Walter Chalaire was an American newspaper reporter turned British pilot during World War I whose life was saved while he was being shot down thanks to the enemy bullet becoming lodged in a round on Chalaire’s cartridge belt.
The lucky pilot was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1895 and went to college in New York. During school, he made money as a reporter while studying law before graduating in 1916. That was just in time to head to Europe and fight the Germans.
Chalaire joined the military and was soon assigned to the newly formed Royal Air Force’s No. 202 Squadron, a reconnaissance and bombing unit that operated predominantly over Belgium and France on the Western Front.
On August 14, 1918, Chalaire was piloting a De Havilland DH-4 on a mission near Ostend, Belgium, and got separated from the other observation plane. Chalaire and his observer, a British sergeant, were alone in contested skies when they spotted two flights of German planes. The first was above them and the second was below and behind.
The Germans turned on the sole English plane and started peppering it with fire. Chalaire and his observer returned fire, downing two of the enemy. But the Allied crew was outgunned and rounds flew through the plane, cutting cables, puncturing the tank, and wounding the observer seven times.
Chalaire was still trying to fight his way east when a German burst hit him. One round went into his shoulder but the other was caught by his cartridge belt, driving its way into one of Chalaire’s unused rounds.
Royal Air Force Lt. Walter Chalaire’s cartridge belt and goggles were photographed after he returned to friendly lines. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)
That was when the American finally bugged out as hard as he could, sending the plane into a steep dive and praying that the damaged plane didn’t collapse as the air rushed over it.
Chalaire made it to the coast before setting it down and then rushed to find help for his observer who survived. The pilot’s goggles and ammo belt were photographed and his story was reported in American newspapers. He survived the war and became a prominent lawyer before passing away in 1971.