During his childhood, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering William Stine was not allowed to see his father’s war memorabilia. Harold Stine, a World War I reconnaissance pilot from 1917-19, only ever talked about the airplanes he flew.
“It was hidden from me in a closet,” he says. “I wasn’t supposed to get it out, and after leaving for undergrad, I thought the photographs were lost.”
After Harold’s death in 1979, William and his wife Sharon, professor emeritus of landscape architecture, found the cardboard box containing a pilot’s log, a journal and 300 photographs. When the couple retired from the university, they set off on a trek across northeastern France. “We were both curious about where Harold was in France and a better understanding of his life there during WWI,” Sharon says.
Taking advantage of their new apartment in Spain, they took nearly 12 trips over six years to small French villages noted in Harold’s journal and photos. Photos in hand and armed with Sharon’s knowledge of the French language, the couple retraced Harold’s steps and asked town historians if they recognized buildings or fields preserved in his photography collection.
“Harold noted some locations on the back of a photo, but they were spelled wrong,” Sharon says, “However, the French people couldn’t have been more welcoming and helpful to us.”
Six years of piecing together photos and journal entries paid off. France on Fragile Wings: A Libertyman’s Adventures 1917-19 was published last June. The book is comprised of journal entries, photographs and maps. The biography weaves together the story of Harold’s daily life in France, and unpublished historical information on his aero squadron.
Since then, William and Sharon have enjoyed the book’s success. From a local bookstore in Santa Fe, New Mexico where they now live, to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., the Stines have traveled the country for book signings and promotions. The response at the Smithsonian was so positive that the Stines are invited back for another signing event in May.
Although the research and writing is over, the book “continues to be a very emotional experience for me,” Bill says. Some friends they had made in Châtillon-sur-Seine, a small town where Harold was stationed and flew from, surprised William with a ride in a two-seater airplane and took him on the same flight path his father would have flown.
“We want to thank people in France who helped us so are returning this March to give people copies of the book.”
France on Fragile Wings: A Libertyman’s Adventures 1917-19 is available for purchase directly from the publisher, Pictorial Histories Publishing, or from Amazon.com.