known for its military service. One of its male ancestors came from

Frankish lineage in what is now a dead branch of the House of Hohenzollern. The sister of Frederick the Great married Margrave Karl Wilhelm Friedrich of Ansbach.

My brothers Manfred and Lothar were eleven and nine years older than me thus my memory of them begins around the time they joined the army. But my parents have told me a great deal about Manfred's early days, therefore there is no threat of false information. I am able to provide specific details from his childhood and young adulthood.

It was always a great joy for my parents that Manfred had a particularly strong and healthy physique. Nothing harmful or poisonous could stop him. No infection ever touched him when it was going around. He was only sick once in his life. He had the measles and regretted having to miss a few school days. Manfred had a fabulously agile body. Even as a young boy he could do somersaults without using his hands. He'd keep them at his sides like a soldier. At age eight he climbed to the top of the large apple trees on the estate, a feat which few others could achieve.

And he didn't just cling to the trunk. He'd agily straddle his way out on the branches. My parents often saw him do this but never had the feeling that anything bad would happen. They were confident in his ability. My mother was never worried about us boys. She believed that children could only grow and become capable if they were left to think and act on their own. Only time allowed them to discover their abilities and learn to trust in themselves. Of course things do not always go smoothly but nothing serious ever occurred. Manfred caused my parents concern only on one occasion. He suffered a knee injury while in the Cadet Corps. While attempting to perform a somersault without a spotter he tore a piece of knee cartilage, which caused the kneecap to slide back and forth and bend the leg over to the side. Massage and other treatments didn't work and the leg wouldn't function properly for quite some time. When my parents sought advice on what to do and my mother in particular was very upset, Manfred wanted to console her. He said, "If I can no longer run with my legs I'll travel on my hands!" Then like a totally well individual

he swung his legs up into the air and ran about the room on his hands. They finally decided on an operation which fortunately proved successful. My brother fully recovered. When Manfred was an officer candidate in the First Ulan Regiment, Kaiser Alexander III Company, more than ever he developed a passion for equestrianism. Once he became an officer our father bought him a beautiful mare. Even to me Manfred often boasted what a truly wondrous and robust animal she was. She could meekly approach an obstacle then jump 1.6 meters. Manfred won many fine medals in jumping competitions and cross-country equestrianism. The last was the Kaiser's Prize in 1913. It was his ambition to compete in the great races at Breslau and the capital city of the empire. For this purpose he acquired a thoroughbred horse named Antithesis. However on the day in which he was supposed to ride in his first race he instead rode that horse across the Russian border. He certainly should have had many other horses and ridden in many other races.

From the earliest days of his youth Manfred never lacked for energy. When he was an eight-year-old boy my parents expected him at the train station in Breslau.

He would have had two large suitcases with him because he was returning from a long stay in the country. A boy was sent off to retrieve him from the station but he returned alone. Manfred was nowhere to be found. What had happened? There were no telephones back then. The tension mounted. While my parents were discussing what to do the doorbell ran. Manfred stood before the door laden down with both suitcases.

"Why didn't you hire a carriage?"

"I didn't have any money."

"Well then, who carried your suitcases?"

"I carried them myself."

My parents were speechless. The cases were so heavy they couldn't believe that Manfred would have had the strength to lift even one of them. Manfred gave them this explanation. "I lifted one, carried it a short distance, went back and retrieved the other, which I carried a short distance beyond the first, put it down and went back for the first. Gradually I got here but it took me a rather long time."

Manfred relayed his story with such self-reliant calm and complacency that my parents knew he could completely take care of himself. And this is how Manfred sustained himself during his cadet days even though he was not all that taken by the method of instruction and the way adolescents were treated. But he kept his mouth shut and never complained about it in the household during vacation breaks.

As his little brother he often said to me, "If you can, learn to deny yourself gratification because student life isn't good, but it does get better." Manfred had decided early in life to become a military officer and he always stood by that decision because he believed he could achieve great things in that vocation. He believed one day he would become a general in the cavalry. How could he have known that he would be the first leader of the sky rather than the earth. When he transferred to the Air Force in May 1915 I asked him why he had made that decision. He answered, "It's not in me to merely be an observer. I will become a flight leader and with luck I will be the best of them all!" His blue eyes radiated with inner strength and bore witness to the firmness of his resolve.

Above all else Manfred was a lover of truth. My mother cannot stress enought how much his parents could rely upon him. He gave clear and precise answers to any questions posed to him no matter the consequence. Once at his grandmother's estate he could not control his passion for hunting. When he couldn't find any wild ducks at the Weistritz River, he shot some domesticated ones that had left our grandmother's duck pen.

Manfred was seriously interrogated about this but only for half a minute. The thought never occurred to him to lie about his deed or mince words. Our good grandmother quickly forgave her grandson who could not lie. Manfred's first hunting trophy, three drake feathers, still hang to this day in his parlor in Schweidnitz. Visitors cannot look upon them without feeling some emotion. These are the best memories that Manfred could have left his mother. To this day she recalls him and describes his character with these few words: "He stood fast wherever he found himself." I am certain his belief in his own ability coupled with an inner nobility and natural humility enabled my brother to become a true leader. The regiment he had as a lieutenant and later all his subordinants in the Richthofen flight squadron could firmly rely upon him. He never flattered them but he protected them and kept his word. Those who served under him were set at ease by his cheerfulness and serenity and often by the determination he always demonstrated towards the most difficult of tasks. He was an excellent role model for those who followed him in battle — his courage,

his absolute lack of fear, and his total inability to imagine a situation in which he would be afraid. He did not underestimate the danger but it did not play a role in his life. This had been the case since his earliest days as a boy. Supposedly the manor house was haunted. The maids claimed that a boy had once hanged himself on the upper floor of the servants' quarters. Thirteen-year-old Manfred wanted to see this ghost himself. He had the servants show him where the event had occurred and had his bed placed in that spot. My mother knew of Manfred's fearlessness, but she still decided to test him. She snuck up to the floor above with my sister and began rolling chestnuts across the floor. Manfred continued to sleep soundly so she increased the rumbling. Suddenly he woke up, jumped out of bed, grabbed a club and went after whoever had caused the disturbance. My mother quickly turned on the light lest an evil fate befall her. Manfred showed no signs of fear then and it never changed unto the day of his last flight when he never returned to his squadron and his family. Manfred ascended into the air several hundreds of times, often three and four times a day. He knew

that every man had his Achilles heel and that he was vulnerable. However all those who had gone into battle with him acknowledged that whenever he flew against an enemy they never noticed anything other than his certainty that he would win. He had complete faith in himself and his ability to succeed. Perhaps in the beginning ambition and love of sport prompted Manfred's decision to climb into the cockpit and pilot his world famous red warplane, but as the battles became more difficult and air victories became more crucial to the future of Germany Manfred recognized his greater responsibility. Along with his cheerfulness and self assuredness came a more serious, unflinching willingness to do his best for his people and his fatherland. The words his Latin teacher in the Cadet Corps had taught him, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori [It is sweet and glorious to die for one's country,] may not have given him joy but they described the short span of his life from 1915 to 1918.

Now we shall turn to Manfred's own words and the reader will see what transpired in those years to him and around him.

Go to pages 25-33

Return to Index

Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks